In 2014, a British Channel 4 television show Addicts’ Symphony followed 10 musicians in recovery from addiction as they prepared to perform a special concert with the London Symphony Orchestra. Continuing after the cameras stopped rolling, 80% of the participants remaining clean and sober by pouring themselves into making music. Such stunning success pointed the way to a new approach to addiction recovery.
Recently, it has inspired a new long-term project, the New Note Orchestra, a musical ensemble made up entirely of former addicts. Ranging from professionals to aspiring beginners, the musicians in the New Note Orchestra learn to both create beautiful music together and support each other in living a fulfilled, connected, and purposeful life in sobriety.
The ensemble seeks to have an open-door policy and an eclectic repertoire so it can include as many people as possible. On July 18th the group held an open orchestra workshop in Brighton, England, hoping to attract more people to what has already transformed many people’s lives. Combining music rehearsals with a peer to peer support group meeting, the music can become a tool for people to connect with each other and support recovery from addiction.
Violinist Melissa Fewtrell-Graham said that her early recovery left her asking “what now?,” and it was only through getting back into playing in a safe environment with understanding peers that enabled her to gain a sense of purpose and hope.
Peer support groups have proven themselves to be one of the most effective sources of support, encouragement, and advice for addicts in recovery. By hearing and sharing personal stories of addiction and recovery, people struggling with addiction gain a sense of hope that recovery is possible, and learn what steps they can take to make a sober lifestyle a reality.
As an elite ensemble performing both classical and new improvised music, the New Note Orchestra requires many rigorous and disciplined rehearsals, as performers have to work through the songs many times to get them right. This creates an intense level of bonding and check-ins among the performers. In the process of spending many hours working hard on the music, people are able to interact with a great deal of honesty and intimacy, forming exactly the types of strong connections that give someone the personal strength needed for sustained recovery.
Activities that boost purposefulness
Molly Mathieson is the documentary filmmaker behind Addicts Symphony and is now setting up and heading a new charity to support the New Note Orchestra. She explained the impact of the ensemble on its participants as an “increase in self-esteem and confidence.” So many people enter the recovery process feeling hopeless and low about themselves, often ashamed of their weakness or the ways they harmed themselves or others through their addictive behavior.
Often people turn to substance abuse as a way to self-medicate trauma or shame, but then discover their addiction only leaves them feeling worse in the long run. Thus, a very important part of the recovery process is regaining a sense of self-worth and self-love, and learning that you deserve to live a full sober life.
The skill of making music requires a lot of hard work and can only get better through a process of disciplined practice over time. In this way, it can be an excellent way for someone to gain a sense of self-worth, and growing in their personal understanding of how many things of which they are capable. Much like learning how to live without an addictive substance, the process of playing a complex piece of music can start out feeling incredibly intimidating and impossible.
However, by learning how to work on it a little bit at a time each day, you can make tremendous progress. What once seemed impossible gradually becomes achievable, and in this way, your life gains an untold sense of empowerment and purpose. The example of these musicians and addicts in recovery should let us know that nothing is impossible, whether it’s playing an instrument or learning to heal from a life of addiction.