Musician with ADHD wants to rethink neurodiversity in the classical music industry

When Sophia Mackson picked up her first violin, the then seven-year-old girl waved her bow in pure excitement with a new found love for her instrument.

“It just triggered something in me that I didn’t even know existed, but I think it was just the way I – a kid – could play this stuff, as a way to externalize what I felt,” she said.

Since then she enjoys the drama, passion, excitement and challenge of playing the violin and creating classical music.

But she always felt that there was “something wrong”.

It wasn’t until she was 21 that she was diagnosed with ADHD.

“It just so happened that because I was finally living on my own, I had the ability to… learn more about myself and that led me to seek a diagnosis. It was quite a long process.”

Looking back, Ms Mackson thinks if it hadn’t been for her first music teacher, Marian Bradford, she might not have continued playing music.

“[She] was really patient with me when it came to my ADHD because I was just all over the store and way too excited and got tired so quickly and she was a really big factor in my journey with the game,” said said Ms. Mackson.

From violin to viola

Sophia Mackson says that for people with ADHD, it can be difficult to stick to strict practice routines.(Provided: Sophia Mackson)

Despite her love for the violin, Mrs. Mackson was unsure if she would continue to play, especially after the death of her first teacher.

Eventually, her new teacher Laura Curotta encouraged her to consider switching to the viola, due to her size.

Ms Mackson had been hesitant because she was “so attached” to the violin, and playing the instrument felt like a piece of Marian was always with her.

“When I started playing the viola, there was this instant click: this is how I’m supposed to be, playing the viola is what I’m supposed to do,” he said. she stated.

“It was instant excitement and passion for this instrument and it was really, really amazing because technically speaking the viola was the right size for me, because I’m so tall it was all crushed on the violin .

“Everything sat where it needed to and that changed everything.

“If I hadn’t made this change, I don’t think I would have had the courage to study it in college, because it’s a hard thing to study, but I love it so much.”

Industry Barriers

Although getting her ADHD diagnosis was a bit of a relief, it also allowed Ms Mackson to focus on the things she had struggled with.

“In terms of studying and classical music, it affected me a lot more because I was more aware of the things I was struggling with, and it was really frustrating because chemically there was nothing I could do to fix that. .at that time,” she said.

Sophia Mackson in a blue dress holding a viola looking at the camera with a hanging flowerpot and bushes in the background
Sophia Mackson hopes the classical music industry will do more to include people with neurodiversity.(Provided: Sophia Mackson)

Ms Mackson said it helped her recognize the issues faced by neurodiverse people within the classical music industry.

“People are becoming more and more aware of it, it’s just that there are still so many issues that people like me face,” she said.

Ms Mackson wants people to rethink the classical music industry, the way practices and rehearsals are organized and the way music is presented to the music maker.

Struggling with executive dysfunction, she said she found it difficult to follow a plan, but she could if she changed plans often.

“I discovered that I could never plan training, I had trouble keeping up…and then I switched to this mode but I still needed to change [something] and it didn’t make sense to people,” Ms Mackson said.

“There are other things like … a recent phenomenon called rejection sensitive dysphoria … so basically any perceived rejection is multiplied by a thousand.

“It’s, it’s really tricky because someone could say the most normal thing about my game, and I could just say, ‘Oh my God, I’m the worst ever’.

“It’s like this breakdown that happens and it’s uncontrollable.”

Change of mindset about routines

Ms Mackson has at times doubted her ability to pursue a career as a performer and composer due to the emphasis on restrictive practice routines.

“Within the industry itself, it’s not all organizations of course, but it’s particular hurdles happening in the industry that I notice,” she said.

“A lot of musicians just don’t know how to prioritize their needs. Many of them will go entire days without looking after themselves.

“The strict, straightforward classical music mindset is the only thing you do and that’s all you do.”

This is what bothers Ms. Mackson the most, because as someone with ADHD, she finds it difficult to function in this kind of environment.

Focus on wellness

But she said there were a lot of amazing people advocating for change.

She called on organizations to do more research on neurodiversity and better implement work-life balance for musicians.

In rehearsals that focused on a good work-life balance, the level of productivity was much higher than those that didn’t prioritize players’ needs, Ms Mackson said.

Alice P. Darby