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How We Get Disempowered as Humans in Classical Music

This morning I was listening to Glennon Doyle’s podcast We Can Do Hard Things with guest Dr. Becky Kennedy, and I had some thoughts about it:

A listener called in and expressed her concern about a situation she was having with her daughter. This listener, funnily enough, named Chelsea, lets her daughter pick out her own outfits, and do her own hair, her child is 7. Some of the outfits can look far from conventional, but she always asks her daughter if she feels cool and confident before heading out the door in the morning, and if she does, they’re on their way. A family member of Chelsea’s expressed a concern that things are going to be harder for her daughter because she’s not conforming. They are worried about the future implications of this child dressing in this way. And, I had a reaction to this that I wanted to share.

First, this episode is amazing, and if you have any interest in attachment styles you should listen immediately (linked here). Second, What Chelsea is teaching her daughter is to ask herself if she feels cool and confident, and makes that the priority. That is AMAZING. The people in her life are telling Chelsea to value the thoughts and opinions of other people over her own child’s opinion. Which gives a lot of insight into how those people operate in their own lives. And it made me think about how we do this when we teach classical music, both when we teach the music and when we teach the culture because we do teach culture.

When we teach, how often do we ask our students how they feel within the framework we have provided for them? When they try on this version of the Mozart Concerto, the etude they’re playing, the structure of their recital, or a technical exercise, their experience of this matters. Of course, we need to teach them traditions and a framework if they want to be employed in a traditional way, however, many people tend to blindly follow the guidance of their mentors. They try on these mindsets, ways of practicing, and ways of learning, that don’t always make them feel cool or confident. We have an implicit and explicit rulebook for how people "should" look, act, and be as a classical musician if they want to “make it.” When we conform to these ideals, we feed the system already in place, and the system in place isn’t there for YOU the musician. Or at least it hasn’t been in my experience.

This can also be something we question in ourselves:

Do I like the way I’m playing this excerpt? Instead of, Did I do it right?

Do I feel confident in the way I’m playing? If not, what needs to change? What depth of understanding could you gain to feel more confident in how you’re performing?

We are sold the idea that if we are “good enough” there will be room for us in this industry, so we follow the rules, and we do everything in our power to please teachers and people in power. We are told that if we do everything, and are perfect, we might have a shot. However, we can’t control the thoughts of other people. Ever. And if we feel bad and uncomfortable, we bring that energy wherever we go. We become scared because we’ve been taught our value as musicians are based on other people’s opinions. And the thing that stinks is that our monetary value as musicians is based on others’ thoughts, we have to be chosen. This enforces the idea that there isn’t room for everyone.

The classical music industry is rooted in scarcity. Job scarcity, “not doing enough/practicing enough” scarcity, not being “good enough” scarcity. We feel these things because we have learned that our music doesn’t have value unless we can prove we are good enough for a committee or a panel of judges. This isn’t true. And the sooner we, as teachers, instill confidence in our students as they are learning, the more they are going to be able to do, and the more the industry will thrive.

We always talk about how the classical music industry needs to adapt and start changing. Well, that’s an inside job, inside the mind of each musician. Without confidence and knowing that what we are able to do has value in the world, we won’t be able to ask for more money, have the confidence to try new things or innovate in really radical ways.

When I heard this episode of WCDHT, it became extremely clear to me that validation after so much criticism feels like the high of the century. Maybe that’s why we chase it, maybe we deprive ourselves of being ourselves and that feels bad for so long that when we do get some sort of validation or an incredible experience on stage, it doesn’t feel good because that experience is the best thing that’s ever happened. Maybe it’s because we deprive ourselves of validation in our day-to-day. We aren’t told to tell ourselves we did a good job in a way that makes us feel pride. Maybe a teacher says it once or twice, but to feel deep pride and love for who you are, what you do, and your journey along the way is one of the most scarce things I’ve found in classical music (and that is what I'm on a mission to change).

We’ve created an environment where many people are scared that if their students go out and be themselves, or trust themselves instead of their teacher, the student will have a hard time because of what others think. We need to start asking students how they feel, to make sure they understand WHY they’re assigned things, and make sure they hear and understand everything you’re trying to teach them, so they can empower themselves. Just telling people they should do things without considering how they might feel in the process is how we got here.

Scaring students into practicing, and negatively motivating them to practice when they don't want to, or can't bring themselves to, is a pillar of this scarcity framework. Yeah, if you're a teacher, you're bringing all of your experience to the table (which is amazing, of course) but that doesn't exclude how much you have suffered for what you do and sacrificed for what you do. And it almost seems like a right of passage that everyone else does the same. You aren't successful because you suffered. Let's not put that on students.

The idea that an artist needs to suffer for their art is a form of oppression. It makes us think that our turmoil is valuable when really, it just holds us back. I took pride in trying to outwork everyone, by doing everything my teachers said without question, applying to everything I possibly could. It left me burnt out and unemployed. I realized that this art form isn't going to take care of me unless I take care of myself. Helping students gain confidence in themselves and consider their feelings is such an important part of their own self-care.

Take care of yourselves and the people around you.


Chelsea ✨🤍


If this post resonated with you, and you want to change how you’re thinking and feeling (because it is 100% possible to feel confident and love what you do an who you are btw…) let’s chat! Book a Discovery Call and see if mindset coaching is something that would be a good fit for you. (Truly imagine what it would be like if you healed this part of your life… What would you get back?💭)



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