COVID-19 brought with it many changes, as most of the world entered into self-quarantine for the first time in history.

Online meetings became a feature of our lives and it was here I ‘met’ André Heuvelman, via a LinkedIn introduction on March 17th. It was an instant click!

And then on April 2nd, Bach’s ‘Air’ For The World, performed by the Trumpets of Orange, in Holland, premiered on YouTube. André’s story and vision captured my heart and needed to be shared.

These five friends come from different musical backgrounds: jazz, pop, world, and classical. Pre COVID-19, they played together regularly in a variety of venues. COVID-19 changed that for them. ‘Air’ For The World was an experiment to see what the vibration would be, to send out some needed fresh ‘air’ to the world, each from their own home.

MJR: You had a 30 year long career playing for the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra (RPhO) including being their solo trumpet player. What inspired you to do this? Where did this inner drive come from?

AH: I was born with an underdeveloped left arm and wanted to prove I could do anything any other child could do. At the age of eleven, I started playing the trumpet. In order to even hold the trumpet normally, I needed to develop the strength in my upper left arm, so I started windsurfing. In high school, I realized a music scholarship was my ticket to freedom, to go to the big city. I was determined to make it happen. I wanted to be the best, to have something for myself, to show myself. My trumpet became my shield.

MJR: You shared with me that by taking up windsurfing, the wind gave you the power to move the wind in another direction. What do you mean by that?

AH: I wanted to be normal, to be independent, to overcome and maybe compensate for my ‘little less’. Air (the wind), gave me the power to move air myself, both in windsurfing and with my trumpet.

MJR: You must have developed enormous resilience during your youth. There would have been numerous setbacks, falling down and getting back up again, in much of what you strove to achieve?

AH: My disability inspired me to improvise, also physically. I was ‘forced’ into finding space to play, to develop. I was pushed into inventing ways to improve myself, asking myself ‘How can I make it work, in spite of the limitations?’.

MJR: What we call a Growth Mindset today, I might add. Were you ever told ‘you won’t be able to do that’?

AH: Not so much but some well-meaning people tried to do things for me. They tried to protect me, wanting to ‘take care of me’. It made my resolve to be independent even stronger.

MJR: How did your trumpet become your shield?

AH: My shield in life. To hide behind. To have advantages in life. To move forward with ambition, have a clear goal, and ultimately to become one of the best trumpet players. I was on my way to ‘being someone’ and my handicap didn’t hold me back. I was able to be on stage, with my trumpet as my shield. I always needed my trumpet, to feel seen and to be appreciated. I became what I do.

Don’t get me wrong, music and the orchestra gave me a great life. I travelled around the world, playing in the biggest concert halls. Met with kings and queens. But my outside world was defining who I was or should be. I was chasing the golden grail, which wasn’t there.

I had always had one big desire: to be free to PLAY, to play for the fun of playing. It is why I created the acronym PLAY: Practice Like A Youngster.

In 2016, I came to the realization that my time was not my own. I had worked 7 days a week, for 3 weeks, with no free time. This wasn’t unusual. I asked myself, is this going to be my life? What space do I hold, do I create, for myself to PLAY, instead of just delivering what others expected?

The next day, I handed in my resignation with the Netherlands Wind Ensemble and 6 months later with the RPhO. I put down my trumpet, wanting to reinvent myself without my shield.

And there I was: André without his trumpet. For the first time in my life, I was able to embrace my handicap. And the trumpet was no longer my shield but became my friend. I found my own freedom to PLAY.

I became the manager of CreAtions for the orchestra. I contribute by finding new ways for the orchestra to reinvent themselves, especially now.

For three to four years I’ve been trying to create a spark for the RPhO to consider changing, saying we need to have a Plan B, in case subsidies are no longer available.

With 100 plus musicians at home, there now is space for change. Their lives revolve around coming together and playing with the orchestra. They are cut off from the world they know. The corona virus took their instruments away; their ability to play together.

