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Me and my health: Pianist Michael McHale on his lifestyle


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Piano man: Michael McHale

Piano man: Michael McHale

With wife, violinist Laura Dixo

With wife, violinist Laura Dixo

Piano man: Michael McHale

The pianist from Belfast is preparing for a lunchtime concert next month with clarinettist Michael Collins at the Wigmore Hall, London on June 18 (with no audience in the hall), which will broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and video-streamed on the Wigmore Hall site. The 37-year-old, who is married to Laura Dixon (35), has also been teaching piano lessons online via Zoom and Skype

Do you take regular exercise and if so, what?

Although playing the piano can expend a surprising amount of energy, it is sedentary, so it's important for me to find time to exercise regularly. Running is the easiest form of exercise for me, as when I'm on tour I just have to bring a pair of running shoes in my suitcase. It's also a good way to see a little bit more of the local area wherever I go, around parks or along river banks, though if the weather is terrible there is always the hotel gym.

What is the worst illness you've had?

I spent New Year's Eve 2013 recovering from an emergency appendectomy in Belfast City Hospital, and was fast asleep by 10pm, so I didn't see or hear any fireworks that year... I was incredibly grateful to all the wonderful NHS staff, who took such fantastic care of me that I was already back playing a concert in Dublin 10 days later, albeit with a lot of ibuprofen to get me through it!

How healthy is your diet?

When I am at home I generally eat quite healthily, though perhaps I could benefit from more salad. I have a bowl of porridge every morning, and I tend to eat lots of fish and vegetables. When travelling it can be more of a challenge, as often there is little time between airport transfers, hotel check-ins, rehearsals and concerts, so it's the art of the possible, really.

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With wife, violinist Laura Dixo

With wife, violinist Laura Dixo

With wife, violinist Laura Dixo

Any bad habits?

I probably order more burgers than I should when on tour in the USA, so maybe that should be my post-lockdown resolution when I'm eventually able to begin performing abroad again. Other than that, I'll buy the occasional croissant, chocolate bar or packet of crisps in a train station or airport, when I need to grab something quickly.

Do you drink and smoke/ if so how much?

I don't smoke, but I do enjoy drinking, (mainly) in moderation, whether it be a post-concert pint, a gin martini or a good scotch, and a nice glass of wine with dinner. My older sister Anne is a Master of Wine, so I'm fortunate to have been introduced to some wonderful wine through her recommendations and public tasting events. I tend to drink a bit less when I'm at home than when I'm abroad, which I've been trying to stick to during lockdown.

Do you take any supplements?

I go through phases taking vitamin supplements, but I'm not always great at re-stocking when they run out!

How do you take time out?

My wife Laura and I take at least one or preferably two holidays together each year: it's important for us, as we both spend a significant amount of time travelling for concerts abroad (she is a violinist in the London Symphony Orchestra).

A silver lining in the current situation is that we're finally getting to spend an extended period of time at home together, sorting out some unfinished jobs around the house, and relaxing by watching movies or going for walks in the local area.

I also enjoy playing poker with friends when I get the chance, going to jazz gigs, and following the Ulster and Irish rugby teams.

How well do you sleep?

In the past I used to struggle a bit with insomnia from time to time, but in recent years I'm glad to say that I generally sleep very well. I'm also lucky to be able to fall asleep very easily when in transit, be it a car, bus, train or plane, which is incredibly useful when I have an early start and have to play a concert the same day.

Do you worry about getting old?

I don't worry about getting old (yet), other than perhaps about losing my ability to fall asleep while travelling! However since I took up my first teaching position in 2018, at the CIT Cork School of Music, working with undergraduate and postgraduate piano students, I have definitely felt older.

What is your go-to product that keeps you feeling healthy?

I don't know if it counts as a health product, but it's hard to beat a good cup of tea - always makes me feel better, and I guess all those antioxidants help, too…

Recent album releases Bennett: Orchestral Works Vol.4 and The Lyrical Clarinet Vol.3 are available now on Chandos Records and Cliff Eidelman: The Five Tales is available on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Spotify. To find out more about the lunchtime concert, or to follow Michael's socials, visit www.michaelmchale.com

Belfast Telegraph