You might know cellist and Seattle native, Jalayne Mitchell better as the brainchild of Classical Wellness, the brand and platform she created while studying abroad at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Scotland. With well over 60,000 followers on Instagram (@classicalwellness), her posts about the struggles musicians face in the practice room are clearly resonating with classical performers of all ages.
I wanted to learn more about the person behind it all, why she felt compelled to call out the industry, and the kind of bravery and hard work that went into it all.
TFTL: At what age did you start playing the cello? Were you naturally drawn to it, or was it something that someone suggested you try?
JM: I started playing the cello in the middle of my 6th-grade year. I found out that I could waive PE if I took up a language or joined the orchestra, so I begged my counselor to let me in mid-year. I originally asked for a violin, because that’s the only instrument I knew of, but the teacher said there were no more. She said they only had cellos. I said OK without knowing how big the instrument was!
TFTL: What prompted you to start the Classical Wellness Account/Brand? Did you have experience in marketing and branding before, or have you had to learn it all as you go?
JM: I had to learn as I went. I followed lots of accounts that teach about Instagram marketing and I even bought small courses and guides to help me get the message out to bigger audiences. I wanted to start this page and scream the brand’s message from the rooftops because I saw a dire need for musicians to be validated. Musicians should be given a space to be open about the way they are feeling, good or bad. They should be given resources for affordable prices so that we can learn healthy ways to be musicians without having rich parents or connections.
I saw so much struggle when I got to finally be around musicians. I didn’t start lessons until age 16, so I wasn’t really ‘in’ the music world until that point. Even then, I didn’t experience much with other musicians because I was so busy practicing and trying to catch up, I just had my own experiences. When I went to conservatory at 18 and actually got the experience of being a ‘real’ music student, I realized that if I was going to stay in this community, something needed to change. I didn’t see anyone else helping musicians (mentally and physically) on a big scale so I decided to do it myself.
TFTL: As a recent graduate, what does a typical week look like for you?
JM: I graduated from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in the summer of 2022. Right now, I am taking a gap year to focus on auditions for master’s programs. I am currently working remotely on all things classical wellness. This page is just like having my own business. There are lots of backend things that I need to constantly update and make sure are working correctly, and there’s lots of admin. Not to mention the posts that I create daily!
When I’m not doing that, I’m practicing. I average around 2-3 hours per day, with many rest days. I spend time with my family and my boyfriend when I’m not working. Right now I am very happy with the balance between work/cello/social life. Ironically, I’m not in any structured program at the moment!
TFTL: You have an impressive number of IG followers. Did that happen gradually or overnight?
JM: It happened organically, but in the early summer of 2022 (more than a year after I started) I started seeing a lot of growth. From March 2021 to May 2022, I had 3,000 followers. Something happened at the end of the school year last year that just made my posts run around the internet. There was a point when I was gaining 1000 followers a day. It was insane. I had always second-guessed myself, wondering if I was making a fool of myself by starting such a thing. When I first started it, some friends from school made fun of me and my silly tik tok videos (which I also cringe at, looking back). But eventually, I perfected my zone of creating, and musicians respond very well to it. I’m really happy people resonate with the message.
TFTL: What does your dream career look like? Do you think being a musicians’ wellness advocate will always be a part of it?
JM: Absolutely. I feel like my dream would be a mixture of speaking at schools, hosting my own music festival in the summer aimed at creating healthy practice habits, and being a shoo-in for orchestras on the side. I want to play cool music with cool people without the pressure of perfectionism or the high risk of injury (as many orchestra jobs have).
TFTL: Your messaging resonates with students and professionals alike. What are you talking about that no one else has been saying in this space?
JM: That musicians deserve breaks, & that it’s okay for us to be tired. & it’s okay for us to prioritize other things in life. & that none of that means we are less dedicated or less passionate about what we do.
(and that we need to make practicing more effective and efficient so that we aren’t tied to the idea that practicing 5 hours a day is the only way to success)
TFTL: Practicing: Love it or Hate it? What do you find is the most challenging aspect of it?
JM: Both. Love what it gives to me, but hate having to sit down and actually spend time working things out. Sometimes I’m excited to practice, and sometimes I’m not. But I’ve found that technique is a nice way to just start without having to figure anything out. The steps are already there. You just sit down and do it, and then after a while, you get motivated to think about how you want to work on your pieces. I’d say mostly I have to convince myself to practice unless there’s a deadline ahead or I am starting a new piece. Then I’m eager!
TFTL: Who are some of your role models?
JM: In terms of cello: Alison Wells (cello faculty at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland), Anna Edwards (Founder of the Seattle Collaborative Orchestra, Saratoga Orchestra), Mika Takano-Armaly (my very first orchestra teacher in Seattle!) These women have paved the way for me to become an empowered musician. I am so happy I got to look up to these people as I ‘grew up’ in the cello world.
In terms of big-name musicians: Yo-Yo Ma is one of my idols. The things he does around the world to bring people together with music are just extraordinary. He branches away from traditional classical music structure and makes it his own. That is something I really admire and respect.
TFTL: What is the best piece of advice someone has given you?
JM: In regards to performing: express, not impress. Simple, but earth-shattering!
TFTL: And the worst?
JM: That I should be able to practice 4 hours a day from the start without many breaks or time off, and that if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be successful. It takes a lot of energy, time, and effort to create a system where you can healthily practice 4 hours a day. It takes even longer to do it when you have literally any other commitments in life. People throwing this around with no guidance on how to actually practice healthily is very damaging for even the most passionate musicians.
TFTL: What 6 people (dead or alive) would you invite to your ideal dinner party?
JM: Barack Obama, Jennifer Coolidge, The main character from the Apple TV show Severance, Yo-Yo Ma, my boyfriend Felipe, and Errollyn Wallen (UK composer)
TFTL: Where can people find you? (website, Socials, etc.) and what is the best way for people to show their support for what you are doing?
JM: I have a website, classical-wellness.com, where I have some resources available for purchase and download, and this year I am launching a podcast where I go in-depth on all the juicy topics I talk about on my page. I hope it will be available on all listening apps, but keep an eye on my Instagram for the launch!
The best way to support me is by sharing my posts in some way, so those who need it can find the page. It’s very important that everyone feels supported, and that starts with people spreading the word!
TFTL: Anything exciting coming up?
Spring 2023: HOW TO PRACTICE Video series (memorization, remembering what you’ve learned, learning patience for the slow practice, practice techniques that actually work for things like fast passages, lyrical passages, technically challenging passages, etc). Your one-stop shop for all things practice strategy!
Summer 2023: Classical Wellness Podcast (where we dive deep into the toxic culture of classical music, and dismantle the unhealthy societal structures that keep us unwell)
P.S. If you enjoyed this blog post and want more insider info on how to thrive as a creative, be sure you get on the list to receive my Friday “Weekend List.” Each one is loaded up with additional tips, tricks, and things to think about, including a new curated list of articles, books, podcasts, and things that I think you’d enjoy. Click Here to Get the Weekend List!