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Student leader's speech

Idun Gabrielle Fougner-Økland. Foto: unknown.

Here you can read Student leader Idun Gabrielle Fougner-Økland's speech from the opening ceremony in Lindemansalen 29 August.

Dear new students. Welcome to the Norwegian Academy of Music! And thank you for the music. I’m so happy to be able to welcome you with a minimum of distance and a minimum of hand sanitiser for the first time in three years. You really deserve that. And thank you to the management for the invitation.

Those of you starting at the NMH today come from all over Norway, and all over the world. Your backgrounds and references are all unique, your approaches to music highly distinct, and your artistic styles wildly different. And I’m sure you’re a friendly and thoughtful lot, too! Over the past week you have demonstrated your mindfulness around what is happening in the world, when it comes to both wars and climate crises, and I therefore see it as my responsibility to talk a bit about finding your place as individuals, as individual students, at the NMH.

You’ve arrived in a new place with the gateway to much of Norway’s music scene suddenly at your fingertips.

Idun Gabrielle Fougner-Økland

Yes, the NMH really does have a great deal of resources available to you. People, equipment, performance opportunities, courses and specialisms. Take advantage of them! I really hope you enjoy the opportunities now available to you.

Look after each other

But before you start to practise your socks off over the next few months, I want to ask a few things of you. Amidst all your enthusiasm I want you to not only look after those around you, each other, but also yourselves. You now have to strike the right balance as music students, be it a social, academic, physical or mental balance. Finding the right balance can be difficult. You’ll sometimes feel unsure about what to do, so you look to those around you. We always look for things to quantify in others and then compare with ourselves. For us musicians this will often be about technique.

What is really Technique?

Because Technique, with a capital T, is a big and bad word for us musicians. We work with it, and we work against it. We’re happy if we’ve got it and can feel shame when we don’t. Technique is one of very few things that we musicians allow ourselves to quantify. I therefore think that all musicians would do well to think carefully about what the word actually means. The word technique in this context is often about physical factors, mechanical factors.

How well the physical work is carried out and how effective it is. The irony is great, therefore, when we look at the origin of the word. (Here’s a quick language lesson.) The word technique comes from the Ancient Greek techne, which is not directly translatable. However, the old word techne has become technis in Modern Greek. And that’s the modern word for “art”. In Ancient Greek the physical work that went into a piece of craft and the artistic expression were therefore inseparable.

In fact, art may not have been able to exist without the technique, but the technique could certainly not have existed without the art, without the expression.

Idun Gabrielle

Most people would agree that a statue was not merely a big stone shaped in a certain way, because the end result was a greater human experience than simply looking at a big stone with some cuts in it.

You can probably see where I’m going with this: it’s hugely important that you have enough energy to practise even the most repetitive scales in an inspired and fun way! I want you to see your artistic style as being at least as important as what you do physically. It’s important to preserve our artistic style and create enough energy for ourselves to allow it to grow.

My experience

In my experience, physical issues often resolve themselves once there is an artistic intention behind what we do.

Because, sadly, there exists a long-held view that suffering through practice sessions, ignoring your own needs, is a sign of artistic genius and an expected reality for many musicians.

Idun Gabrielle about artist myth

I, and many others at the NMH, do not believe this to be the case because we have seen at first hand when things don’t work out.

One year ago I was sitting in this very hall feeling my practice muscles twitch. I’d just moved and hadn’t really sat an exam yet where I studied before. So my first three months at the NMH I spent preparing my exam recital while also learning how to be a student here. I practised a lot, had great fun, began to work a little alongside my studies, got involved in the parliamentary election and so on. And I wish I could’ve told you that the recital didn’t go well. That I was too overworked to be able to perform, that I failed the exam. But, adrenaline does incredible things to the body, and I got through the exam and did very well.

Then I returned to Oslo and carried on as normal. A couple of weeks later I was sitting in the Levin Hall listening to NMH physiotherapist Karen talk about sleep. The importance of rest. Taking me time, looking after yourself, letting the body and brain process everything you’ve experienced. And while Karen was explaining all this, my body couldn’t take any more.

I couldn’t breathe, I felt dizzy and nauseous and simply had to walk out of the lecture.

Idun Gabrielle

I spent 20 minutes lying on the stairs outside shaking. My body had to try to expel all the things I and my body had been ignoring. There and then I had two thoughts: firstly that “oh my God, I think I’m having an anxiety attack.” Secondly that I think I need to get more sleep. This pattern continued for a few weeks, especially before my instrumental lessons. Luckily I was able to speak to Karen and explain the situation. She pointed out that I was working at 250% capacity while sleeping no more than 70% of my full capacity. I got no more than 6 hours’ sleep. The result was that I spent all of my first year trying to learn how to sleep more.

