I have been intrigued by the unexpected crossover of homeopathy and music whilst training at the Northwest College. The amalgamation of art and science in Hahnemann’s day is clearer if one has studied Beethoven and sonata form. Homeopathic observation skills are second nature to an aware, empathic performer, and potency, for me, is understood as the harmonic series expressed by an orchestral palette.
When set a Materia Medica project, I decided to use my thirty year exposure to classical musicians to make sense of the correlation between the remedy composition Argentum Nitricum and one of its most famous acute uses in stage fright, drawing on the archetypal orchestral musician.
The latin name “Argentum” comes from the Sanskrit meaning “white and shining”, and since 3000 BC has had a connection with worship, the moon, and for my purposes, the arts.
As a metal it has the highest electrical and thermal conductivity, and the lowest contact resistance, so a tiny bit of heat to a corner immediately spreads – ideal for electronics. Like gold and palladium, it is soft and malleable, so throughout history has been used for jewellery, coins and mirrors.
Despite this tawdry use, silver has an association with purity of sound. There is an undistorted resonance or “ring” from a silver bell. Most professional flutes are silver ( the few gold ones are seen as a bit showy and egotistical – only an established principal would rather ostentatiously play one),and silver garlands on the bell of a brass instrument are revered for the tone quality or shiny silvery “ring” to echo around a concert hall Silver fixings on a violin bow carry the symbol further, but makers at the time of Hahnemann used gold for their very best bows.
Silver’s purity became religiously symbolic in sacred vessels; gold was seen as opulent or masculine. This purity has a practical basis – it works as an anti-bacterial in our fridges. A feminine, fertile yet virginal symbolism links into moon culture. There is a description in Prisma of an interesting experiment with the moon’s influence on plants and silver concentration (p143).
A look at our language reveals longstanding symbolism around gifts of communication or poetry – the “silver- tongued,” or “Speech is silver, silence golden.” Even now there is a mystique surrounding the ancient art of the silversmith and we still link the moon to the sensitive poet for creative inspiration or connection to a celestial plane.
The modern symbolism of silver is more to do with image. Silver mirrors reflect almost all the colour spectrum, and so are used in telescopes and photography – a pure image in still which can quickly tarnish from white to black – the fall from grace.
Quick reactivity was seen in two provings of silver nitrate. Hahnemann and Muller completed their provings each in only eight days.
Already there is a picture of the performing musician- highly reactive, sensitive, feminine, silver-tongued, image conscious and always a moment away from the tarnish of failure and disgrace.
I must add here that in clinics I always argued against the automatic assumption that a musician will need a remedy from the Silver Series. Some do of course, but many full time professionals feel very much that they are simply doing a job in a workmanlike way. A player can sustain a career without creativity, only self discipline and finely honed complex mechanical skills. Even the most expressive soloist might say they are not really creative. It’s like reading poetry very accurately and beautifully, with artistic integrity, but they couldn’t write a line of poetry themselves.
However, assuming that music is innately creative and musicians are just self-effacing in their art….
Modalities in our Materia Medica include:
WORSE ; emotion, anxiety, suspense, warm room ,crowds, drinking, eating.
BETTER; cold air, hard pressure, motion, eructation.
Already the archetypal Arg Nit state is tied in modalities to the real situation of concert performance.
It is an emotional act to perform music – one is exposed emotionally, and the task is to convey emotion. There is anxiety around the high standard expected at a professional level, the precision and concentration all pressured onto the single chance to play perfectly.
Suspense is caused by the wait to perform at an exact prescribed moment, the build of adrenaline before a demanding concert, or during a piece of music, in the literal countdown of bars with a harmonic build towards an exposed solo.
Concert halls are always warm rooms with hot spotlights (stage fright in German is lampenfieber) and no fresh air. Even air conditioning will be turned off to preserve the silence surrounding music, or a magical pianissimo. Audience size increases temperature, and the convention of formal tailcoat dress code offers no relief. The audience or crowd is a given. Excess adrenaline and cortisone; the “fight or flight” stress of performance causes the digestive system to close down, therefore worse eating and drinking. Most performers find it difficult to eat or drink when nervous. I sometimes see inexperienced students take water on stage to combat the dry mouth of nerves , but they will be too shaky to drink .
Platform etiquette prevents personal needs being shown (better hard pressure).
