Dr Jonathan Sheldon: The GP violinist

Playing music as a hobby is a blessing, writes north-west London GP.

I was 10 years old when I started playing the violin. My primary school was offering free group lessons to everyone in the class and I decided to give it a try.

I liked the sound and the challenge of learning the instrument. I continued to have lessons into secondary school and joined school orchestras and chamber ensembles.

Music became a big part of my life as a teenager - most of my close friends also played music, so it contributed a lot to my social life.

At university and medical school, I continued playing, and music was a wonderful way to meet people, particularly those studying different subjects from me.

Orchestral work

After I qualified as a doctor, the long working hours meant that my playing rather tailed off. Then about 10 years ago, a school friend, with whom I had played music in the past, encouraged me to join a local amateur orchestra.

I wasn't sure how that would work out - a regular commitment to rehearsal seemed like an additional pressure on top of work and family life - but the 'bug' got me again.

I realised how much playing meant to me, and that making time and space for music was something I wanted to do. Since then, I haven't looked back. I now play regularly in the London Gay Symphony Orchestra (LGSO), a community orchestra with a professional conductor and leader that plays five public concerts every year and rehearses each week.

I also play in a string quartet one evening a week and I try to go to a residential music course for a week every year. It is not always easy to get away from the surgery in time to play, and it can sometimes feel like an additional commitment that makes life even more crowded. But as soon as I am playing, I feel the benefits.

A passion for music

Many of the patients at my practice have a passion for music and we also look after a number of professional musicians. Music is something many of them like to talk about - it is not unusual for a patient to ask what I am currently playing and some have been to see the orchestra perform.

I have recently been appointed as a trustee to the board of the leading musicians' charity, Help Musicians UK (formerly the Musicians' Benevolent Fund). Last year, it helped more than 2,000 people, from those starting out in their careers, to musicians who experience a crisis, such as an accident or illness, and musicians in later life and retirement.

My most memorable musical moment was probably the LGSO's 10th anniversary concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London.

All of my family, and many friends and colleagues from my practice, came to watch. It was quite an occasion sitting up on that stage with a huge symphony orchestra and choir (the programme included the last movement of Beethoven's Choral Symphony).

I find playing in front of an audience pretty nerve-racking, but it is also a real pleasure to share something that means so much to me with other people.

Having music as a hobby is a blessing. It is such a contrast to the working day and provides pleasure and an antidote to the pressures we all face. For that reason, I would encourage anyone with an interest to take up a musical instrument, or if they played as a youngster, to pick it up again, take lessons and join a group.

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