Category Archives: St James’s Church Piccadilly

Classical Musicians & Alternative Therapy

Performing classical music is exciting, stressful and full of enormous highs and lows. Other professions are more stressful, e.g. fire fighting, soldiering or the mountain rescue service but, nevertheless, classical musicians do suffer from real anxiety and physical strain.

Anyone who has performed before 2,000 people knows about sweating palms, butterflies in the stomach, loss of appetite, and other symptoms of fight-or-flight, adrenaline-flushed, anxiety. Anyone who has practised eight hours a day for months or years on end, knows about the pressure that places on the human body.

Stage fright or performance anxiety is the anxiety, fear, or persistent phobia which may be aroused in an individual by the requirement to perform in front of an audience… Source

To stay emotionally and physically fit, many classical musicians use special techniques to help resolve the anxiety and mitigate the bodily stresses and strains. One of the roles of a good teacher is to recommend, and then monitor, such techniques. A violinist with repetitive strain injury is in a potentially career-destroying state. A pianist whose hands sweat so much during a concert that his fingers slip on the keys may not win that piano competition, or receive good reviews from the critics.

What can be done to solve or mitigate these problems? The key is a good teacher. One of their roles is to keep their students mentally and physically fit. They may recommend relaxation techniques, e.g. yoga, massage, aromatherapy, or certain mental “tricks” to deal with stage fright. They will look at posture to ensure that strain placed on the body by prolonged practise is not damaging. They’ll keep a look out for conditions which require the attention of a medical practitioner.

Quite often, stage fright arises in a mere anticipation of a performance, often a long time ahead. It has numerous manifestations: fluttering or pounding heart, tremor in the hands and legs, sweaty hands, diarrhoea, facial nerve tics, dry mouth, erectile dysfunction. Source

I sell IMSLP merchandise in central London and also supply aromatherapy oils: the widest range of essential oils in central London. A procession of musicians from the London orchestras, ensembles and music colleges arrive to buy the oils and other preparations designed to aid the combat of stress.

They drip the oils on a handkerchief, to be inhaled before or during a concert. They use them in massage – diluted with a carrier – to relieve muscles aching from prolonged practise. They add them to a bath or drip them on their pillow to aid sleep, before or after a concert. Various types of lavender and chamomile are the most popular, but jasmine, bergamot, clary sage, geranium, orange and sandalwood are also effective.

Other calming, stress relieving and relaxing oils include: patchouli, neroli, ylang ylang, angelica, cedar, cistus (rock rose), citronella, cypress, mandarin, may chang and melissa.

… “fight or flight” syndrome, a naturally occurring process in the body done to protect itself from harm. “…The neck muscles contract, bringing the head down and shoulders up, while the back muscles draw the spine into a concave curve. This, in turn, pushes the pelvis forward and pulls the genitals up, slumping the body into a classic fetal position” Source

Nothing should replace a medical practitioner, qualified in Western medicine, when a musician is physically or mentally unwell. But there are limits to what Western drugs can achieve, and controversy surrounds the use of beta-blockers by classical musicians suffering from stage fright. Some doctors will not prescribe them. Some people view them as having the same status as performance enhancing drugs consumed by corrupt athletes. They can have nasty side effects. Classical music audiences may not be too keen listening to drugged musicians. The Royal Albert Hall is not Glastonbury!

So there is a role within classical music for essential oils, massage, yoga, reiki, the Alexander Technique and other complementary therapies. The tradition goes back deep into human history. The Romans drank a Lavender infusion to help them sleep and introduced the plant to Southern Britain.

Pupils will dilate giving someone the inability to view any notes they have in close proximity, however, long range vision is improved making the speaker more aware of their audience’s facial expressions and non verbal cues in response to the speaker’s performance. Source

Frances & Sara – Silver & Semiprecious Stone Jewellery at St James’s

Exotic silver and semiprecious stone jewellery from Frances and Sara at Piccadilly Market in the courtyard of St James’s Church, Piccadilly, London.

One of a series of articles on the market at St James’s Church Piccadilly where IMSLP merchandise is available at the stall.

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Magic at St James’s Church, Piccadilly

More magic at St James’s Church, Piccadilly, London, yesterday with the Royal College of Music String Band rehearsing for a concert inside and Davina Fox-Hill displaying a stall with a giant chandelier in the market outside.


One of a series of articles on the music and market at St James’s Church Piccadilly where IMSLP merchandise is available at the stall.

Maggie Cole & Jacqueline Ross at St James’s Church, Piccadilly

Fabulous lunchtime recital at St James’s Church in London’s Piccadilly yesterday, with Maggie Cole, fortepiano, and Jacqueline Ross, violin, in a programme including Schubert’s Rondo in B minor and the “Trockne Blumen” Variations in a version for violin.

I mentioned I was selling IMSLP merchandise in the courtyard outside and Maggie Cole was kind enough to let me photograph her rehearsing. She confirmed she is a regular IMSLP user but, unfortunately, does not wear T-shirts – except possibly when gardening – or I would have given her the new IMSLP T-shirt in exchange for these wonderful images.

Maggie Cole’s website

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Magic and Mendelssohn at St James’s


Walk a few yards from London’s Piccadilly Circus and you reach St James’s, a fine Wren church where William Blake was baptised in 1757. It was hit during the first phase of the London Blitz on 14 October 1940:-


High explosive bombs fell on the eastern corner of the churchyard gardens and on Piccadilly itself, in the process demolishing the Vestry. The Rectory was also smashed to pieces, trapping the Verger and his wife in the kitchen beneath. The blast severely weakened the Church’s brick and Portland Stone fabric: the north wall was fractured and pieces of shrapnel lacerated the building’s east end. The stained glass east window was blown out: fragmentation marks are still visible on the exterior Corinthian stone columns.

Several incendiaries then hit the Church roof and set it ablaze. The burning roof, spacious vault and wooden gallery all collapsed. The interior of St James’s – pews, plasterwork, decorations, six rows of gallery piers and supporting Corinthian and Doric columns – was rapidly consumed by fire. Although the Tower survived, St James’s Gothic steeple toppled, crashing down with its two bells. Heavy debris fell onto the Church floor, causing major structural damage.

The Verger of St James’s and his wife were trapped in the Rectory rubble for over twelve hours. Rescue teams were forced to drill through large blocks of stone and three thick masonry walls to reach them. Tragically, both died of their injuries. On the opposite side of Piccadilly – the road had been disfigured by a large bomb crater – a branch of the Fifty Shilling Tailor’s chain was also struck by an incendiary at 8.15pm and caught fire. Molten wax tailors dummies fell into the street. Nearby, the roofs of buildings around Piccadilly Circus glowed red with incendiary fires.

When the smoke cleared, early on 15 October, St James’s was a burnt-out ruin, open to the elements. It remained a roofless shell for nearly seven years. Source

I ran a market stall at St James’s yesterday, and in a quiet moment was thinking about the October raid when, suddenly, Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream drifted across the courtyard. I walked into the church and there, magically, was the Orchestra of the City rehearsing for a concert that evening. Unfortunately, I only had a camera phone:


Mendelssohn was vilified by the Nazis for being a Jew and his music banned. So, a few days short of the 71st anniversary of the raid, St James’s poked Hitler in the eye with a good dose of Mendelssohn (they also performed his third symphony). It was quite gratifying.


I couldn’t stay for the concert but, in some ways, rehearsals are preferable. The orchestra stops and starts, the conductor explains what he wants, the players make notes on their scores, people in the audience come and go. I stayed for a while, the orchestra was very good, then returned to the market.

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