The Broken Muso
Gail Thompson
Former professional musician, composer & conductor
14th July 2016
The Broken Muso

Hello all. My name is Gail Thompson. I used to be a professional musician, composer and conductor. Now 58, I had been in the music industry for approximate thirty wonderful years.

Some focal moments of our lives are forever frozen in time, like a snapshot of a Selfie. Receiving a diagnosis of the neurological condition, Multiple Sclerosis at the age of 30 was one of those junctures. I have penned this brief journal in the hope that it reaches as many artists as possible, to let them know that there are countless people that understand their dilemma.

Everyone is different and everyone has their own experience as members of the music profession: we have been fortunate to have had good physiques for the first half or most of our lives. But after having a long, productive, and unimpeded musical career, we are faced with the worst ramification: to adjourn from the profession. Albeit, we learn to reconstruct our lives, most personal accounts that musicians have to tell, are, “Heart wrenching and distressing: tales of suffering and despair. As musicians we suffer an enormous frustration at the lack of performance after so long”. The impact of musicians’ disabilities is widespread and devastating; not only for the musicians close to us, but for our families and communities. We often face a perilous period of transition and reorganisation, experiencing financial instability due to loss of income and position, and, “Psychological stress arising from shifts in identity and self-reproach, and often, exclusion from the music communities”.

Musicians are forced into retirement due to a disability often become invisible, and a lack of attention to these musicians is often mistaken for “a low prevalence of career-impacting illnesses” in their fields. “Without the introduction of a framework for open discussion, as well as the creation of targeted institutional support, these unfortunate performers may blithely be discarded into a network reserved for broken or expired musicians”. For this reason, musicians fear the negative impact of disclosure. “There is a strong societal expectation to talk publicly about illness in order to help others, but I found very few were comfortable about hearing about it one on one, at least, not until it is over”. A violinist interviewed wrote: “For all the talk of “telling your story to inspire people”, no one wants to hear the story, until you fully transcended your illness and stand there a hero: in a nutshell, if you can’t “do” you know longer “are”.

While may still be present in the musical community, but most do not enjoy full participation in it. And although exclusion is a frustrating feature of daily life, we can find a great deal to do. Where possible, attending concerts and seeing friends from the music industry, means that music is still alive in us (although this may sometimes be frustrating).

As a musician’s charity and services provider, Help Musicians UK alongside charities such as The Royal Society of Musicians, help musicians share their ups and downs. By direct action, Help Musicians UK supplies musicians, carers and families with the assistance they need to fully participate in daily life; by galvanising all levels of disability, and closing the gap between the lived experience of people with disabilities and the rest of the musicians. Such charities share our ups and downs; it is a place where you can both laugh and cry about our situations, and so, some of our stress is vented.  I take my hat off to you all, for the wonderful and selfless work you do!

Having MS has been scary at times, but it’s given me a different take on, “life-is for living”; and provided me with the motivation to grab opportunities that I I have waffled passed before. Even though I would dearly have loved to continue in the music industry, instead, I am now a religion and fine arts BA Honors student, and, I am currently writing my master dissertation. Hopefully, my MS will not prevent me from continuing my education in the future (perhaps a PHD).

I am never going to be 100% again, and there is still a huge grieving process: grieving for what and where I could have been if this hadn’t happened. I would not recommend my journey to everyone but I’m pretty happy with the person that emerged. I am alive in the present not of the past. There’s space for lots of fun in our lives. It may not be a bed of roses now, but is anyone’s life truly like that? Being able to share a little amongst the Help Musician UK’s community has been a new experience: I am pleased that I had this opportunity. This has been very empowering for me, thank you for reading this blog. I hope to write to you again soon.

All the best for now, and in the future.


Quotes from: The broken musician: By Heather O`Donnell.