We had the good fortune of connecting with Helen Whitaker and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Helen, have there been any changes in how you think about work-life balance?
Work life balance is hugely important to me now, and something I’m about to renegotiate as a new mum soon to be returning to work. In my 20s I feel like I had no balance. I toured and worked various jobs around gigging. The ad hoc nature of this meant that my life was much more heavily weighted towards work. When music is your job and your passion those boundaries can get really blurred. I decided to train as a psychotherapist after a decade of touring as I felt drawn towards something more grounding. Life once again took a bit of back seat during my training, but since qualifying I have found a lot of enjoyment in growing my therapy practice and just taking on music work which is meaningful to me. I’m really interested in supporting musicians with mental health struggles, and I think burnout is super common amongst creatives as there can be a sense that you should say yes to everything and shouldn’t want to take a break.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I’m both a professional musician and a qualified therapist. I trained in classical flute playing, but have always been interested in interdisciplinary working. I think having an open mind and an interest in lots of different areas (music, performing, recording, history, psychoanalysis, gender theory) has led me to develop a varied career which keeps me engaged. It also allows spaces for collaborations which I love. There were many years of doing work I found dull alongside projects I loved, but I always approached them professionally and in time I was able to dictate the projects I worked on. I recently read an article about the radical power of cheerfulness. Different to happiness or other emotions over which we may have less control, I try to bring a cheerful attitude to my creative work. I see this as part of relationship building and believe we don’t thrive or make our best work in a state of anxiety.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
They’d mostly revolve around food! Brighton is great for finding cosy corners for catching up with friends. Brunch at Mange Tout, digging around the north laines – an area full of great record stores and unique shops and cafes, a pit stop at The Basketmakers pub, head to the beach for gelato at boho gelato, dinner at Terre a Terre, and then a nightcap at The Plotting Parlour! Ideally they’d visit in May when Brighton Festival is on, then we’d also wonder around the artist open houses and take in the myriad of amazing cultural events happening. Dancing at the spiegeltent or head into kemp town for late night fun.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Absolutely, there have been many important influences and supporters along the way! The most influential is cheesy I know, but my parents! They have always been my biggest supporters – always helping me see the possibilities, coming to gigs, driving me around Europe if needs be! They’re both social workers, and they just wanted me to find a passion and to be happy. When contemplating retraining I found Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novels really inspiring as I began a journey of self discovery. My flute mentor is an amazing jazz flautist and composer, Rowland Sutherland, and he was such a big influence around exploring genres, being experimental but also grafting.
Dimitri Djuric and Helgi Rafn Ingvarsson