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The Mindful Musician: An Interview with Vanessa Cornett

Vanessa Cornett-Murtada, courtesy of the artist.

Vanessa Cornett works at the intersection of music and mindfulness. As a teacher of piano and piano pedagogy at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, she helps musicians improve their craft and performance capabilities. As one of the founders of the St. Thomas Project for Mindfulness and Contemplation, she invites students and faculty to integrate contemplative practices into their lives and studies to enable a sustainable career in performance. Cornett introduces these theories and techniques in her new book, The Mindful Musician: Mental Skills for Peak Performance (Oxford University Press, 2019). We speak together in this interview about the psychology behind performing, how creative people can train for the anxiety and stress unleashed by their work, and the harmony between working hard and letting go.


Let’s start with your field of research, “performance psychology.” Can you tell us more about what that means?

That’s a good place to start because to talk about performance psychology, you have to define what a “performance” is. The research we have on performance psychology, by and large, is research done by sport psychologists, with the idea that an athletic event such as a figure skating championship is the performance in question. It’s been only recently that we’ve taken a serious look at performance psychology for musicians. I try to think of the performing arts as anyone who goes out there and demonstrates their art for someone, but then, a public lecture is a performance, a presentation is a performance, a first date is a performance, a job interview is a performance, so it depends how far down that rabbit hole you want to go.

To my mind, performance psychology for creative artists is most effective when you combine the cognitive psychology research—which is mainly the sport psychology research—with contemplative practice. Because then you have the intersection of thinking and not-thinking. It’s important to think about how you’re thinking but then also, as a creative being, to get to that point where you’re not thinking so much, you’re just in that creative space. Performance psychology is really broad, and I think really unexplored, especially for creative people, so that’s why I think it’s so important.

It’s surprising in a sense: the archetype we have is of the troubled artist, not of the athlete haunted by their internal demons. Why do you think that field is so underexplored in the creative realm?

It’s a fantastic observation. I just got back from teaching a new graduate course on contemplative practices and we were talking about performance anxiety, and I said almost verbatim what you just articulated—if you search for a book on performance anxiety management, you’re going to find books written for musicians, actors, singers, public speakers and the like. You’re not going to find books for athletes, a book for Michael Phelps—”Swimming Without Fear!” It’s not there.

High level athletes have the benefit of a sport psychologist, or a coach who is trained in performance psychology or sport psychology, and so athletes are already training their minds parallel with training their bodies. So, my theory is that, when training is not just about the physical act but also about your goals and your point of focus and what you’re doing with your mind, I think a happy by-product of that is less anxiety and fewer dark issues of the soul, because it’s a proactive way of training.

Musicians tend to look at anxiety as a medical problem that needs to be fixed—What can I do to cure my stage fright?—whereas if we would follow the route of performance psychologists, we would be more proactive and ask, How can we train so that anxiety becomes less of an issue? Creative artists have different emotional responses in general but also struggle because, as artists, we’re not trained in any kind of psychology. We just have to find our own way the best we can.

When it comes to performance arts, we don’t just perform the craft, we also need to perform an identity. How does that come into play?

The word “identity” is so important because, for many people, identity is so intertwined with what they produce. I say, “I am a musician,” not “music is what I do,” or “music is my hobby,” or “music is my job.” It’s because our jobs and our art are so much a part of who we are, and I think mindfulness can help put a healthy distance between who I am and what I do. We don’t want to separate them entirely, but a healthy distance allows me to say that music is something I do, and sometimes it’s going to be spectacular and sometimes I’m going to fail spectacularly, but my worth and my quality as a human being doesn’t change.


Especially nowadays, the “identity” part has mutated into “branding”—we establish our brand and that becomes part of the packaging of the work. I’m thinking of people like Beyoncé, where the music seems incidental at some point because she’s so much of a symbol or an archetype. She’s a brand above and beyond her work as a musician.

It’s a great point. I mostly work with undergrad and grad students, so people who are 18 to mid-20s, and there’s a growing emphasis on entrepreneurial mindsets in the arts, which raises the expectation that you’re supposed to brand yourself. I’m on Instagram and I think it’s a great tool, but I just feel like everything’s become a hustle. It’s not enough for me to create a cool arrangement of folk tunes for piano, I have to sell it, and I have to sell me, and I have to upload a selfie and add a filter and make sure I look fantastic. You used the term “archetype,” which is perfect because we’re creating these archetypes of ourselves, which are somewhat artificial. And then, when you put that brand out there, you’re faced with the question, Who am I? Am I this brand, am I the musician, am I someone else?

