This is a posting that Emily Logan wrote for the website of the New Brunswick Arts Council. She received a grant to work with me over her second year of a doctoral program at UBC for performance in piano. She is also doing her thesis on performance anxiety/wellness so the collaborative work we have done together has been rich and exciting.
As children, we probably all had the experience at one point or another of answering the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”. I remember my friends rhyming off answers like doctor, teacher, firefighter, police officer. I, on the other hand, wanted to be a pianist. I am sure that my first piano teacher was slightly baffled when I asked her one day, at the young age of 8, how I could prepare for a career in piano. Something about the piano, its rich sound, its potential, its expressive power, began to catch my attention at the age of 3. Although the vision of my musical career shifted at times over the years, my eyes never gazed away from my ultimate goal – I wanted a career in Classical Piano.
So that is how it all began! I started formal lessons at the age of 6 and have continued studying piano for the past 22 years. After high school, I went straight into the Bachelor of Music at Mount Allison University, followed by a Master of Music in Piano Performance at the University of Ottawa, and now I am halfway through my Doctorate of Musical Arts in Piano Performance at the University of British Columbia. As I look back, it’s hard to believe that a toddler’s fascination would end up turning into a full-blown career.
The artistic career, I think, is one of the most gratifying and truly personal career paths that one could embark on. The experience of sharing music with an audience, gifting them with something that has a tremendous transformative power, is hard to describe. This gratification is what makes a career in the performing arts so powerful, purposeful, and rewarding for me. As a pianist, primarily in the area of Western Classical Music, sharing my music with others has become not only a career path but also a huge part of who I am as a person.
Having said this, a career in the performing arts is not at all easy. There are the many years of training, the hours of practice, but often the sheer physical and emotional demands of artistic expression in performance can take a toll on the performer. Thanks to the generous support of artsnb, I had the opportunity to embark on a wonderful professional development project that helped me discover a path toward greater freedom of expression.
Paula Wise is a professional violinist with an extensive performing career, most notably with the Vancouver Opera Orchestra and previously with the Babayaga String Quartet. In addition to her work as a musician, Paula is also a psychotherapist with a unique interest in performance wellness practice and creativity coaching. This past school year, I had the privilege of working with Paula on my artistic practice. She helped me to discover flow and ease on stage; to engage wholeheartedly with the audience, to learn about resilience and longevity in a very demanding career; to experiment with healthy performance practices in order to sustain discipline, focus, and inspiration; to achieve clarity in my unique goals and motivation; and to develop an authentic creative musical voice.
Since beginning this program in September of 2017, I have seen tremendous results. This program has had a remarkable impact on my performing abilities and my love of the stage, which are both already leading to increased success in my career. This mentorship program certainly had a transformative effect on me as a performer. Professors, colleagues, and friends have all noted a significant increase in my ease and security on stage. Personally, I am beginning to find a place of greater freedom, both physical and psychological, as a performer. I feel a significantly increased sense of security and ease while performing. Performances are less draining, therefore allowing me to continue growing as a pianist while ensuring my continued wellbeing.
Now, when I approach a new piece of music, I do so with a great deal of curiosity. Right from the beginning, I allow the music to speak to me and I find ways of connecting with it. As I work through the piece to solidify any technical demands, ease and musical expression remain at the forefront. More and more, I am working to make technique a slave to the music, rather than allowing technical elements to change my expressive connection to a work. As I prepare for performance, my practice becomes less and less detail-oriented and more performance-centered, focusing on practicing how I will share the music with the audience and what I want to convey. This all helps to shift the emphasis towards the idea of music performance as a sort of gifting and opening of one’s heart to the audience. When the focus is shifted to sharing, the performer slowly begins to gaze away from the place of judgment and self-criticism.
In our traditional training of classical music, these vital elements of the artistic practice are often neglected. As performing musicians, if we do not begin to attune to our bodies and our minds, the result is often burnout or, perhaps even more serious, a complete abandonment of the artistic career path. Love and passion drive the creative process but can easily be stifled by the sheer demands, expectations, and pressures in the performing world. It is vital, in my opinion, for all artists, but especially young artists, to seek out ways of retaining inspiration, motivation, and freedom of artistic expression while ensuring their wellbeing. I truly believe that this type of program should be essential for anyone in the performing arts field.
Special thank you to Paula Wise for so willingly embarking on this mentorship project with me and for creating such a wonderful program for artists. Special thanks also to artsnb for your continued support of local artists. This is my fourth professional development project through the Career Development / Professional Development program. Each one has proven to be a unique experience that has truly had a positive impact on my professional career.