The Art of Zen Music Playing

The Art of Zen Music Playing

“What you think, you become.

What you feel, you attract.

What you imagine, you create.”


Healthy thinking, healthy playing.

Anxiety is a major issue in our modern society. Various treatments are available (e.g. psychopharmacology, cognitive therapy, etc.), but those options do not come from inside ourselves – they are costly and often time-consuming. Giving music students and professional musicians the autonomy to cultivate mindfulness is a path to be explored.

What is meditation? It sounds New Age.

Mindfulness meditation promotes the balance between a relaxed and aware state. The practice cultivates awareness, consciousness, positive thinking, and changes negative patterns in the mind to increase contentment and give access to our best self.

One might have heard of the spiritual and transcendental effects of meditation, but apart from those, meditation also works on a scientific level.

What are the benefits of meditation? Are they physical or psychological?

Meditation has shown to 

  • improve concentration and mood [1]
  • reduce stress and regulate emotions [1]
  • reduce anxieties, fatigue, depression, tension, anger and confusion[1].
  • increase in focal capacity, cultivating positive emotions and controlling actions which support the development of virtue, concentration, and wisdom [2]
  • regulate one’s own emotions, which brings cognitive improvements in sustained attention, visuospatial processing, and working memory [1].

Aren’t those enviable qualities in a musician?

Meditation changes your brain. What does this mean?

Meditation not only changes your brain, but also your mind!

• It increases the left-sided anterior activation of your brain, which helps reduce anxiety and negative affect, increases in positive affect, regulates emotions, facilitates adaptation to negative and/or stressful events and shows faster recovery after a negative event.[2]

• There is clear plasticity in anterior activation asymmetry and brain activity to specific emotional challenges. The left side of the frontal lobes becomes more active compared to the right side. [2]



This is why you feel happier!

• Billions of synaptic connections are added (which thickens brain tissues). This affects primarily the regions handling control of attention and sensory awareness.[2]

• It increases serotonin; the neurotransmitter that helps regulates mood and sleep. This is proven to cure depression.[2]

Can meditation reduce music performance anxiety (MPA)?

Over 2000 studies [3] have been done showing the benefits of meditation for overcoming anxiety, depression, and improving concentration, mood, awareness, etc. 

A study (Chang, 2001) has been conducted on the benefits of meditation for musicians.[3] In this study, 19 music students (mostly pianists and not necessarily suffering from MPA) were randomly assigned to a meditation or control condition. Pre and post performance anxiety measures indicated very modest support for the role of meditation in reducing performance anxiety. Interestingly, there were no significant differences on measures of cognitive interference (mind wandering, intrusive thoughts). The small sample size may have obscured potentially significant effects and a larger study with a more intensive treatment intervention is needed to address this issue. Nevertheless, transposing the results of meditation in general researches is encouraging for the music field!

Is meditation beneficial to musicians?

The well-being of a performer’s body and mind is a topic receiving more attention nowadays. Expectations for performers are high – especially the ones we inflict on ourselves. 

Being well prepared is perhaps the first step to overcoming music performance anxiety. Teachers are giving their students musical and technical tools for that purpose, but what about proper breathing and relaxation? What about healthy thinking and awareness?

Playing music is an act of concentration, extreme focus, and presence. Therefore, the cognitive preparation to overcome anxiety could be improved by the practice of mindfulness meditation.

As the Buddha said, “See for yourself.” This meditation practice has been helping people get through their lives for thousands of years. 

Since my yoga teacher training at the Sivananda Ashram, I am thriving to bring mindful qualities into music making. Here are personal tips to put Buddha’s saying into practice in our musical highly stressful lives… 

  • Be present and take note of the changes in your meditation practice as well as in your music practice.
  • Pay extra attention to the good things in the world and in yourself. For example:

– Notice things that start becoming more natural in your music making.

-Enjoy practicing compassion, patience, good listening and kindness to your colleagues.