When we think about branding, that’s something that artists have always done, it just hasn’t been so obvious or ubiquitous as it is now with social media. In my opinion, the need for mindfulness is so much greater than it was twenty years ago. Mindfulness is becoming more than just a nice tool for mental well-being, it’s becoming essential for education and creative artists, because the pendulum has swung so far in the direction of branding and hustling that it’s unsustainable. It may be one of the tools that pulls us back the other way.

How do you see performing arts as distinct from non-performing arts, when it comes to the psychological differences?

I find little difference between working with someone who performs professionally and someone who says they’re not a performer, because if you’re creating something and putting it out there to express yourself, that puts you in a very vulnerable spot. I will say that, for experienced performers, the questions and issues are very different. I’ve had piano students who are sixty years old and they are more terrified of playing for me in this beautiful, safe lesson studio than some professional performers who are playing in New York for a review. So there’s a difference, but I think we’re all vulnerable. As creative people, we’re all worried about how we’re being evaluated or we think we’re not worthy of whatever it is we’re creating, whether that’s a bookcase we’ve just made or a concerto we’ve just learned.

What other issues come up in performance psychology?

Performance anxiety is probably the one that people mention first. The second topic that comes up a lot, and especially more and more, is attentional focus. This refers to the ability to concentrate, so you can for example perform a flute concerto that lasts twenty minutes and keep that laser focus. Or, as I just worked with some classroom teachers this morning, the ability to get a 5-year-old student to sit still for 2 minutes and actually listen to what you’re saying. Our children’s brains are changing to adapt to technology, and attention is developing differently, so I think that’s another important topic for all humans but especially for artists who perform live and can’t record things in bits and pieces—there’s an arc of attention that has to happen.

Another important issue is adversity training, when something goes wrong. If you’re figure skating and you fall down after a triple axel, how do you get up and how do you refocus to finish and skate towards a silver? Because the opposite can happen, too, your attention can crumble.

Physical health and well-being is another important topic because without mindful awareness and body awareness, musicians and dancers injure themselves, sometimes to the point of not being able to perform again. If you think of people as holistic beings, and that mindfulness is addressing every element of who we are, I think it can address the emotional, the psychological, the physical, and, for some musicians the spiritual.

Let’s talk about this concept of mindfulness—what does that mean to you?

I have two definitions of mindfulness. The first is a literal definition, and the second, my favorite definition, comes directly from Jon Kabat-Zinn. The literal definition is that, when we translate the word directly from the Sanskrit language, mindfulness means awareness. As its practiced in the Western world, though, mindfulness is so much more than that. Kabat-Zinn’s definition is the deliberate focus of attention, without judgment, on the thoughts and events of the present moment. That definition has three components to it: deliberate, non-judgmental, and the present moment.

First, mindfulness has to be deliberate. If you don’t direct your attention deliberately you will go on auto-pilot and your attention will drift wherever—that’s where we spend most of our lives, on that non-deliberate attention. Then, as much as possible, it needs to be directed non-judgmentally, otherwise we don’t have an objective sense of how we’re thinking and how we’re directing our attention. If we’re judging, we’re not objective. And third, it’s the thoughts and events of the present moment. Mindfulness is best practiced in the present moment because that’s all we have; life occurs in the present moment. The past is gone forever, the future will never be here, all we have is right now.

This touches on a contradiction that I’ve been struggling with when it comes to mindfulness. Circling back to something you mentioned earlier, how can we use mindfulness to work on focusing an arc of attention on a flute concerto that lasts twenty minutes if we’re meant to accept that there is only the “now”?

I totally get what you’re grappling with because so much of performance is a paradox. We say that you have to strive for success and you have to practice every day, but one of the attitudes of mindfulness is non-striving, so what the heck are you supposed to do with that? We say that we need to become objectively self-critical so that we can evaluate our progress in our art and our music, but then one of the attitudes of mindfulness is non-judgment. These are paradoxical things we’re trying to do, and that’s why, I believe, the secret for many creative artists is sort of a marriage between cognitive psychology (which is metacognition, how you’re thinking) and mindfulness.


Mindfulness is wonderful but nobody’s going to stay in the present moment indefinitely. We wouldn’t get anything done! We wouldn’t realize our goals, we wouldn’t get jobs. The problem comes when we have an imbalance.

