It has become an important psychological process for me to explore topics that are of a dark nature, like family violence, significant loss, chronic health issues, mental health, and abuse of all kinds. I approach these topics with sincerity, sensitivity, and compassion for those affected, addressing the experience of the subject rather than creating a literal representation of it. The associated emotions and experiences I have about these topics are externalized, distances are abstracted by weaving them into the music, not necessarily as melodies or harmonies that are deliberately manifested for expressive purposes, but by engaging with those experiences and emotions within myself as I write the work. The topics are not always revealed to the listener in any obvious way. They are frequently disguised with ambiguous titles and non-confronting aesthetics. I have termed this ‘masking’.
When I explore musical ideas related to subjects of a dark nature, the aesthetic of what I hear both expresses and transforms the darkness I feel into something I perceive as beautiful, receivable, and digestible. The musical outcome is often contrary to the reality of the topic. The underlying disparity between the deeper meaning of the work and the musical context it is placed in creates a tension that has been described as ‘bittersweet’. Only attentive listeners who either feel the expression intuitively, look closely into the narrative, or already know the context of the work, are likely to consciously perceive the underlying meaning of the piece. Others arrive at their own conclusions based on their own lived experience. Differences of perception are a fact of life and art. I am not concerned if the work is misinterpreted or disliked. I do, however, hope that someone who listens will feel empathy, understanding, or connected in some way through the music. My true intention for engaging in all forms of musical practice is to reach people, not for popularity nor success, but to send out a connection to people who may intuitively respond.
Post-performance responses from audience members have validated my drive to connect with listeners. People often engage me in conversations to share their personal experiences in relation to the piece performed, or relevant topics of research they are conducting. This is similar to my experiences volunteering as an ambassador and public speaker for BeyondBlue. BeyondBlue is an organisation that works to reduce stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety and works to reduce the tragic mortality rates due to suicide. It also provides online services to support people experiencing mental health conditions. In my presentations for BeyondBlue, I disclose my own experiences with depression and anxiety as a way of starting a conversation within the community around mental health, and I provide strategies for how to cope and seek treatment. I see my compositions as a similar talking point for difficult issues, and my personal goals for music are in line with my work with BeyondBlue. I believe that if the community can talk openly about difficult issues, then at least one of the compounding aspects of experiencing personal hardship can be reduced. Removing shame and stigma enables people to seek help. Achieving this is my life’s work.