Ruby Colley, local classically trained violinist, composer and yogi, tells us about how music making and yoga combine to promote wellbeing for herself and for others. In conversation with Caf Fean.

What does music making mean to you – in three words?
Expression, exploration, connection.

How do you see the connection between wellbeing and music making?
On a physical level, when I first came across yoga I found my posture improved and so did my violin playing. I used to get back spasms about twice a year. These episodes gradually disappeared thanks to my yoga practice. There is a mental or spiritual space in yoga, which is exactly the same in music performance. A space of vulnerability and authenticity.  

What was the first album you bought?
The first Album I bought as a kid with my own pocket money was Jamiroquai’s Space Cowboy in 1994. I don’t still listen to it… at that age you’re trying to figure out what you like. It was jazzy, zany stuff – there were a lot of different styles floating around at that time and I appreciate the breadth of music I experienced at that formative age. The first album I remember listening to repeatedly was HELP! by the Beatles. Growing up we listened to all sorts of music, from Classical to Tom Waits. I make a point of integrating music making and singing into our daily activities with my own family, as I feel it’s so important for establishing a context for one’s own artistic expression.

PICTURE: Georgina Piper

What is the first concert or performance that you remember?
The Proms at the Albert Hall, Mahler’s Song of the Earth. We were up in the gods – I’d have been seven or eight years old. I remember this immense sound, really huge. Then I had a coughing fit through a delicate choral section… must have pissed off a lot of grown-ups!

I played my first concert at three years old. I was musically trained in the Suzuki method, where you basically shove a musical instrument into a child’s hand as soon as possible. I had my first violin at three, at first it was a toy one – a polystyrene block with a ruler for the neck, then I got a real one. 

What made you want to be a musician?
This is a difficult one to answer, as it had to be re-evaluated a lot throughout my life. When I was younger, it was bound up with the fact that I’d been doing it longer than I could remember; it can be difficult to extract your true intentions from habit in adult life. Now I am closer to knowing the reason why I’m a musician, more than I ever have been before. It is a fundamental connection to how I operate in the world. I’ve learnt not to conflate it with identity, which is where the problems started – when the sense of who you are becomes so conflated with what you do and how you do it. I managed to separate the two by asking myself, “If no-one’s going to hear this, then why am I doing it?” It has to be for me in the first instance. 

I’ve had periods when I haven’t played at all. Early motherhood was definitely a time when I didn’t play. It was a time of deep reflection and self-work. I experienced an unravelling of self and was truly challenged. “If not a musician, then who the fuck am I?!” 

Where is folk music headed?
Folk music comes in and out of people’s interests. For me, folk is rooted in the mindset of community. It is an oral tradition, passing on tunes, melodies, songs as a form of lineage and history. Nowadays there really is a yearning for tradition again – an instinctive pull. There was a resurgence in the 60s and 70s, and it’s happening again. People are yearning for deeper meaning, to identify heritage, who we are as people. Folk is a great container for these.

I’ve noticed that your work often centres on ideas of landscape
or place. Tell me some more about that.

Nature has always been my church. It is the container of all life experiences and it had to factor heavily in my music. I’m currently working on a Climate Change project, focused around what it sounds like; I do a lot of field recording and see it as a form of meditation. You’re forced and invited to just listen – connect to the moment and the place you’re in. In those explorations I am always seeking out the pure sound of nature – without planes, trains, cars or people; but I’ve come to realise that’s not authentic. Even in the most natural spaces there is that cluttering sound of human presence of some kind. So, I’ve put my mind to pulling these sounds from the environment and deriving something beautiful from it all.

You have to make space for practice: being alone without any distractions. Just ‘be’ – we always struggle with the impulse to be filling the space and the void. I’m learning how to be still, and within this I find I’m contacting a deep space of vulnerability.

How does music and musicality come into your Yoga practice?
I discovered yoga by practising during quite a difficult period of my life, at home, with a DVD. I then realised that the tutor on the DVD was opening up a studio really close to my home in Belfast, so I joined – and became totally hooked. Yoga starts as exercise, but slowly you realise it’s far more than that. It can become a fully embodied spiritual experience. I experienced this high, and that’s where the healing started – of body and mind. The healing branched out – to my music, and everything else. I practised yoga for five or six years before moving to England to do an MA in Music Composition at Goldsmiths University, and did my yoga teacher training in tandem with this. I was in my 30s, I wanted to do all the stuff!

I’ve written music for yoga practice, and just before the first lockdown I delivered a Yoga Teacher Training program on Yoga Musicology. It focuses on The Energetic Interplay between Music, Voice, Vibration and Yoga. It’s a flagship module that doesn’t exist anywhere else. 

What is your dream project?
I think I’m doing it right now actually – exploring the sound of Climate Change with the help of the Arts Council England creative practice grant. 

What positives can you foresee from the Covid 19 Pandemic?
It shifts and changes all the time; the thing I see in myself and around me is that we have been forced to reckon with ourselves in some form or other. Covid has created and forced a space for reflection – to think about ourselves. Life before was lots of rushing and doing, and no being still. We have all responded to the pandemic differently. There is no unified response. For me it has been an opportunity to re-evaluate things again. I can see this happening in a macro sense also, and with that comes a lot of disturbance. It’s not linear, it’s not clean and we can’t predict what it’ll be on arrival. Change is messy and as such we will see very extraordinary things happen.

To find out more visit: rubycolley.com and www.flow.yoga/yoga-musicology


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