“Helping people find the same tools to express their thoughts and emotions that saved me all those years ago.”

A blog by Rockacademie graduate and trainer Eefje Wevers

Roughly ten years ago, I decided I would apply to the Rockacademie in Tilburg, the Netherlands. I’d discovered that music let me express myself in ways nothing else could. Having been bullied for most of my childhood, I grew into a sad and insecure teen. Playing in bands were some of the happiest moments I had at that age. I felt safe and free in the rehearsal rooms with friends and teachers. I didn’t much like being on stage, scared that everyone in the audience would laugh at me over the smallest mistake, but the urge to share music always won out over the anxiety.

It took another six years before I got accepted into Rockacademie. I imagined myself on big stages, touring the world, releasing music that thousands of people listened to. I desperately wanted people to like me, for others to see I was talented and one of a kind. It made my depression and anxiety that much worse when even I couldn’t see it anymore.

After a good year of struggling through the paradox of trying to be loved by everyone while hating myself and the world around me, I decided to stop playing music live. Every second on stage made me feel like I was about to die and the exhaustion I felt afterwards made it hard to get out of bed for a week straight. It just wasn’t worth it. I didn’t want to expose myself to the world anymore, and instead kept my songs to myself. I even stopped writing for a while, something that had come naturally to me since I was six years old.

Eefje and Eric

I barely made it through my third year at the Rockacademie. I had released my first EP as Ivy Nox and was still recovering from a burnout when I got a call from Eric Coenen, asking if I wanted to join him for a summer camp in Skopje in August. I’d been in Eric’s classes to learn about band coaching, and I still remember him waving his arms around wildly trying to explain to us what Summer School was like. There’s an unwritten rule at school that says when Eric invites you anywhere, you say yes without thinking – so that’s what I did.  

It was my first time in eastern Europe, and I had no idea what to bring or what to expect. I left my camera and bathing suit at home, but I did remember to bring not one, but two sweaters to a gorgeous city with constant 30+ degree weather. I thought I was aware of the state of the world, but as it turns out, my education smoothly skipped over anything Balkan. I spent my time waiting at the airport by diving into a Wikipedia hole to get a general idea of the region and the situation there (which only confused me more). I was glad to have the years of experience in the shape of Ruud and Eric with me.

Summer School was a week of teaching – sound engineering and some songwriting – but more than that, it was a week of learning big life lessons. Students told me about their homes and what life was like in a divided region, and how Mitrovica Rock School was helping them. They made me realize the importance of music – something that gets forgotten in the Netherlands, where it gets treated as a fun hobby by most.

The same culture shock happened when we were invited to Mitrovica in October for the ten-year anniversary of Mitrovica Rock School. In just a week, my perspective on life about doubled in size. Being in the city where we could cross the bridge, but our local friends had to stay behind for their safety, made everything that much more real. 

Ivy Nox live on stage

The school reminded me of the years I spent in the basement of my high school, making music with friends, recording demos on old computers with cheap USB microphones. I remembered how it helped me grow as a person, and how music let me deal with all the negative emotions I was experiencing at the time. It came as a shock to me that I’d forgotten that I once made music just because I enjoyed it – ‘just’ because it made me happy. I’d become so worried about what other people would think of me and my music, that I ignored all the good I got from it.

I rediscovered my love of teaching too – helping people find the same tools to express their thoughts and emotions that saved me all those years ago. On the final nights, I performed one of my own songs to an ecstatic audience – which is how I rediscovered my love for playing on stage. Seeing other people enjoy the music that, up until then, I’d kept from the world – something so personal and secret – was one of the purest and most important experiences I’ve had in my life, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t stop crying for the rest of the night.

Exactly one year later, I’ve been to Skopje three times, and Mitrovica three times (which is bizarre to think about as a ‘regular Dutch girl that loves music’). I’ve graduated from Rockacademie as a songwriter, audio engineer and band coach. I organized my own graduation show, where I played an hour of my music with a band that’s still with me to this day – with special guest Emir, who’d come over from Mitrovica to join us for the last three songs! I’m writing new music, I’m designing courses that help people work through creative block – I even work for Musicians Without Borders in Amsterdam now :-)

I would never have felt confident enough to follow those dreams if I hadn’t experienced Mitrovica Rock School. In this resilient community that uses music to connect people that wouldn’t have met otherwise, I found a safe space where I could reconnect with parts of me I had given up in order to crawl out of the dark places I’d been in. I can only hope I’ll be able to help other people grow the same way in return.