Let’s say I’m a Type A personality and I have a super long to-do list of things I want to accomplish, and I’m focused in the future most of the time. When I’m trying to perform my flute concerto, all of a sudden the mental skill that worked so well for planning my future doesn’t work for me anymore, because then I’m overthinking everything I do, I’m criticizing everything I do, and I can’t freely create or improvise if I’m evaluating and planning everything. Mindfulness is important because it’s a type of mental training to get us to a state that most of us don’t spend much time in, beyond infancy. Our minds are trained to wander and they’re trained to project into the past and the future. That’s what we do: we love to ruminate about the past and we love to plan for the future. It’s very difficult for us to stay in the present moment, so mindfulness is the tool that helps us develop the ability to go there, with the understanding that we’re not going to stay there. So, when I’m in my practice-mindset, I can have my goals and criticize my practice, but when I walk out on stage, I can adopt a performance-mindset where I let all that go. That’s when we get into the flow state of consciousness, the zone of automatic execution. We’re thinking but not too much; it’s just sort of coming out and happening. I think mindfulness can help us have a little bit more control over those moments of flow, rather than just hoping and praying that we’ve practiced enough to get there. So, it is a paradox, and I think we would do well to embrace the paradox rather than to solve it.

How can mindfulness help enable flow?

I think mindfulness helps us learn to perform versus learn to prepare. Here’s where musicians and athletes differ: When athletes—and I mean elite-level athletes with coaches and sport psychologists, preparing for the Olympics, for example—are practicing their mental skills training, they practice every day but part of their practice is performing because they’re always in front of someone. Maybe they do some stretches or some drills by themselves but they’re usually in front of a coach, their teammates, or another sort of audience. They’re constantly performing. By contrast, if you take a typical performing musician, and add up the number of hours she spends in the practice room honing her craft and you compare that with the number of hours she’s actually performing in front of an audience, it’s so imbalanced. With musicians, we call ourselves “performers,” but we’re actually not, we’re “practicers.” We’re professional practicers who occasionally perform. The result is that we don’t have the opportunity to develop a performance-mindset, rather, we become expert practicers, evaluators, criticizers, repeaters, do-it-again-ers, and then when we actually step out on that stage to perform, we don’t have the same skills of performance that an athlete does.

So, in answer to your question, I think mindfulness helps us to develop that performance-mindset, because it’s the side of the paradox we haven’t trained for. We’ve trained for hard work, the goal-setting, the self-evaluation, self-criticism and striving, but we haven’t practiced acceptance, patience, trust, non-striving, non-judging, letting go, or beginner’s mind. Those are Kabat-Zinn’s attitudes of mindfulness, which can help develop the ability to let go and perform, versus strive and work hard to hone the craft.

It seems to me there may be another difference between athletes and musicians, triggered by this expression in your subtitle, “peak performance.” With athletes, it’s easy to imagine why they’d aim for this, maybe because sports are often about competition or maybe there’s less angst between the person and the performance, but with artists, at least in my own experience, there can also be the desire to withhold from your performance. There can even be an almost dark connection to the performance because you feel taken over by something, so you may not even want to give in to it at risk of feeling used by the experience. Do you encounter this?

I do, and it’s so interesting because I don’t think I’ve heard anyone describe the darkness in being taken over in that way, which is absolutely what can happen, especially when performance is your livelihood. You have to adopt a persona when you perform, right? You have to have poise and stage presence, you have to smile when you don’t feel like smiling, and you have to seem relaxed even when you really don’t want to be there. There’s that line between who I am and my persona, or the person who my fans think I am. We think we know who Beyoncé is, but of course we don’t—we know her persona.

The other piece that I think is very important to talk about, is the unsustainability of peak performance. If you aim for peak performance every time, that’s like an athlete trying to break a world record every time he competes—it is absolutely unsustainable. The phrase that I prefer is “optimal performance,” especially when you’re a professional performer and you have to do it every week because it’s your livelihood. You have to get to a point where you can accept and feel good about a “pretty good performance” with a minimum of mistakes that communicated something artistically. That’s the acceptance piece of mindfulness. If we’re aiming for peak performance every now and then but we’re okay with an optimal performance, then it becomes a sustainable livelihood. Musicians who naturally have that mindset do very well because they can build resilience and ride the ups and downs of accepting that not every performance is going to be great. Younger musicians especially have this idealistic notion that every concert has got to be better than the one before, and there’s really no convincing them except with age and experience, trial and error, and falling down every now and then. I do take issue with the concept of peak performance as being the goal, because then you might as well say that perfection is the goal, and both are pretty unattainable most of the time.

