I just got back from a very intense week at The Art of Practicing Institute Summer Program held at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. I met beautiful souls, heard real music-making, and had a transformative learning experience. I know that I'm a different person than before leaving NYC with my suitcase and my copy of "The Art of Practicing" in tow.
PHOTO: Leaving LaGuardia Airport to API
It's really hard to describe everything that went on during this incredible weeklong seminar. I feel like I have a better sense of who I am and understand the ways my body, mind, heart are all integrated with one another and how it relates to my practicing and performance. And through meditation, I can continue to practice mindfulness in life and performance and thus become more aware and observe all these various aspects within myself that produce anxiety around music.
I originally read "The Art of Practicing" by Madeline Bruser last spring after feeling depressed over a performance that didn't go as well as I wanted. My friend/colleague Emily Kalish sympathized and suggested I read this book. It was really eye-opening to learn ways I could let go and trust myself. Some time after that, I applied some of the techniques I learned and experienced joy before, during, and after a performance- something I've rarely been able to do for almost 10 years. Afterwards, I applied and got accepted to attend the summer institute to learn more.
PHOTO: with Madeline Bruser, author of "The Art of Practicing" and director of API after the Concluding Concert
Our Daily Schedule-
Breakfast @ 7:30a
Meditation & Discussion @ 8:30a-11:30a
Lunch & Practice Time 11:30a-2:15p
Masterclasses & Workshops 2:15p-5:30p
Dinner & More Practice Time @ 5:30p
I learned A LOT. It's impossible to write about it all but here were some of my takeaways-
1) Posture- This was something I focused on a lot during the program and realized how it's causing a lot of tension when playing and leading to injury. I like what Madeline said about sitting like a queen on a throne when playing. A queen sits with regal poise and self assuredness; she knows that when she speaks, she'll be heard. Bad posture and bending over shows a lack of confidence and insecurity that can come through in your playing.
2) A Manageable Life- In my normal life, I feel completely stressed out 99% of the time. Friends and family have made me aware of this, and I realize more than ever how this is producing imbalance in almost all areas of my life. We live in a culture now that values appearing busy all the time, and it's a crock. I want to set manageable goals for myself and attend to self-care and make sure I'm being kind to myself. This could mean I stop doing things I don't want to do and start setting reasonable goals and timelines for my repertoire and projects.
3) Performing Beyond Fear- We meditated for two hours every morning (sitting, walking, guided, readings). PBF is a guided meditation exercise meant to reflect on Basic Goodness (a Shambhala principle). Without explaining it in depth, which is done much better in person, it's an exercise that helps you appreciate yourself and your efforts and discover your truest intentions and of your audience. For example, it takes great courage just to even walk on stage, and to sit with that and acknowledge your own courage is a really powerful experience. Have you ever thought about what why your audience comes to see you play and what you want to give them? I realized that most people come to be moved by the music- they're not there to analyze how you played each and every note. It brought to mind times I thought I bombed or tanked and then receiving a beautiful note from an audience member who loved my performance. I find that I'm so used to negative self-talk that I've never taken any sort of time to hold and believe a radically different, more positive perspective. After doing this meditation for the first time, I felt supreme gratitude and a quiet groundedness. My goal is to do this every day if possible and definitely on days I have to perform.
The most special thing about the program was all the people I met and how we created a safe space to be open and learn from one another. I hope to attend the program again next year but if I don't, I'll never forget any one of them.