Photography by Bri Hammond
Interview by Madeleine Dore
In an a profession that is often associated with strict discipline and regime, classical musician Yinuo Mu is refreshing in her candour about her practice.
Performing as the Principal Harpist of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Mu shares thoughts on the importance of sleep, learning to be less hard on herself, and her love of music.
I don't have a strict routine because the orchestra program changes each week depending on the piece – sometimes rehearsal starts in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon.
Usually I’ll get up around 7.00 or 7.30, but if I feel really tired, I will stay in bed a little longer because getting enough rest is really important to me. I am not someone who will sacrifice my sleep – if I am tired then I am not very productive.
Sometimes I feel like I am not productive as other people. I hear about people getting up really early or sleeping very little, but still being able to get things done. I’m just not one of those people – I need my sleep and I am coming to accept that I have to do what I have to do to function well and do a good job.
If I get up early enough I try to take my dog out for a short walk, or when I am not being lazy I’ll find a cardio or yoga video on YouTube and do some exercise. Breakfast is something simple and can be savoury or sweet depending on my mood. A lot of the time I can’t stand eating the same thing every day. After I eat I pretty much get ready and make the 45-minute drive to work.
We usually we have two rehearsals each day, except on the day of a performance. Morning rehearsal starts at ten and I’m usually there at least half an hour before to warm up.
If it is a full day the entire orchestra will rehearse together and we play through our program and work on pieces to make them better.
We have a break for one hour at midday, but being a harp player I often need to touch up on harp tuning. Otherwise I just have lunch and try to relax.
Playing the harp is very physical and requires a lot of focus.
On the day of a concert, if I have a big program I will take a nap in the afternoon so I feel more rested and alert in the evening. I don't do that for every single concert, but I make it my priority just to get enough rest.
Other times I just come home right away and take my puppy out to the park and spend a little time with her because she is usually locked up at home all day and I feel bad! I also teach, so sometimes I might have a student, but I try to do that on a Sunday.
I’ll usually try to cook something. I love food and I love to eat, but sometimes I come home after a long day and I’m just exhausted and cooking seems like a drag, so my husband and I just eat out if we both don't want to cook.
Everything just takes time, small things like cooking, driving, you know, it all adds up and sometimes I just wonder where the time goes.
After dinner I often practice. As a harp player, one week I may have to play the whole time, but the next there might not be many notes – I could be in rehearsal for five hours but my hands only on the harp for half an hour.
When that happens, I still have to be really alert and count and be aware of what is going on in the music – it is mentally tiring, but physically not so much. To stay in shape and to keep my callous I still need to do a bit of work in the evening. Also, it helps having my husband around who is also a musician and I can ask for his opinion.
We have concerts on Fridays and Saturdays, and sometimes Thursdays and Mondays, and they can run quite late so I usually get home at around eleven. It takes a lot of concentration and focus to play a concert, so it takes me a little while to wind down so I don't get up early the next day – I need to conserve that energy for the evening.
If I am home, I normally aim to finish up around ten because I need time to do a bit of email, talk to my parents, read something or just watch YouTube and veg out – nothing particularly interesting, I just need a little bit of non-thinking time.
I’ve also discovered guided meditation which is great. Often I go to bed and my mind is still racing, and I just do a little meditation and I find it really helpful if I'm feeling stressed. Performing in front of a lot of people can be a stressful job – you have to be on the ball, you have to be in good physical shape and mentally you have to be ready – but I don’t find that stress carry over outside work.
The stress comes from just little things in life. Sometimes you have goals in your head and you don't reach them and you get a little stressed or disappointed. I often think about what I should be doing, what I could do better, things like that. I am pretty hard on myself. But I love what I do.
‘It is amazing to be able to make a living just playing music. I am constantly learning and improving and exploring how to do something. It’s never boring.’
– Yinuo Mu