My Rotterdam Philharmonic CreAtions team came up with the Beethoven Nine project. 2020 is Beethoven’s 250th birthday celebration. We were given carte blanche. 20 of the RPhO musicians, each playing from their own home, make the statement that we are entering a new time but we are still able to perform. To my knowledge, it was the first time a multiscreen orchestral performance was produced. Oprah broadcasted the full video on one of her shows and it has gone viral with nearly 3 million views.

I just have to say that the energy was incredible. It’s been such a boost for the players. They’ve become world stars, with a product that was unique. They could never have reached this amount of people, without this medium. 

MJR: You consider yourself an innovator, a cultural entrepreneur. What does that mean for you?

AH: For me it’s not about sending or showing up to do what I do, but looking at what is needed. Not to deliver but to contribute. Being creative in the same way as when I play the trumpet. I start with a beginners mind, feeling what is needed, just as I never play the same composition the same way. And here I make the connection to where the minstrels in medieval times, who with their music, broadened the lives of the people who heard them play. I continually ask: what is the value for the audience?

One of the purposes of our lives is to create. Combine physical activity with music and with your unique association to the experience, you become the creator of your own individual reality.

What I want, is to bring music back to the place it belongs: as a way to communicate. I believe so strongly in the energy, in the healing and well-being power of music. Music can have an enormous influence on business well-being. Music is the only language which no-one dislikes.

MJR: In the past couple of years, you’ve done research into the effects of music, both with Deloitte NL as well as with Philips, together with Erasmus University. Explain how this came about and some of the results.

AH: One of my first opportunities as the manager of creations with the RPhO, was coming in contact with Professor Hans Jeekel of Erasmus University. Dr. Jeekel researches the effects on patients listening to music before, during and after surgery. The results were significantly less pain, medicine, stress, fear and a faster recovery. There is actually an ROI (return on investment) by introducing music. 

Via Dr. Jeekel, I was introduced at Philips. Philips had started a project with their new MRI scans. They inserted photos of famous artworks from the Rijks Museum, for the patient to view during the scan, in order to provide a distraction to what is often perceived as an intensely uncomfortable diagnostic procedure.

I suggested combining this with music from the RPhO and the research team agreed. In the end, we created a 45 minute track list and with this music and art combination, there were 70 – 85% less rescans required.

With Deloitte, we are doing research together with their Impact Foundation. We looked specifically at symphonic music and its impact on well-being in general. That research is ongoing. 

MJR: ‘Holding space for change’ has become your mantra. Can you share what this means for you, in this time of absolutely drastic change we’re experiencing in our lives?

AH: I believe the formula for great (personal) leadership is to look at what we are very good at and then to reserve some of our expertise. Hold back your performance to 70 or 80%.

Let me explain: When I was the leader of the brass section of the RPhO, I played at 100% or even 120%; there was no space for anyone else to play beside me. By holding space for the people around you, there will be a stronger contribution by others, wanting to fill that space. Now there is room for them to perform and to excel as well. Remember though, to give yourself permission that 70 or 80% is good enough.

This is creating a high performance team.

For me, holding space means to always reserve some of your talent in what you do. See the opportunities for others, share your personal values and model them for the people around you. Allow them space to grow and develop. Be thoughtful and look around you, instead of focusing only on the KPI’s.

MJR: André, what would be your call to action for the readers?

AH: Determine what are you good at, what is YOUR trumpet? Which one of your qualities can you always rely upon? From that, see what you can contribute to the world.  

Deliver as a human being and contribute from your skills. Then we’re not becoming what we do but we do what we are. The space to play is one you create yourself. Remember to contain your ego; you don’t have to demonstrate it. When you know the quality you don’t have to be presenting all the time. You are the quality.

Coming back to ‘Air for the World’ – give yourself the space to just be. Embrace your unique skill and hold space for those around you, like the Trumpets of Orange, in Holland have done.

You can find more about André and his creativity at
André’s photo courtesy of Ann-Sophie Falter