Many with similar experiences

The sad thing about this incident is that I’ve since talked a lot with my fellow students about what happened. I’ve come to realise that almost everyone has had a similar experience at some point, perhaps especially during their first year. For that reason I think it’s really strange, and just a bit stupid, that none of us talks about it. Even close friends of mine have only opened up about experiencing things like this many months after the event.

And of course I want to see even more transparency around musicians’ health, not least their mental health.

Idun Gabrielle about sharing experiences

This is why I wanted to share it with you today, because if a student can talk about a life crisis at perhaps the most formal event of the year, then I hope it makes it just that little bit easier for a first-year bachelor student to knock on Karen’s door, speak to their doctor, seek NMH counselling, see a psychologist or counsellor at the SiO, at Ung Arena Oslo or seek acute psychiatric help in the city centre.

Here I must add that it is absolutely a step in the right direction that the NMH will be holding the Musicians’ Health Conference here at the academy this September.

Using your voice

Another aspect of looking after yourself and others is using your voice to have a say in what’s happening around you. The NMH in its current incarnation is turning 50 next year. I therefore want to say something about being a student at an institution like this. Although your student years are the period in your life when you can be properly revolutionary, anti-institutional and in opposition to the establishment, we have all chosen to spend the next few years at an institution. I think there is a lot of learning to be had from that. Firstly, I want to encourage you to be critical. Strong institutions are completely reliant on criticism from within if they are to continue to renew themselves.

Many students don’t know that we do in fact have the right to be heard in all matters concerning us. I encourage you to use that right.

call to get involved

Speak up about things that can make student life better! Join a committee and help shape your studies! It’s only when something reaches a decision-making body that action can be taken. Therein lies a responsibility even for students. Talk to the committees, play it into the system. That is what an institution is all about. So, don’t be afraid to speak up about what tomorrow’s musicians need!

Thanks for listening.

The Engslish part of the speach as it was live in Lindemansalen

So let’s address the International students!
Welcome to Norway! You may have had many reasons for moving here. Maybe you found a particular teacher you really liked, or maybe the academy has a programme you couldn’t find anywhere else. Maybe you were just really tired of living with your mum, and like me, moved to the opposite side of Europe from your mother to start your studies. Maybe you even heard about the academy’s scandalous wind band that got kicked out of the children’s parade this year for being a security threat, and felt that this sounded like the ideal place for you. Whatever the reason - Moving to a new country can be equally as daunting as it is exciting. I hope your Norwegian classmates welcome you and help you out in navigating your way in a new country, a new city, a new language and our infamous social codes.

Norwegians are actually quite nice people once you get to know them. I think the most confusing thing about Norwegians is that the habits that we Norwegians have which may seem rude to you, are very often an attempt at being respectful. This is also why we often switch to English when you’re trying to speak Norwegian with us, usually because we want to be polite. I will urge you to berate us, to insist on speaking Norwegian just a little bit, when we do that, because the best way to learn a new language is by speaking, no matter how bad your grammar, pronounciation or syntax may be.

Settling into student life can be overwhelming, let alone in a new country. So, I would like to share something to have in the back of your minds while settling into Oslo. I remember that one of the first things my main teacher here at NMH told me was that first and foremost, I needed to feel well as a human being. It was only half a sentence, but it was a comment that was uttered in a vulnerable phase to me, as a new student in a big and daunting environment of brilliant pianists, and this comment had a huge impact on me for the entirety of my first year, and still does today. It allowed me to decide that sometimes, the best use of my Sunday was to take the train to the countryside and go for walks instead of sitting in the same practise room as I had done all week. I hope that you feel entitled to take care of yourself, to take the breaks you need, to go for all the walks you want, to take days off when you feel like it, and to feel homesick when you do. Lastly, One of the best things about moving to a new country is getting to know the culture. So don’t forget to live it! Take the time to do al the strange things Norwegians do, and I promise you that there are plenty! Like taking a quick skiing trip before your 9 a.m. class, participate in collectively running out of butter for months on end, and celebrate the local wind bands acting as the backbone of society in every town, village and neighbourhood.

Dear new students, I’ve taken up enough of your time. If you have managed to stay awake during this long speech, I hope that you all remember this - First and foremost, you have the right to feel well and content as a human being. Du skal ha det bra som menneske. Your musical expression can only grow from that. And now I wish you all a fulfilling and exciting academic year!

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