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Addicts’ Symphony: Documentary Spotlights Addiction In Classical Music

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After his son, Freddy, died of a heroin overdose in 2011, British composer James McConnel was determined to see that some good came out of that tragedy. His wish finally came to fruition this August, when his documentary project Addicts’ Symphony aired on England’s Channel 4.

Triumph Out of Tragedy

Freddy McConnel was a brilliant young mind, but his inability to escape the grips of addiction cut his life short. As a recovering alcoholic himself, Freddy’s father, James, chose to use his family’s tragic loss as a platform to help others avoid a similar fate.

Addicts’ Symphony is a documentary program that follows ten classical musicians whose lives have been blighted by alcoholism and substance abuse. It chronicles their attempts to rebuild their careers and lives by performing together as an orchestra, culminating in a special one-off performance of original music alongside the London Symphony Orchestra.

The program has been touted as James McConnel’s brainchild, but he says his son first brought the idea to him. “Before he died, Freddy said: ‘Dad will you look into the idea of music being an aid to recovery,'” McConnel explained to the International Business Times. “If he hadn’t taken a dodgy dose of heroin, he might have got to that point. Music can give you the same feeling that drugs can, only better. I cannot see why it couldn’t work for other people.”

McConnel believes this program will have a tangible and positive impact. He described it to The Guardian as “entertaining and informative,” but also said it had the power to inspire. “Watching a group of people brave enough to address their addictions and fear through music was humbling and inspirational.”

Substance Abuse Among Classical Musicians

One of those tangible effects will undoubtedly be an increased awareness of a drug and alcohol problem that silently plagues the world of classical music. The 10 individuals featured in Addicts’ Symphony battled a variety of substance abuse issues during their careers, including addictions to alcohol, cocaine, heroin and amphetamines.

“Addiction problems are widespread among classical musicians, for many reasons,” Rachel Lander, one of the musicians featured in the documentary, explained to the Radio Times. “There is the lifestyle, the odd hours, working weekends, post-concert socializing. Many players use alcohol and beta-blockers to control their performance anxiety and then, after the ‘high’ of a performance, musicians can struggle to ‘come down’ and therefore drink to relax – which becomes habitual.

Getting help

There are a variety of stressors in life that can propel drugs and alcohol into a habit, and ultimately an addiction. As the featured musicians in Addicts Symphony learned, addiction is a dangerous problem. For Freddy McConnel, the habit turned tragic.  If you or a loved one are struggling with drug or alcohol abuse, don’t wait to get help.  Call The Watershed today at 1-800-861-1768.




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