– When you succeed at something, be happy about the steps that took you there and don’t just get attached to the result. As a mindfulness practice, focus on the sensations and the feelings in your positive experiences, since they are the pathway to emotional memory.

-Deliberately create positive experiences for yourself. Keep a journal of all the               things that you are proud of and write it out at the end of your day.

I only have 20 minutes, should I practice or meditate?

Getting caught in the loop of “being too busy” to take care of oneself if not ideal… As the musician is becoming busier, serious care needs to be put in physical and psychological health. Healthy thinking: healthy playing!

One great thing about mindfulness is that you can practice it anywhere, doing anything.

Let’s say you have to walk 20 minutes to school or work. Instead of letting the mind wander and think about your to-do list, count your steps. You might have to count over 2000 steps for a 20-minute walk. I have done the math! Make sure you do not get frustrated with yourself if you miscount or start thinking about something else for 5 minutes without realizing it. Simply start counting again and keep smiling.

Meditation is a tool available to help deal with  stress. It shouldn’t become a source of stress! Eventually, on the days where time is very limited,you will not have to choose between meditation and music practice, as you develop mindfulness. Your music practice will be meditation! 

“Are you too busy to meditate half an hour every morning? Then, meditate for 1 hour.” -Famous Zen saying.

Is meditation a suitable practice technique in today’s musician lifestyle? How do I fit meditation into my life?

One major characteristic of a musician’s life is its irregularity. One needs to realise that waking up at sunrise every morning to meditate might not always be possible. If meditation can already teach us something, it is flexibility and compassion towards ourselves. It is most likely that there will be a reception or a celebration of some sort after a concert. The social aspect of music-making, with colleagues, donors, and the audience is important. Therefore, the night meditation might be just scanning each part of the body and consciously relaxing each part to calm down the nervous system from the big adrenaline boost it just had! Musicians are also prone to constant travelling and some days start with very early flights. The morning meditation can be made while traveling, instead of right after rising up. If you feel that both morning and evening are impossible, then mediate in one of your practice breaks during your day!

Can I find my meditation elsewhere?

I recently attended the International Masterclasses at Prussia Cove where Thomas Riebl, the viola teacher, directed Qigong practice every morning. I went to practice every day at 8:30 am. Some days it didn’t feel convenient, as I had my lesson right after, or a rehearsal with piano, and I would have “preferred to warm-up”, but I never regretted starting the day with the practice of mindfulness. Of course, mindfulness can be practiced while doing various tasks, but at first, I personally believe it is important to practice it without the instrument. 

To start with, I was skeptical about the idea of introducing students to a mindfulness practice at a festival. As it wasn’t mandatory, only the people who were interested attended. Over the ten days, the circle kept growing. Finally, most of the students who attended the Qigong practice said it increased their positive attitude, capacity of focusing while working, joy of playing, awareness of habits and problem-solving attitude. I would encourage other festivals and courses to offer a mindfulness practice. As yoga and the Alexander Technique require accessories (mats, chairs, etc.), I believe that meditation and other types of Zen practice such as  Qigong or Tai-Chi for instance, could fit more easily in the schedule.

What type of meditation should I practice? What is the best meditation for me?

There are various types of meditation:

Mantra Meditation or Transcendental Meditation

A silent practice that uses a mantra in Sanskrit (Om, Soham, Om namah sivaya). The mantra is given to the meditator by a teacher and is very personal and specific to the student. [5]

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

This technique uses both breath awareness and body scan. Breath awareness is as simple as it sounds. Focus is brought upon the inhalation and exhalation. Body scan is a process of focused attention on the physical body starting at the toes and moving up gradually. The technique is used to release tensions in the body. The practitioner may be seated, laying down, or walking depending on the focus of practice. [5]


Coming from Buddhism, this meditation style consists of observing the breath and the mind, and through interaction with a teacher.