Motion is out of the question – next time you go to a concert, observe the feet of each seated player. They rarely move but for a brief, discreet “shuffle” – silent, private applause for a colleague. Eructation must be suppressed. At any time in a concert, a player may have three audience members watching him, and with a wind or brass player a burp would be audibly amplified through the instrument. In my experience of sitting near the brass section, I can unhappily report that suppressed eructation is often relieved by flatulence….
The central delusions of Arg Nit are the realities of this unusual situation. Fear of losing control. Control is paramount in classical music. Technical precision is essential to repeated success as a performer. Any loss of control is immediate disaster, the silver tarnishes to black, reputation lost in a moment. For a horn player the risk is greatest. Any one of 17 notes can come out of a horn depending on fractional adjustments of lip muscles and air control. It is a knife edge of danger that is dramatic and compelling, and the reason horns portray emotion or heroism in your cinema.
Delusion forsaken. A reality. Musicians spend hours alone every day practising, and performance can feel solitary with its formality and absence of chat. Also it is a taboo to share feelings of stage fright with a colleague because of the fragility of many. Nerves are contagious- “bow shakes” start with one player and infect the section. An interesting differential is that most musicians are nervous solo, but reassured in a team. However some feel worse playing in a group, in case they let the side down, and prefer to only be responsible for themselves.
Delusion hurry. Another reality. Even a laid back person has to begin a concert at exactly 7.30pm and play a set number of bars perhaps at crotchet = 120 or 120 beats per minute, often more than your heart rate, perhaps with 4 semiquavers to play in every beat. Time pressure is always in the awareness of a professional musician. Rehearsals or recordings begin and end exactly to the second of a contracted time. BBC orchestras sound an alarm to count down to the start of a session. Going into overtime can’t happen without a new contract. Every second of recorded music has its price. Being late is a grave offence. Breaks are prescribed and all must use the loo, eat, drink, make phone calls etc only during that set time. The only time I see a similar hurry is at an airport where the stress of passports, check in, time pressure , luggage etc is intense. It makes me wonder if the Arg Nit indication for fear of flying has less to do with the enclosed box in the sky, and more to do with the stress build up of hurry.
Fear of high places. Fear crossing bridges. These fears encompass the vulnerable feelings of a musician on a high stage. The platform is elevated in order to expose the performer as much as possible, with a bowl-shaped auditorium so that the audience can see from both sides and front, and on many levels of height (agg. Watched). Some venues even sell seats in the choir stalls immediately behind the orchestra. Back row players really dislike this (dd medorrhinum?). The sense of exposure is increased by bright lights, a steep drop and space all around the concert platform. For some people their stage fright increases with the size of the hall, or audience, diminishing in an opera pit under the stage. (It is conversely fascinating to see an opera or BBC recording orchestra go to pieces outside their comfort zone in occasional concerts.) Sometimes a podium is added to raise a player more. The platform wobbles on the hard wooden staging, and when you add hard soled formal shoes, the feeling is precarious.
Fear crossing a bridge I think describes the walk from wings to centre stage. Many performers lose their nerve at this point.
Anxiety about health. Ritualistic. Musicians worry about joints and muscles as they have to peak physically at a given moment. They prepare as an elite athlete would for an event during preceding weeks, and have pre-concert “health checks” like playing a tricky bit, doing basic technical exercises, massage or warm-ups to keep muscles limber and ready or mental focus techniques. This is coupled with an element of ritual in preparation, waiting in the wings to go on. One will notice a familiar, reassuring routine of dusting strings, playing a scale, deep breaths, reed checking or playing exactly the same few notes like a lucky talisman. Open instrument cases have cards and photos inside so that the last thing a player looks at when taking his instrument is a loved one. A set routine will have been followed in the longer break between rehearsal and concert, of getting changed, putting on make up (preparing for battle?) all in a practised, familiar order. The changing room has a kind of hush to it, and players even take the same chair every time. There are so many variables in live performance that these rituals give the illusion of order, grounding and control that belies the unwanted human error and pressure to come. A shocking number of players rely on alcohol or beta blockers to cope with this inescapable situation, although some do now use Arg nit or rescue remedy.
In the case of SY, a talented brass player with a promising career, he reported two distinct states:
Solo: Shaking legs extending . Anticipation and tension, worry will be seen shaking. “I am thinking what people are noticing in me. I am worried they will notice my nerves. It’s weakness. If they notice that’s the worst thing… it’s fragility, exposed, vulnerable. I am short of breath… tension in my arm. When I am practising… what if I get the shakes?”
