The inner voices that actually HELP the classical musician on stage
As a mother, I have learned beautiful truths from my children. Truths about imagination, about freedom, about learning and development. They have certainly taught me exponentially more than I could ever teach them and for that, I am grateful every day.
One thing my children have shown me is that growth is vulnerable and cannot occur simultaneously with chastisement or shame. As humans, we learn when we feel confident and capable. We need to be surrounded by a reservoir of resilience which is fed through connection, support, and encouragement in order to step into the unknown.
Fear and uncertainty walk hand in hand with growth; in order to take the brave step into learning it is essential that we embody a rich and deep resource of positivity to carry ourselves through the fear.
For example, if when a toddler learns to walk - the sweetest little step, fall, squat, step, step, fall - her caregivers yell at her every time she fails she will surely quit. Or if a 7-year-old is sounding out his words only to be shamed by his teacher he will avoid this new learning. And yet, we are often characterized by treating ourselves in such a toxic and abusive manner. Learning is simply too vulnerable a process to be linked with negativity and judgement.
As adults we have the same emotional needs around learning as children. We need to feel encouraged, uplifted, competent, capable, and equipped to lean into the discomfort of learning something new or improving upon what we already know. And, the richest resource for this support lies not in our teachers, conductors, or chamber music coaches, it lies with us. We can provide for ourselves a perfect reservoir of resilience. We can become for ourselves the safe space to experiment, make mistakes, and discover new levels of creativity.
In my most recent article for The Strad, I shared Dr. Irmtraud Kruger’s concept of Inner Monsters. These are the voices that inhibit us as performers. They sow doubt, insecurity, and shame. If left untamed, these Inner Monsters will sabotage even the most beautiful artist. It is of vital importance that we see these monsters for what they are and learn to disengage from their toxic narrative.
However, we also are endowed with Inner Allies. Going by many different names - Intuition, Big Me, Gut, Higher Power - Inner Allies exist within all of us. Their goal is to encourage us into our most authentic self. Our Inner Allies esteem us, know us, and want us to walk on the unique path laid before us. As musicians, out Inner Allies believe in the value of our artistic voice and long for us to answer the calling of being a musician. Inner Allies are less concerned with what the world thinks of us and are driven instead to help us walk fully into ourselves as performers and humans. “To find our performance power, I believe it to be of fundamental importance that we also get acquainted with the voices of our inner allies and to have them at our disposal in difficult situations,” Dr. Irmtraud Kruger.
Your Inner Mentor
A mentor is someone who comes alongside another and pours into them wisdom, experience, and advice. How incredible to realize that you have within you a voice that possesses everything you need in this very moment! Just as a teacher leads their student through their education step by patient step, so too does your Inner Mentor understand your capacities and skill at this moment. While you have dreams of soloing at Carnegie Hall, your Inner Mentor will guide you to the next right step to achieve that goal. Your Inner Mentor dreams your dreams AND has a grasp on the next best step to get you there.
Your Inner Mentor does not view results through the lens of success or failure. Instead, it sees results as something that has been attained or something from which you can learn. Every experience exists to support your growth according to the Inner Mentor.
For example, when the audition results are shared and you have not been advanced to the next round of the audition, your Inner Mentor sees the areas that you can grow into while simultaneously cheering you on for your efforts. The Inner Mentor does not exist in a world of black and white, right and wrong, win and lose. It lives in the rich and color space of growth, learning, and optimism.
Your Inner Mentor is your best teacher who manages to both affirm and challenge you into greater performances.
Your Voice of Trust
Just as in relationships between yourself and another, it takes consistent effort over time to build trust with yourself. When you keep your commitments to yourself, work conscientiously, and regularly take risks you build a trusting relationship with yourself. Eventually, you have strung together enough experiences that cause you to trust that you can, indeed, take the next step forward or commit to the next audition.
From trust comes belief. Not a blind faith that has no foundation, but a deep and secure belief in yourself based on past experiences. “[Y]our inner belief helps us to tap [y]our healthy inner resources and to employ them for [y]our paths and goals, “ says Dr. Kruger.
As you know, your feelings are caused by your thoughts. As you experience your trustworthiness time and time again, self-belief becomes a natural by-product. It creates a wonderful cycle of trusting that you can and will do the work - self-belief that you can take the next step forward - doing the work. Around and around we go, trusting, believing, working, trusting, believing, working.
Eventually, when you are confronted with fear or uncertainty, you have built a strong enough foundation of trust with yourself that you are able to believe you have done what you needed to perform to the best of your abilities.
The Voice of Curiosity
One of the main tenants in the practice of mindfulness is to look at thoughts, experiences, and feelings with curiosity rather than judgment. When you approach life with curiosity, everything becomes a wonderful experiment!
What happens if I place my tongue further back for my low register articulation?
What happens when I use the weight of my arm rather than my finger on the keyboard?
What happens when I deny the Inner Monster’s criticism and choose to believe my Inner Mentor instead?
It is through your Voice of Curiosity that you reconnect with your inner child - the part of you mesmerized by bow hairs and Mozart and rainbows. Your curiosity cultivates an inner buoyancy and flexibility that extends far beyond the imaginings of a child. It is through this Voice of Curiosity that you begin to understand that you aren’t chasing a goal, you are experiencing the beauty of challenge and growth in this very moment. Your curiosity teaches you that life is not rigid and performative, it is filled with opportunities to connect and see.
“When we approach a public appearance with curiosity, something more happens: we experience feelings of pleasure, our body pulses with vitality, our imagination takes wings, and our senses awaken, “ says Dr. Kruger.
The Voice of Curiosity can serve as a bridge between fear and courage. Engaging your sense of wonder helps transform a moment of tension into one of anticipation. Curiosity brings you to our place of personal strength and resilience. It is a powerful ally for the performer and a wonderful collaborator in this life.
All three of our Inner Allies - the Inner Mentor, the Voice of Trust, and the Voice of Curiosity - are indispensable to the artist. They each pour into the reservoir of resilience that you need in order to do the brave work of performing on stage. They see you as the best version of yourself and know the path forward to get you there. They exist outside of judgment and external validation, knowing that the world needs your voice, not an imitation of someone else.
While you are taming your Inner Monsters, turn toward your Inner Allies. They have everything you need … and then some.
Next Steps and Additional Resources
Here at The Musician's Mindset we have some incredible resources for developing and implementing mindset practices that will transform how you perform on stage.
First, check out our Personalized Mindset Tools Quiz to discover the mindset strategies perfect for YOU!
Join the waiting list for my FREE mini-course, How to Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve and Calm the Heck Down.
Founder of The Musician's Mindset
Katie is dedicated to helping musicians overcome stage fright and believe in their own unique artistic voice. She believes live classical music is a powerful antidote for the division, pain, and loneliness pervasive in the culture and strives to support all artists to confidently share their work with the world. She lives in Cincinnati with her husband, three kiddos, a dog, a snake, and a goldfish named Orca.