by Elyssa Smith (IMIF's "Mental Toughness" Coach)
Which dog will win the fight? The one you feed.
This was the theme of my two days at IMIF. The moments were full of positive messages and enthusiastic engagement from all the students. I am truly changed and so grateful.
The main emphasis of IMIF is a holistic approach to making music and we worked our minds, bodies, and spirits together at every opportunity. We began Thursday morning by doing some stretching and movement together. We talked about the importance of exercising our bodies and moving them in ways that are different from when we play our instruments so that we can remain healthy and flexible.
After exercises, I presented some ideas to the students and faculty about our positive and negative thoughts, and how to overcome performance anxiety and perfectionism. I told them about the two dogs that are constantly fighting within us. Dog #1 is fear, false pride, anger, self-pity, and anything else negative that comes up when we are under pressure. Dog #2 is peace, joy, love, acceptance, gentleness and gratitude. We talked about how to help Dog 2 win the fight: to know ourselves (as our lovely youngest student said, “It’s good to know what makes us happy!”), to allow the moments come to us (rather than constantly striving), and to not care whether we win or lose. That is, realizing that we have nothing to lose unless we do not release our gift or tell the story we came to tell.
Then, legendary pianist, Brian Ganz, gave us the privilege of participating in a master class. The kindness he exuded as he gently coached each of the students warmed our hearts and inspired us all.
That evening, Professor Ganz graced us with a Chopin performance that evoked tears and passion, and brought a presence of supernatural love like I have never experienced in a concert setting. Though it is unheard of for a master musician to allow his audience to choose his program, he asked the students to request their favorite Chopin preludes for him to share with them. In the Q&A session he allowed the students to pick his brain on everything from practicing techniques (Hands Alone Then Together), to what he thinks about during a performance (fighting the pressure he feels about the person in the audience he wants to impress, and focusing on prayers that he might give the gift he came to bring). Though he did not use the analogy of the two dogs, he spoke the same message we had been focusing on all day – a coincidence? I think not.
For our reflections that evening, we played the ABC game of gratitude. We discussed the role of thankfulness in bringing us to a place of humility in our music and preparations, feeding Dog #2. Each member of the group was assigned a letter in alphabet order and shared something he/she was grateful for that began with that letter. We heard stories of hardship and tragedy that ended in gratitude and victory, of family and friends lifting each other up, and of fulfilled hearts, grateful for the opportunities at IMIF. The students and faculty gave each other their gifts of joy, peace, love and encouragement, and I was blessed to have been a part.
My two days at IMIF have forever changed me. The students’ open hearts, engaged minds, and phenomenal musical talents have inspired me. The hard work of the faculty and their desires to pass on their offerings has set an example for me. I will go on from here to seek to give my own gifts, connect with other open hearts, and pass along the message: there are those out there who have passion, talent, heart, and courage; by connecting with one another, there is nothing we cannot do.