Pablo Casals said that when a large rock fell on his hand when out walking, his first thought was ‘Thank god I’ll never have to play the cello again!’. Such are the demands of playing a musical instrument that it often feels as though respite from the never ending practice routine, not to mention the preconcert build up and nerves, would be a relief. So when in 2010, after thirty years as as principal cello with Manchester Camerata I had to call it a day due to focal dystonia, I turned to a more sensible way of earning a living-well no actually-I immediately found something equally unsuitable to obsess about-landscape design.
Now about to build my second show garden for the Royal Horticultural Society at Tatton Park, I can see some similarities between the two occupations - you start by working on your own in splendid isolation (design and planning), then you get together with colleagues to put the whole thing together (garden build), and finally you present the result to the public (and the judges in the case of the RHS).
Watching your sketches turn into something much more tangible than sound waves is very addictive, although I suppose the process is more akin to composing a piece of music and then presenting it, than to performance alone.
Former colleagues from Manchester Camerata perform by the ‘Galaxy Garden’ at Tatton on press day.
It hasn’t all been easy though-after having been reasonably successful in one discipline it’s hard to find yourself a complete novice in another. And I still miss the music itself and the camaraderie of being a musician.
None of this might have happened though, without the support of Help Musicians UK. They stepped in to help with fees for my Bsc in Garden and Landscape Design at Reaseheath College -vital when you’ve just lost your entire livelihood. It’s not just the money though - when you’re attempting something new in your mid fifties the fact that a reputable organisation thinks you’re worth supporting is a big confidence boost.
Celebrating a Silver Gilt medal with fellow students and staff from Reaseheath
Where it will all lead - who knows - I’m working on some ideas for gardens inspired by music at the moment, and am about to launch a website.
But my advice for any other musicians considering a career change is to follow something you’re passionate about - we didn't become musicians for the money after all!
And after half a lifetime of being enslaved by one obsession you might need another to replace it with.
Are you a musician? Find out more about the support that we're able to provide.
See Jonathan's work at the RHS Flower Show, Tatton Park, 23rd-27th July 2014