Having worked at Help Musicians UK for little over a year, I feel privileged to be part of such a dynamic team, but more so, a working community that is often a lifeline to musicians. As a pianist myself, I’ve experienced the ups and downs of what it’s like playing to an incredibly high standard, to the point where I left my music behind on a professional level when it all became too much. Growing up and training in Australia, there wasn’t (to my knowledge) a charity like Help Musicians UK to help during this time.
A few weeks ago when I was invited to visit a musician that we support through continuing care, I jumped at the chance! It wasn’t until coming back to the office after visiting Gail, that I truly understood the impact of our work, and what came over me with this immense feeling of inspiration to speak out about the powerful work that we do; the frontline of our work.
Gail Thompson, former saxophonist, teacher, panelist, community advocate extraordinaire and in my eyes, an absolute legend! As soon as we sat down and she revealed her story, I was taken back by her achievements – what a varied history. Something that struck me most was her ‘make the most of life’ attitude and the way she so seamlessly integrated into the jazz community from such a very early age – Gail knew that this was her calling. Born to Trinidadian parentage, Gail was one of the leading saxophonists of her time, and often the only female musician in a band, even in the West End! I was captivated by the stories of her journey: jazz performances, rubbing shoulders with music heavyweights, conducting, establishing community music schools and more.
During my time with Gail, I learnt about her involvement across many communities, and that’s what strikes me the most about musicians, is this binding sense of community. She was the founding member for MUSICWORKS, a center for musicians that grew from her front room in South London, to a converted warehouse with 3,000 students! We also spoke of her adventures across Africa and various countries, paving the way for compositions and albums.
But the musical life she came to know and love stopped following a diagnosis with MS in the late 1980’s and her life entered darker times. That’s where Help Musicians UK stepped in. I can’t imagine a turning point in your life, where everything you’ve grown up with, is what feels like it’s been taken away from you. But it was Gail’s continued enthusiasm and desire to keep learning, keep writing, keep on getting on, which really struck me. It’s moments like this that make me feel passionately about the work that we do. Despite having difficulty with mobility, Gail is still keeping busy and has a relationship with music. She’s currently completing an MA in Speech, Sound and Music, including specifically areas of frequency and resonances. She’s also composing and has some exciting endeavours for the future.
After a year on the job, it’s great to get to the very heart of the work we do, and I’m excited about the next time I have the opportunity to visit a musician that we are helping – so stay tuned!Back