Music as Medicine
“By the end of my time at Loreto, I walked out into the world thinking I could genuinely do anything I wanted to.”
Long before Sophie Payten became Gordi, the much-loved ARIA-nominated musician; she was scribbling illegible song lyrics in her dormitory at Loreto Normanhurst. Sophie’s passion for creating music developed into weekend gigs and eventually international tours with artists such as Bon Iver, Gang of Youths and The National.
Gordi’s rising star isn’t the only career Sophie has nurtured, much of her time in recent months has been as Dr. Payten, working on the frontline in Melbourne hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently, Sophie took some time to reflect on music and medicine, and the significance of her Loreto education in an interview with the Loreto Communications team…
How do you achieve a balance between your dual careers in music and medicine?
I think if you really feel passionate about something, you just make time for it. I pursued studies in medicine because I felt passionate about it and I started playing gigs on weekends while I was at uni because it’s something I loved to do. Both pursuits kind of grew together and as I progressed through my degree, the gigs on weekends became tours through the US and Europe. I’ve always just followed the green lights and worked it out along the way.
What has been the highlight of your career in either field to date?
My career highlight in medicine was finishing my internship. I felt like I had been working towards that day for so long and all the blood, sweat and tears I could muster had gone into it. I felt a profound sense of pride and achievement that I had got to the finish line. In music it has been working with some of my heroes and learning from them. I played a collaborative festival in 2018 in Wisconsin and Berlin with the members of Bon Iver and The National and a raft of my other favourite artists. We got to spend weeks just learning from each other and writing and expressing ourselves freely.
How did your Loreto education prepare you for your future?
By the end of my time at Loreto, I walked out into the world thinking I could genuinely do anything I wanted to. I think the sense of empowerment that is given to the girls accounts for the vast number of successful and ambitious Loreto women. I also learned from my time at school that success can mean many things and that you’re most likely to find it in your own life if you pursue what you are passionate about.
How has your approach to your music evolved since you started writing songs?
I started writing songs in my dormitory in year 7 when I hadn’t had a lot of life experience. 15 years on I feel I’ve rectified that somewhat, and my approach to writing has evolved with those experiences. When I first wrote songs, I used to write lyrics so illegibly on a notepad in case anybody in the dorm found them and I only ever wrote for instruments that I had either played or seen played. I used to be more focused on rules and genres and what was customary in song writing. Now I’ve let a lot of that go and I try to be open to any sort of process that will turn illegible scribbles on a pad of paper into a song.
What has your experience being on the frontline throughout the COVID-19 pandemic been like?
When the second wave began in Victoria, I came to Melbourne to be a medical equivalent of a gap-filler. Staff were being furloughed in huge numbers and there were shortages in many hospitals. I was thrust into unfamiliar workplaces to fill shifts here and there and it was a daunting time. I learned a lot. I saw a lot of very unwell people. I met a lot of healthcare workers who were out of their comfort zone and scared of taking the virus home with them to their loved ones. But there was a really inspiring sense of obligation and responsibility – these people working in these places were there to do their job and do it well.
Can you comment on the power of music to inspire people in these challenging times?
This year more than ever, we have relied on the arts and music to get us through what has been an incredibly challenging year. The figures of mental health morbidity during the pandemic are so significant and music and the arts are so heavily relied upon to get people through challenging times. Music transports us and is transformative, it provides genuine therapeutic benefits and it’s just nice to listen to.
What message would you give multi-passionate students in Loreto schools?
Back yourself. Pursue all the things you are passionate about. Don’t get weighed down by the study – it’s obviously important but you will do better in the long run if you feel satisfied in the other parts of your life. And once you’ve left school, there are a million different routes to take. Take the one that makes you feel good.
A contemporary Loreto education seeks to develop each student’s awareness of and response to others to prepare them to take their place as active global citizens. Sophie is a true representation of what it means to be a Loreto girl, a woman who is characterised by freedom, justice, sincerity, verity and felicity – a woman who, in the words of Mary Ward, has come to do much.
Images of Gordi by Jess Gleeson. Courtesy of the artist.