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Forte: Conquering shame

moultine

Jennifer Moultine, YSO Cellist and Teaching Artist (Courtesy of Gary E. Miller)

“80 percent of what you teach 
is who you are.” — Eric Booth, 
“The Teaching Artist’s Bible”

YAKIMA, Wash. -- I first read this statement in 2014 when I began my journey as teaching artist with Yakima Music en Acción. Over the years, this assertion has come to illustrate so plainly the importance of being authentically myself when I teach, and, I would argue, when I perform. I know from personal experience that when I improve my relationship to myself, my teaching and musicianship improve.

This work usually isn’t easy or comfortable. Ultimately, though, I have found that accepting the invitation to engage with growth allows for more ease than ignoring it does. Sometimes these invitations show up through reflections from others; sometimes it’s a growing discomfort or a catastrophic circumstance that pushes us toward change; sometimes it’s a middle-of-the-night epiphany.

About a year ago, I was plagued by such relentless anxiety that I finally chose to face it and ask it, “Why are you here?” As if in response, it began to dawn on me that shame was at the root of my unease, and that throughout my life shame has served as impetus for what I choose to do and, more importantly, what I choose not do. The weight of this realization has been staggering.

It is not unusual for musicians to struggle with anxiety and shame. Perhaps because we are always striving for perfection, shame is very easily bred in the classical music world. Yet it is rarely talked about, as if to admit shame would mean we are weak. Like bacteria, though, shame flourishes in the dark. It tucks itself into the nooks and crannies of our bodies and grows there.

Many of us expend a great deal of energy protecting these dark hiding places. My desire to keep my shame hidden is a potent fuel, propelling me day to day. But I’m realizing that this fuel is wreaking havoc on my body. It isn’t sustainable. And so, I am choosing to look at my shame in the hopes that I can begin to release it. I’m not exactly sure how to do this, but I am clear on three things:

First, I need to look at my shame without judgment, because judgment only helps shame grow.

Second, I refuse to rely on shame as a teaching tool with my students. It’s not always easy, but the more I practice this, the more I learn how to not use shame as a motivator for myself.

Third, when I bring shame into the light, it doesn’t flourish. When I share my difficulties with others, when I name what it is that I am so afraid of, I can begin to free myself. And maybe, just maybe, this will open an invitation for others to admit the shame they struggle with and begin to free themselves. After all, we teach mostly by example.

• Yakima Symphony Orchestra cellist and teaching artist Jennifer Moultine is the site director for Yakima Music en Acción’s Philharmonia program at Davis High School.

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