Many of us have endured teachers and conductors (maybe even family and friends) who used subtle or overt shaming to motivate or change. If you feel brave enough to share, I’m gathering examples that perhaps were meant to be harmless, but instead damaged your joy.

Sometimes constructive criticism can hurt your ego but open you up to new understanding, humility and growth. We all need a bit (or a lot!) of that, yes?

Shaming, however, does not seek to understand. Shaming damages self esteem and connection to joy. An extremely talented young musician recently described her lessons and rehearsals as “soul crushing”. Shaming did not expand her into new understanding, but instead darkened her venue of joy into an experience of pain that pushed her to quit.

Similarly, 35 years ago my orchestra conductor said with a dismissive sneer after I played a solo in front of my friends: “Next time, play it in tune.” The way he said those 6 words ripped a huge tear in my belief that music was a place for connection and joy. Perhaps he sought to toughen me up for the “real world”, unaware that I’d be now living in a time where the need for connection is greater than it is for perfection.

Perhaps his own training discouraged curiosity about how to best motivate and guide others towards improvement. I have great compassion for him, as most of us have been taught that shaming is an acceptable tool of the trade.

It’s time to model new ways of teaching and leading. There are so many alternatives to encourage improvement. 

What shaming words and phrases are still being used by teachers and leaders today, especially in fields of vulnerable sharing such as musical performance? 

I want to hear your story.

Shaming – what is your story?
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4 thoughts on “Shaming – what is your story?

  • January 2, 2023 at 8:22 pm

    A few years ago I decided to go back to college to study music as an adult. The viola professor (whom I had met) was absent on audition day for some reason, and I ended up playing the audition only for the other string faculty, whom I didn’t know.

    I got most of the way through my pieces when they stopped me. They said it was for times’ sake, but I hadn’t played well and I knew it. We exchanged a few pleasantries and then one of the faculty asked “[the viola professor ] *has* heard you play before, correct?” This was said in the kindest possible way – not sternly or snarkily – but I felt so ashamed, like I had no right to be there.

    • January 2, 2023 at 11:06 pm

      Karen, I hear you! Auditions are so hard, and so often lead to feelings that you mentioned. Was there anything that the others could have done to make you feel less ashamed?

      • January 3, 2023 at 5:34 am

        If they had not made that one comment, I would have felt better about the experience.

        • January 3, 2023 at 7:30 am

          Yes, that would have been the compassionate thing for them to do! To try to understand how you were feeling at that time.


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