This solo recital situation looks Arg Nit on the surface- imagining the worst, self-fulfilling prophecy, escalating own fear in anticipation.
Orchestra: “I can be on any part and I feel ill. I worry it will happen beforehand. My stomach goes mad, I feel sick. It’s unreal. I feel like I’m being pushed down, squashed. Can’t breathe in properly. I feel dizzy, like I can’t move an inch. I felt dead, no strength, weak. The bigger the room, the bigger the problem is. The pit is ok. In a smaller hall I feel more protected.”
In this ensemble situation, SY has symptoms which partially suit Arg Nit – dizziness, stomach, pressure- but many do not. The acute situation of solo playing seems more straightforward to treat with a remedy, but the unusual reaction to orchestral playing is more limiting to his life at music college and plans for an orchestral career, so is the priority here.
Repertory work brought up Arsenicum and Gelsemium, and I looked at Arsenicum first , with restlessness- SY leg-jiggled as we talked, huge anxiety, being watched, negative expectation, stomach affinity, tension. Anxiety in response to the expectation of others(colleagues and audience). Becomes breathless and weak. Lots of superstition and routine in detail. Trembling limbs. Sick with anxiety. I think it likely that Arsenicum would be a good constitutional remedy for SY.
Gelsemium is often used for performance anxiety – fear of the unknown, losing control. Anticipatory dread, shaking. Weak, tired, heavy. Loss of motor control. Increased tension. Spacey and removed, the glass coffin. Fear of crowds and of falling, exams and performance.
Other therapeutic stage fright remedies include:
Carcinosin – the remedy for dancers, similar to Arsenicum but more clean and punctual, less ritualistic, with loss of control over the senses.
Lycopodium – hides it better. Stomach symptoms, anticipation, low self esteem. Main differential is they settle once they start playing, often heard in auditions.
Nux Vomica – fear they won’t be thought good enough (Arg Nit fear they can’t deliver)
Ferrum Phos – the singer with a painful throat or lost voice (dd Arg Nit)
Anacardium – David Lilley regards this as a big remedy for stage fright, and others combine it with Ambra Grisea and Aconite, the AAA.
I looked at Asa Hershoff’s “antidote” list, and found that Arsenicum and Arg Nit are not compatible.
I considered the family/ kingdom style of analysis too. SY has a mineral energy; a lack. He also shows an animal survival worry that his weakness will be noticed. However, the plant kingdom reactivity to the environment echoes the sensitive response of the musician in this orchestral situation. He must instantly react to stimuli, like vibrations with “beats” that need intonation correction, or pulls on tempi from within his section or others, empathically working as a team, or to a nuance indicated by a conductor. So I decided that the whole situation within an orchestra had a plant quality, (with a mineral structure, like sonata form.) I was also struck by the paralysis and “unreal” word used by SY and Morrison. I was aware too that my task that day was to treat an acute. It was interesting to see a close match for Arg Nit but not prescribe it.
I gave SY Gelsemium . A year later I asked how he got on. He told me he took the remedy for some stressful student concerts, and then went on to work with the Halle Orchestra, Northern Ballet Orchestra, and BBC Philharmonic! He only needed the remedy a few times, and now doesn’t take anything. It was lovely to see his grin as he told me.
Going back to silver, Scholten’s interpretation of the Periodic Table allows us a new look at related elements from within a mathematical map of life, or the “pattern” Jackie McTaggart teaches. The Silver Series is row five of the table of elements, which is seen to represent the artistic, creative performer at middle age, needing creative outlet in the outside world. The Salt, Nitricum, is at stage 15 of the Carbon Series. Stage 15 represents a dark decay generally, but as a combining salt using Scholten’s methodology, it represents expansion, tension, explosion, like irritable Nit Ac, but with more joy, forgiveness and positivity.
The stages of the Silver Series can be interpreted as caricatures of performing classical musicians in their profession.
Stage 1 Rubidium.
Too much doubt to get beyond the audition stage. Will probably make a sweet flute teacher and play in an amateur orchestra.
(Mind Forsaken feeling)
Stage 2 Strontium
The section violin or viola on the back desk, safe, unheard. Sadly often two young females together. Known by the orchestra as “pond life”.
(Mind Irresolution Indecision)
Stage 3 Yttrium
The new keen boy near the back of the violins, standing up in rehearsals to write bowings in, looking around, hoping to be noticed. Ambition limited by doubt so not taken seriously.