What do you mean that it’s “unsustainable”?

Well, striving for peak performance every single time is unsustainable because it’s impossible. Maybe it’s possible for a few weeks, and music students will find that when they have to perform every week that each performance gets a little better, as they prepare for their recital at the end of the semester. But when you’re a professional and you’re playing the Chopin G minor ballade for the 500th time in your life…


I’ll give you a real world example: I heard my own teacher, Walter Hautzig, play the Chopin G minor ballade from memory when he was 82 years old. He sat down and played this soul-crushingly beautiful ballade, and I suddenly realized that I didn’t hear him play a neat transition in that piece. I thought, Did he skip that? But I couldn’t be sure. When I talked to him afterwards, he was so mortified and said, with his accent, “Ah Vanessa, did you hear? My circumcised Chopin ballade—I skipped an entire section!” He’s 82 years old and he’s probably played it 500 times. It can’t be perfect every time, and the older you get, the more you recognize that you’re different every day, therefore your performance is going to be different every day, and it can be beautiful and captivating even if you play a circumcised Chopin ballade and leave out an entire section.

That’s where peak performance becomes unsustainable, because you can’t possibly have a long life as a performing artist and expect each performance to be better than the last. Having said that, Mr. Hautzig at age 82 was mortified and hugged me and said, “Can you believe I did that?” I thought his performance was amazing, but there was no convincing him.

I think it comes back to the purpose of performing and the purpose of creating art. If the purpose of art is to communicate and inspire and move or provoke or anger or cause your audience to react in some way, then that has nothing to do with competing with or out-doing yourself at every performance.

Let’s talk about the project you started at St. Thomas to try to introduce mindfulness into education, the Project for Mindfulness and Contemplation.

About six years ago, three of us decided to embrace this growing movement of contemplative practices in higher education. It’s called a “project” because we can’t be a “center” or a “department;” we have no administrative structure within the university. But we have an advisory board of faculty, staff, even counseling psychologists who want to make mindfulness a part of the education for St. Thomas students.

We try to approach mindfulness from a secular perspective; vipassana meditation is what I teach. However, because we’re a Catholic university we also offer classes and podcasts in contemplative prayer for students who are more comfortable engaging their faith tradition in that kind of practice. We have resources on our webpage, such as research in contemplative practices, guided meditations, and podcasts. We have daily meditations led by a student, we offer workshops for faculty, we offer student workshops for test anxiety, things like that. The idea is that we’re basically a resource for faculty, staff, and students who want to know what mindfulness is, and for faculty who want to embed contemplative practices into their teaching.

We’ve recently changed our core curriculum at St. Thomas, and there’s some interest in developing a minor in contemplative studies in the future, which would be amazing. Imagine a student who graduates with a degree in psychology or sociology, together with a minor in contemplative practices—Oh I just get so excited! Hopefully that’s where we’re going: curricula for interested students who want to pursue this long-term instead of a single test anxiety workshop because finals are coming up.

How do you deal with skepticism? For example, there’s a chapter in your book called, “The Art of Mindful Breathing and Relaxation,” which is exactly the type of thing that, for anyone who’s not already into mindfulness, can sound really woowoo and turn people off. Like, “Breathing and relaxation? Come on, I have real problems!” How do you introduce this to someone who’s got resistance?

Full disclosure, I am someone who, if I’m the bookstore and see a 500-page book on mindful breathing, will say, “Really? 500 pages on how to breathe?” This happened to me the other day, and I even flipped the book over to look at the price tag! But, honestly, most of us don’t know how to breathe or relax with deliberate, non-judgmental intent, and that’s sometimes the easiest place to begin.

In my experience, resistance has been very low, especially with the younger generations, the Millennials and Generation Z. They are much more interested and willing to experiment with mindfulness than, say, those of us in our forties and fifties. I think that’s probably because of some of the New Age stigma, what you call the “woowoo,” surrounding mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn began his research at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in the late ‘70s, and in the ‘80s all of a sudden, there was this explosion of New Age philosophies, and new practices involving chakras and crystals. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but I think people still have in their minds that’s what mindfulness is. The younger people who don’t have that past experience are much more willing to experiment with new ideas about how they’re directing their attention.

