A musician’s haven: Nuçi’s Space [classic article]

(First seen on JewishJournal.com) There’s a place in Athens, Georgia that’s so specialized, most people won’t be the type to visit. But if it’s for you, it’s really important for you to know about it.

Musicians are a special type: the nature of their work, skills, talent and work product are unlike most other career paths. Even players in a band must spend hours and hours practicing alone. With apartment and dormitory rules, they’re forced to do their work at unfavorable hours in stripped down practice rooms that resemble a prison’s solitary confinement.

Musicians are required to reach within themselves to deliver an interpretation that’s fresh and new for audiences. In other words, it’s their job not to fit in. Ordinary and expected will simply not do.

All of this is isolating. Sometimes, it’s desperately so. Man is a social animal, after all. I was a professional musician from the age of 5 until mid-college. It was serious business: I was the youngest girl to solo with the Chicago Symphony at the age of 12. A couple of times a week, I went straight from school to sit in the back of the section of adult community orchestras. I was yanked out of PE classes, so as to not injure my hands. I practiced several hours every day – sick or well, weekday or weekend. There wasn’t time to chat to kids on the phone, have study sessions, go to cookouts or parties. There wasn’t time to develop the social skills to fast-friend people. As I was a classical musician, that was extra unappealing to kids.

Ironically, a musician has to have the ability to win over vast audiences of strangers, yet might not have learned very much in the way of interpersonal relationship or coping skills. I certainly was in this category and sometimes still feel painfully shy. In this highly competitive, fast-paced, dog-eat-dog world that we live in, the rest of the population will frequently ignore, bully or take advantage of the little quiet musician. The musician is brilliant and is well aware of the disrespect and dislike.

Musicians of all ages can feel like there’s nowhere to turn for help. Only a rare few make a successful living simply as a musician. It’s often the case that they’re without any kind of health insurance. Not knowing where to go or who to talk to, the musician may be sorely tempted to find a permanent solution to what is a temporary problem. Suicide may feel like the only way out.

That is where Athens, Georgia’s Nuçi’s Space comes to the rescue. It’s a non-profit health and music resource center whose goal is to prevent suicide by providing obstacle free treatment for musicians suffering from depression and other disorders. They have programs to support the emotional, physical and professional life of musicians. Athens has been a center for indie music for decades: R.E.M., Widespread Panic and the B-52’s.

The parents of Nuçi Phillips set up this space and foundation to honor their son’s life. He was a gifted musician and student at the University of Georgia who shot himself on Thanksgiving Day, 1996, after a long bout of depression.

Today, in a warehouse-like building, there’s band rehearsal/studio space and instruments – including vintage Fender guitars – for cheap rental. Their laid-back lobby is a comforting place for musicians to hang out.

The center has a physician who does basic examinations for uninsured musicians at a low cost. Many performing professional musicians have lost hearing in one or both ears; the center subsidizes custom-made earplugs. They also offer subsidized vision care appointments and eyewear.

While Nuçi’s Space doesn’t operate a suicide hotline, they do offer referrals to low-cost counseling. And, they believe that having access to like-minded musicians to talk to helps during those times when medications are adjusting or between therapy sessions.

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