It’s Not Easy Being Green – or Stressed Out


The response and comments to “Are All Professionals Kind of … Jaded?” have been eye-opening and enlightening. My hope is that in opening this dank can of worms and sharing these insights, it might be better understood how to reach some kind of mental balance, or at the very least realize when things are out-of-balance.

As with solving a technical problem on an instrument, the first step lies in realizing and acknowledging that there is a problem.

A continuum

Being a visually oriented person, a rough graphic came to mind – kind of a musician danger zone – drawn out as a continuum:
anger-continuum500The title of this post – which is cheekily based on a song sung by a muppet –  refers to the two extremes of this spectrum.  From the inexperienced newbie to the burned-out and thoroughly-jaded musician, both are shades of green.

A classic model

At this point the Kübler-Ross grief cycle – the 5 steps of emotions that occur in terminal illness – comes to mind.

If viewed in terms of musician stress, it offers some very relevant parallels. This cycle can apply to any level of musician – from the inexperienced with fantastical expectations, to the seasoned veteran experiencing burnout.
grief2The danger for some musicians I believe, is that they get mired in the muck and never see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Getting stuck in a loop

A textbook problem with this cycle is that a person may get get stuck in one step, or may loop between several steps –  for an extended period or even permanently.

A musician stuck in denial for example, may never move on. They may feel anger, but may repress it or bottle it up inside. In the same way, a person may be stuck in permanent anger or repeated bargaining.

A different trap is cycling – a person moves on to the next phase without having resolved an earlier phase, and so they loop in cycles that repeat previous emotions and actions. A person that finds bargaining not to be working for instance, may go back into anger or denial.

In the classic application of this model, cycling is a form of avoidance – going backwards feels like a time extension before the inevitable happens.

The spark

The Kübler-Ross grief cycle begins with a shock. In its original context this would be the realization that a terminal illness will result in death.

For the purposes of analyzing musician’s stress, this shock could be:

  • a specific negative event,
  • a series of accumulated negative events,
  • an impending change that creates a sense of doom and dread,
  • or big changes whose outcome might be hurtful yet unavoidable.

Management in denial

Generally speaking, big changes in orchestra managerial operations can initiate something in business management theory known as the Change Roller Coaster.

As Philip Farkas notes in Chapter 10 of The Art of Musicianship, music performance involves the emotions.  By the very nature of the art itself, our emotions lie very near the surface.

This roller coaster effect therefore can have tremendous impact on a musician’s attitude and psyche. It can activate the grief cycle or open up the musician to the “danger zone continuum” illustrated earlier.

(Events here in Phoenix were parodied in a previous post last March bearing in mind this very management theory.)

Smart managers should be at least aware of these principles and take appropriate measures in times of crisis.

Clueless managers are … well … clueless.

To be continued…

*Kermit the Frog, the Kermit the Frog image and the term “muppet” are the property of their respective owners. They are used here under the auspices of fair use as defined in our terms.

University of Horn Matters