I rarely encounter resistance, but when I do, that’s something I try to honor and respect. I’m not a mental health professional, but I believe that if someone is resisting something, there’s a reason for it. Some people aren’t ready for it, and that’s okay. That’s why, when I guide a meditation, it’s always an invitation. I invite you to close your eyes—if you want. Focus on your breathing—maybe.


The only other resistance I’ve come across—and this doesn’t happen often in the upper Midwest, but it did when I taught in the southern Bible Belt—is religious resistance from people who do not understand what mindfulness is, and they think I’m trying to convert them to Buddhism. Several years ago, I had a student who was excited to take a meditation class with me, until she mentioned it to her pastor. And then she came to speak to me, really crestfallen, and she said, “I’m sorry, I have to drop your class. I really wanted to take it but my pastor reminded me that when the mind is still, the devil enters in.” Now, who am I to argue with a student’s faith? I don’t think that’s what she truly believed, but in the spirit of meeting that student where she was, I said, “I don’t agree with your pastor, but I respect your decision. Let’s see what other courses you can take in the Fall.”

One of the greatest challenges of starting with mindfulness is that it’s like any other training: it takes a long-term commitment to see results. Are there any short-term or immediate results that you’ve seen that can help people at the beginning?

There are things we can do that help immediately by interrupting the story—the thought process. I work a lot with students who are anxious and sometimes they’ll come to me in a state of distress. If I say something like, “Are you okay right now?” they’ll say “No,” of course, because they’re thinking about why they’re upset. We’ll take a few deep breaths, and I’ll say, “Yeah, but right now. Is your life in danger? Are you in excruciating physical pain?” and that’s when they’ll start to realize that actually right now they’re okay. The thing that happened earlier was really upsetting and the thing that’s going to happen tomorrow is really worrisome, but just right now, things are okay. That awareness is something that can help defuse some mental health issues in the moment, but I think it doesn’t have to be that dramatic.

At my university, we recently started an initiative called One University – One Breath, and it was based on the question: What if, once a day, everyone on our campus would just stop whatever they’re doing—stop the thinking, stop the story, stop the doing, stop the texting—and just look around and see where we are, how we feel, and what’s happening in our body, and take one conscious breath? How would our lives be different?

That’s an idea I got from Eckhart Tolle. Several years ago, I was watching a televised interview with him. Someone called in to ask him how long we should meditate each day. One hour? Two? His answer was, “All it takes is one conscious breath.” And that blew me away. You don’t have to sit on a cushion for twenty minutes a day, you just have to break the thought cycle. So, I do think there are things we can do with mindfulness that interrupt maladaptive mental processes, and bring us back to reality. And I honestly think that for many people, if that’s all they learned, that might actually be pretty good.

Let’s talk about your book, The Mindful Musician. It’s a very specific focus, what was your motivation for writing it?

In my effort to be a holistic teacher, I realized I didn’t know how to teach the mental aspects of performing. My husband, who’s an amazing amateur pianist, is a very anxious performer. Twenty years ago, when he asked me, “What do you do when you’re about to vomit backstage?” I couldn’t help him. I said, “You just walk out and do the thing!” I was just a bad teacher in that aspect, I wasn’t able to help anxious students. I do get nervous, but not like a lot of performers do.

There are a few books out there for musicians on mental skills development, but they’re often written by non-musicians.  They may use language like “mental toughness” or “psyching up” for the event, but for many musical performers, the point is to be vulnerable, not necessarily to toughen up. The goal might not be to psyche up for the event, but to allow it to happen. So, I wanted a book that was written by a musician for other musicians. Also, most other books are rooted in psychology but not mindfulness, and in my opinion, you can only go so far analyzing how you think because at some point you have to stop thinking and doing and you have to just let go.

Let’s talk then about the limitations of mindfulness. Where do you think it ends and something else needs to be called?

It’s a great question, and I’m going to give you the easy cop-out answer and then I’ll try to answer you more thoroughly. The easy answer is that, if mindfulness is awareness, there’s no limit because our consciousness—our creation of our reality through our filter of consciousness—is how we focus awareness. So, there’s really no limitation.


