Musicians’ Liberation

I am a musician from Sydney, Australia. I play the drums professionally and enjoy playing guitar and piano and singing. I recently attended the International Young Adult Leaders’ Conference in Massachusetts (USA), where the presence of artists and musicians was strong.

Someone led an artists’ topic table on Saturday evening, and close to twenty people came! I questioned whether or not to still lead a musicians’ table on Sunday and decided to go ahead. It was great. Six people came. The participants claimed it was a contradiction1 simply that the group had been called. They were delighted to get a chance to work on this stuff. Almost everyone, including people who lived and breathed music, said they hardly ever did sessions on music and realised how important it was.

I talked a little about the oppression—how hard we are on ourselves, how we criticise and compare ourselves to one another, and how playing music is so often viewed by society as a hobby, not a profession, so we give up on pursuing it or have struggles taking it seriously.

I wanted to keep the focus of the group as positive as possible, because as musicians we tend to be down on ourselves2 almost all the time. I did a round of everyone answering the question, “What instruments do you play or have you played, and what instruments would you love to play?” I then asked, “What do you love about music?” and “What gets hard?” Everyone went to the second question first. Because so often we just focus on what’s hard, I made a conscious choice to redirect each person, after some discharge, to the first question and challenged them to stay there. It was good listening to everyone talk about what they loved about music. As young adults we are a little closer to the dreams we once had and are fighting hard to hold on to them, but I find this question is great regardless of our age—as it helps us remember our dreams about music and playing a musical instrument.

Earlier this year I started an Australia-wide musicians’ support group via Google Hangouts.3 Doing this work is changing my life, and what a contradiction it is to have this wonderful gang of musicians backing4 me. We are getting close as a group, and I am noticing that they are in my mind, which contradicts the isolation I feel as a musician. 

I have been working recently on giving up comparisons and criticism—a difficult challenge in the face of the oppression! But I had a breakthrough last night. I was going to a jazz jam in New York City (USA), and I decided that I would try to enjoy everything I could about the music and remember what I loved about it. Every time I had a critical or judgmental thought, I interrupted it and went back to enjoying. I got to hear some incredible drummers and simply enjoy the sounds and be inspired. I even enjoyed what I played! It was definitely a win, and I will try to hold out this new approach from now on.

I wouldn’t have started this work if it hadn’t been for my developing relationship with the International Liberation Reference Person for Musicians, Heather Hay. If you are a musician out there, Heather would love to hear from you, so please write to her at Who knows? It might change your life and move musicians’ liberation forward!

Nicola Ossher

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

(Present Time 182, January 2016)

1 Contradiction to distress
2 “Be down on ourselves” means feel negatively about ourselves.
3 Google Hangouts is a way of communicating over the Internet.
4 “Backing” means supporting.

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00