(Mind Fear of undertaking anything)
Stage 4 Zirconium
Climbing and auditioning. Trying to move forward through the desks, gaining status, but losing heart when things go wrong. Their oboe will break or they will leave their violin on the bus.
(Mind Feigning sickness)
Stage 5 Niobum
Setbacks, ups and downs. The second players of the wind section, who have a patch of work and then long periods of none, often teaching several days a week for main income, as they are low down on the orchestra lists.
(Mind Delusion succeed he cannot, does everything wrong)
Stage 6 Molybdenum
The motivated ambitious trumpet player happy to play exposed solos and prove himself.
(Mind Strange things impulse to do)
Stage 7 Technetium (doesn’t exist, like promethium)
The second bassoon player who sometimes sits up to first. A good section player but needing lots of praise and encouragement, always asking was that ok, am I in tune?
(Mind Thoughts persistent strange tormenting)
Stage 8 Ruthenium
A busy trumpeter under lots of pressure. They say yes to everything, fitting work in by dashing from one gig to the next, working three session days. Constantly tired and tense, and on the phone in all the breaks. Percussionists often, who are the first to arrive and the last to leave with all the instruments in a hired van, negotiating hire fees and delivering timpani to the next venue.
(Mind Hurry. Everybody must hurry)
Stage 9 Rhodium
Nearly at their career goal but with a weak point still. I have a client with Rhodium stage issues. He was on trial for a Halle second position for a year, always feeling not quite good enough but deserving the job. When he achieved his goal and was offered the job as second, he remained with stage 9, then wondering if he should have aimed higher, for a principal position.
(Mind Prostration of mind -with trembling)
Stage 10 Palladium
This performer feels at the top of their field. Think of Wagner’s Brunhilde. The shine of celebration is briefly experienced, as the only way is down, so this principal clarinet or horn tenses and clings to their status, cocky with conductors and management.
Stage 11 Argentum
These are the respected section principals who shepherd their section with benevolent wisdom and control. They need their own chair deferentially positioned by the lifter, and rely on rituals, personal space and respect from management.
Stage 12 Cadmium
He is losing his grip and knows it, so complains about working conditions, creates orchestral politics and factions. Has secret conversations with players about colleagues, is oversensitive to conductor comments and feels attacked. (down one row to the Gold Series we find Mercurius, delusion he is surrounded by enemies)
Stage 13 Indium
Given up the limelight but trying to hold on to work. They try to create an aura of power still, and use sarcasm to belittle others, professionally jealous and unethical.
Stage 14 Stannum
This player can see it is the end of their career. The façade is intact and they are serene and enlightened, but can’t maintain technical mastery. They are lovely to everyone at work, enjoy all the new talent and are respected for what they once were, like an honoured guest. Often when a principal horn’s facial muscles weaken they move to 4th horn, which they can’t really play but nobody minds.
Stage 15 Antimonium
The dark shadow of doom and defeat. Work status is lost, without dignity. He clutches at straws or old contacts to get work, is poisonous and bitter, always asking other people what work they are doing and plotting to take it from them.
Stage 16 Tellurium
The odorous old man telling endless stories of former glory, name dropping famous conductors, holding court, conceited, smelly and boring.
Stage 17 Iodum
The final letting go, where players talk of “hanging up” their violin, but usually loan it at this stage to a conservatoire for a talented student. Interestingly, it is rare for a musician to get Alzheimers.
Stage 18 Xenon
A pause in music is written and is a moment of poised silence before the music resumes …
My exploration of Argentum Nitricum with reference to performance anxiety affinity does not cover the hugely impulsive, neurotically expressive picture we have in our Materia Medica. My instinct is that these feelings are repressed through years of conservatoire training, thousands of hours of self disciplined practice and strict platform etiquette.
I conducted a small survey and found an entertainingly large proportion of professional classical musicians who are resisting the urge to scream, shout out or throw their instrument during the silent restraint of a formal orchestral concert!
Periodic Tables – Aldersey-Williams
Prisma – Vermeulen
Musculo Skeletal Healing – Hershoff
Materia Medica- Morrison
Materia Medica- Vithoulkas
Homeopathy for Sport
Exercise and Dance – Thomas
Pattern as our Inspiration- McTaggart 2011/12
Silver Series – Donovan 2012
Wanderings in the Periodic Table – Welte
Anarcadium lecture Lilley