The more thorough answer is that we’re creative individuals who strive to be better every year. Obviously, you can’t do that if you’re staying in the present moment and you’re accepting everything you do. That’s why there has to be a healthy interchange between goal-setting, visioning, having a mission, having a purpose, having a drive that motivates us, and then having the mindfulness in there, too.

If mindful awareness is accepting everything with an attitude of non-striving, then nothing propels you forward. Where do we get that fire? The drive? It comes from dreaming, from creative dissatisfaction, and from having a mission or a goal or a purpose or wanting to change the world. Well, that does not come through acceptance. If you’re trying to make the world a better place, or you’re trying to provoke or communicate some important thing, or you need to make an important political statement, that doesn’t come out of trust and acceptance, it comes from the way we naturally are as human beings, which is to say, not mindful beings.

So, maybe that’s one limit of mindfulness. Where do we get our fire, where do we get our fuel? I think somewhere else.

Coming back to the issue of sustainability, then, how do we develop the right balance between the fire and the acceptance?

When I started digging through the sport psychology literature on “mental toughness,” I came to the conclusion that what they’re referring to is “resilience.” Resilience is the ability to perform well regardless of the circumstances, regardless of failure or how you feel or who’s in the audience.

The image that I love is of a young willow tree: A tree with a thin and supple trunk that, when a storm comes, lets the tree bend because it’s flexible. A tree like that will bend almost to the ground but, once the wind has passed, return to its upright position. The idea is that you’re not rigid, you’re not unmovable, but you’re able to bend with the wind and then come right back to center. I think it’s an image of resilience that’s helpful for musicians.

What troubles me about this is that you never quite know how far you can bend before you break. Ambitious people like to push themselves, but you never know the sour spot of the break until you’re past it.

That makes sense. To me, resilience is like peak performance in that if your goal is to always be resilient, you’re going to fail, because we’re not always going to be anything. We’re going to have awful experiences and we’re going to have to wallow in them and cry and get mad and just be where we are. We need to think of resilience as a way to keep doing what you love to do, not necessarily to push boundaries and become ever more resilient to ever-increasing demands or something like that.

I think mindfulness is so helpful in building skills of resilience, so it’s a process not a product. Through mindful awareness, you develop the skill of self-observation, and with that usually comes some sense of self-compassion and some sense of objectivity on occasion. So, the example you gave about the person who pushes themselves until they break, well, if you’ve been practicing mindfulness off-and-on for a few weeks, you begin to be aware of when those moments are happening. You’re practicing body awareness, you’re practicing emotional awareness and awareness of thought, and you begin to observe when those thoughts become maladaptive, when the body starts to hurt, or when the emotions are getting in your way. That’s when you have enough distance to say to yourself, “Self, now is the time to pause.”

Many of us practice and practice and practice until we get a pain in our back and we look at the clock and notice it’s four hours later, so injury and over-use has already set in, but if we practice mindful awareness, it would be almost as if we were watching ourselves perform and think and feel and navigate from a gentle third-person perspective. Then you can sort of mentally tap on your own shoulder and say, “Hey, you haven’t had a break in an hour, how about a drink of water?” So, I think mindfulness can be helpful in learning what resilience means for you, in your context.

What do you wish that more performers knew about their practice and how to see the curve of it over time?

Nothing unfurls in a straight line. Our educational system, with the rubrics and the assessments and the constant testing, is very product-oriented, and because of this, you are conditioned to see improvement over time. So, we’re training our children to think that we can graph on two axes the upward trajectory their artistic improvement, but in reality, it’s going to look more like the stock market. I wish I had understood—it’s one thing to be told and it’s another thing to understand—that artistic performance is a path through the woods. It’s not a straight path and you’ll have detours and you’ll go backwards and forwards and you’ll go uphill, and it’s all ok. It’s all part of the process. As performers, we think a mistake or a step backwards means that we’ve regressed when actually that’s part of the moving forward.

I wish my students could have a broad perspective of looking at their lives, as if looking down from a 747, and seeing that it’s all good. You’re where you’re supposed to be, and you’re going to go where you’re meant to go. You’re always moving in the direction that you’re propelling yourself, and it won’t be a straight line.


The Mindful Musician: Mental Skills for Peak Performance is published by Oxford University Press. Learn more about Vanessa Cornett on her website.

Katherine Oktober Matthews ( is an artist and analyst based in The Netherlands. She writes and edits extensively in the field of art, is the author of Unique: Making Photographs in the Age of Ubiquity, and founder of Riding the Dragon.

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