JAVS Summer 2023

Under the tutelage of Baroque violinist Stanley Ritchie, I became acquainted with basics of tuning that I had not absorbed in previous study. This included training the ear to hear beat frequencies, to assess if unisons and chords were in tune. Since we did not tune to equal temperament, I also learned minutiae such as adjusting enharmonic notes based on the chord played, with E % in a C minor chord being higher than the D " in a B major chord, and so forth. My mental health at the time was quite bad, and by the second year I was battling first-episode psychosis during rehearsals. I would even say, much of my mental distress was cultivated in the practice room as a neurodiverse person. During practicing sessions, I recall trying to learn ways to feel the vibrations of the instrument in the way I do now. And then these feelings intertwined with my Eastern spiritual meditation practice at the time, and my limited understandings of things like Chi, kundalini energy, life force in the body, and so forth. Eastern spirituality feels native for me, given that my father is from Nepal, my Caucasian mother lived in Japan for 7 years before I was born, and I grew up in an East Asian neighborhood. But the internet was cruder in 2007 when this happened, and I couldn’t find resources online that were helpful. I also had no mentorship, no teachers at school who were able to hold space for these kinds of questions. This was a difficult time, when my schizoaffective disorder first started. I had to leave school, and I stopped playing music for over ten years. Playing music elicited severe emotional reactions of sadness, visceral fears I had of childhood abuse, all intertwined with my feelings of musical failure, and the memories of the worst of my psychosis. By not playing music, I could lock that bad stuff away. From 2014 onward, I slowly rebuilt a new life as a mental health professional. This work has gradually empowered me with solid tools that ensure my own wellness. Now as a therapist, I help others with what I’ve learned. And as disclosed above, I resumed my own viola playing in 2020. I now yearn to develop a new understanding on how rehabilitation is possible for traumatized musicians and artists. My personal lived experience allows me to intuitively navigate this research which lays ahead. I aspire to initiate conversations with music educators,

mental health clinicians, neuroscientists, non-clinical peer support specialists, and musicians with mental distress experiences and histories of trauma. I think discussions on aphantasia are a great first step for musicians to start thinking about how their minds work. In my preliminary understanding, I know solidly that we each engage our mind’s eye in different ways. And for everyone, aphants and non-aphants alike, awareness on aphantasia can lead to discussions about the mind’s eye’s activity overall. What kind of thinker are you? Are you a visual thinker? When you hear music in your mind, is it vivid, or faint? How do you mentally practice? When you mentally rehearse, can you feel the cool air of the stage and venue? Are there even smells of the wooden floors? And when you infuse your music with musical expression, do you summon emotions? Memories? Newly invented stories? And do thoughts spontaneously emerge for you when you are playing? What are these thoughts, and can they be distracting? In my non-musical work as a therapist, I engage clients conversationally, to help them understand how their mind’s eye works. Already, “guided imagery” is a technique which therapists use where typically a script is read, walking a client through a relaxing scenario such as a beach or the forest. The process of summoning imagery that engages the five senses helps to elicit a relaxing response for the mind and body; yet I also realize that this can sometimes be hard, that it may not work for some, and is a skill for one to develop. However, I think folks with aphantasia can benefit from guided imagery scripts. Consider that aphantasia is not a disability, and many aphants live uninterrupted professional lives, even taking on artistic professions. In recent months, I’ve been able to develop a kinesthetic knowing of sensory descriptions, and thus I can construct image-free pictures in my mind that act much the same as pictures for image thinkers. I realize that my visualization difficulties also intersect with my severe history of childhood emotional trauma. Trauma is a complex factor that interrupts mental activity. I’ll experiment with an analogy that describes how trauma can interfere with the mind’s eye’s activity, as I’ve intuited for myself.


Journal of the American Viola Society / Vol. 39, Summer 2023 Online Issue

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