Old school is dead.

The physical and mental abuse that was permissible just 40 years ago in sports, education, and other areas of life is now totally inexcusable.

We have the perfect opportunity during this pandemic to examine how fear and intimidation are no longer beneficial in musical education and performance, and to establish supportive practices based on our genuine experience of uplifted consciousness through music.

For in 2020, music is coming back to its roots.

Music builds community

“We’re all in this together” is what you read and hear all the time. Yes, we are all going through unprecedented challenges, and it is helpful to know that I’m not alone in my struggles.

But just because we are in something together doesn’t mean we’re necessary building community at the same time. Something more is needed.

The something more is what music offers best: care, heart-felt sharing, attentive listening, and love.

Music will help heal this country, if we use bring out the best it has to offer.

Do you practice/perform/teach out of fear or love?

Fear can be an excellent motivator, like when a tiger is chasing you. Or worse, when your lesson is tomorrow and you haven’t practiced all week.

Sometimes fear is what is needed to just start practicing.

Like you, I’ve had my share of conductors and teachers who have used intimidation or meanness to try to improve performance. As a leader in rehearsal and performance, I’ve also felt the inner fire of frustration surge within me, threatening to take over my calmness. My desire and drive for excellence is a necessary component of success, but how I channel that energy takes cleverness and creativity. Most people don’t have the patience to try to find solutions for working with themselves and others in a way that keeps the door open for positive growth and empowerment. Without patience, cleverness and creativity, it is easy to yell at ourselves, our students, our ensembles.

But remember, old school is dead.

Vicious vs. Virtuous

I bet you have felt the difference in training with love vs. training with fear. The body physically responds differently to each, greatly affecting our sound and technique.

Take this example of a vicious cycle: you are afraid, you tense, you miss a note, you become more afraid, your tension increase, you miss another note. I don’t know about you, but I have never been able to break out of a vicious cycle like that during a performance of a piece, especially if I had already practiced that viscous cycle hundreds of times in rehearsal.

And contrast that with the virtuous cycle: you enjoy your sound, your body relaxes, your sound improves. You enjoy more deeply, you relax while maintaining precision, your sound improves. This is what people want to hear in performance. This is how we need to train.

Behind any note is either fear or love. Frustration or enjoyment. Which would you rather work with?

Fear motivates by the threat of loss.

In 2020, musicians have lost jobs, performances, social connections and dearest to me, the joy of ensemble. What more could be taken from us?

But then take it a step further – what do we have to fear, now that we are left with nothing? What an amazing opportunity to shift the direction of music.

Furthermore, you didn’t go into music to be afraid. You went into the field to share your love of music.

Fear vs Love

And here is the thing – you can’t feel fear and love at the same time. Sure, you can have a love/hate relationship, but I’ve never heard of a love/fear relationship.

Love and hate are relatable in the field of emotion, but love and fear are direct opposites. When you are in fear, the idea of love is meaningless. And just as true, when you are engrossed in an experience of unconditional love, you’ll find that fear can’t get in.

Building from the bedrock of love

I have many students who are dealing with anxiety. What good could instilling fear do?

We don’t need more fear. We need more notes that are based on love.

Here is a simple, yet profound exercise: practice a scale, as slowly as possible. Fill each easy note with as much love, presence, intention, and heart as possible. Challenge yourself to enjoy each note as deeply as you can. Watch what happens in your heart. Allow yourself the healing power of your sound.

Move to an easy etude. Do the same thing, playing as easily and slowly as you can. Don’t worry about how long it will take to perfect it. Focus on how much you can enjoy it.

And then at some point, restlessness may take over. Watch what happens to your heart when you irresistibly follow the restless urge to go immediately faster. Interesting, eh? The peace and expansion within your breath and body vanish.

But watch what happens when you take the time to let the heart lead your speed. If you feel your heart contract, you’ve gone too fast, even in an intense passage. Keep your heart open, let it lead.

Again, develop patience, cleverness and creativity to bring the open, relaxed heart into even the most intense passages.

Imagine a new school

Finally, imagine how this next generation of music students will change the trajectory of music. They will have lived through the grand pause, the great silence of musical performance. Those who choose music, to dive deep into what it truly has to offer, will have a strong, powerful voice.

Imagine conductors who learn how to inspire musicians to play and sing better than they imagined they could.

Imagine teachers who focus on pulling out the best from their students using patience, creativity and cleverness.

And perhaps best of all, imagine audiences who listen with an open heart to truly hear the love and community these young performers will have to offer.

Old school is dead. Long live the new school.

The Shift from Fear to Love in Music and Education

4 thoughts on “The Shift from Fear to Love in Music and Education

  • September 6, 2020 at 1:36 pm

    Absolutely LOVE this article. I love that the old school is dead (or dying) in so many sectors of our society. Time for a new way of being based on love and compassion. Thank you for adding your voice (and your music) to the creation of a kinder community.

    Humbly and respectfully, may I request that you correct the spelling of vicious? “Viscous” means something else entirely.

  • September 6, 2020 at 1:46 pm

    Thank you for your most thoughtful and quite beautiful writing.
    Sending love and care your way,
    you are a real musician’s musician.

  • September 6, 2020 at 5:16 pm

    Your wisdom will guide the new school of music. Those of us who are not musicians can learn through this wisdom to deeply and inwardly listen. Perhaps a renaissance in listening will lead to new, spiritual music that will feed our souls!.. Thank you, David

  • September 9, 2020 at 5:36 pm

    Dear David, Thank you for your new heart-inspired ideas of being a teacher. I wish I could find the video clip of Bernadette Peters paying homage to her voice teacher. She recalls that when she (the teacher, now a retired operatic performer?) wanted to demonstrate a high note she couldn’t hit anymore would get right up as close as she could, and then she’d point UP to hit it virtually…hearing the note in her head and showing BP where she was going. Ms. Peters said wore a red ribbon hidden under a collar or inside her dress to take that teacher with her to every performance (and then she flipped over the collar she was wearing to show she was still honoring that teacher).


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