I once experienced a ten-day meditation retreat at a Vipassana centre. The method used is called “The Art of Living”, by S. N. Goenka and is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. The technique consists of these steps:

• Eyes closed, focusing on the air coming in and out of the nostrils.

• Focus on the full breath cycle (nostrils to abdomen and back).

• Focus on other body sensations that might occur during meditation.

Taking ten days off the map of the world for a meditation retreat might not be suitable for everyone. Nevertheless, studies have shown long-lasting results after only four days of meditation. Maybe it is worth considering!

There are tons of different mindfulness approaches. Here is an example of merging a breathing exercise and meditation together:

Breathe in such a way that your inhalation and exhalation are the same duration; for example, count 1-2-3-4 in your mind while inhaling and 1-2-3-4 while exhaling.
At the same time, imagine or sense that you’re breathing in and out through the area of your choice (point between the eyebrows, heart or abdomen for instance).
Meanwhile, bring to mind the feeling of gratitude, compassion, confidence or any virtue of your choice, which you wish to cultivate.

There are many different meditation approaches. You don’t need to be a Buddhist monk to experiment, and I invite you to make up your own!

Imagine the music world in which all your co-workers practiced meditation!




Davidson, R. J., Kabat-Zinn, J., Schumacher, J., Rosenkranz, M., Muller, D., Santorelli, S. F., … & Sheridan, J. F. (2003). Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation. Psychosomatic Medicine, 65(4), 564-570

Zeidan, F., Johnson, S. K., Diamond, B. J., David, Z., & Goolkasian, P. (2010). Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training. Consciousness and Cognition, 19(2), 597-605.

Miller, J. J., Fletcher, K., & Kabat-Zinn, J. (1995). Three-year follow-up and clinical implications of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction intervention in the treatment of anxiety disorders. General Hospital Psychiatry, 17(3), 192-200.

Harinath, K., Malhotra, A. S., Pal, K., Prasad, R., Kumar, R., Kain, T. C., … & Sawhney, R. C. (2004). Effects of Hatha yoga and Omkar meditation on cardiorespiratory performance, psychologic profile, and melatonin secretion. The Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 10(2), 261-268.

Kenny, D. T. (2005). A systematic review of treatments for music performance anxiety. Anxiety, Stress, and Coping, 18(3), 183-208.

Hanson, R. (2009). Buddha’s brain: The practical neuroscience of happiness, love, and wisdom. New Harbinger Publications.

Barlow, D. H. (2007). Principles and practice of stress management. P. M. Lehrer, R. L. Woolfolk, & W. E. Sime (Eds.). Guilford Press.

Gaser, C., & Schlaug, G. (2003). Brain structures differ between musicians and non-musicians. The Journal of Neuroscience, 23(27), 9240-9245.

Groussard, M., Viader, F., Landeau, B., Desgranges, B., Eustache, F., & Platel, H. (2014). The effects of musical practice on structural plasticity: The dynamics of grey matter changes. Brain and cognition, 90, 174-180.

Hyde, K. L., Lerch, J., Norton, A., Forgeard, M., Winner, E., Evans, A. C., & Schlaug, G. (2009). Musical training shapes structural brain development. The Journal of Neuroscience, 29(10), 3019-3025.

Schlaug, G. (2006). Brain structures of musicians: executive functions and morphological implications. Music, motor control and the brain, 141-152.

Schlaug, G., Jancke, L., Huang, Y., & Steinmetz, H. (1995). In vivo evidence of structural brain asymmetry in musicians. Science, 267(5198), 699-701.

Watson, A. H. D. (2009). The Biology of Musical Performance and Performance-Related Injury: Scarecrow Press. 213-231


[1]          Zeidan, F., Johnson, S. K., Diamond, B. J., David, Z., & Goolkasian, P. (2010).     Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training. Consciousness and Cognition, 19(2), 597-605

[2]         Hanson, R. (2009). Buddha’s brain: The practical neuroscience of happiness, love, and wisdom. New Harbinger Publications.

[3]         Kenny, D. T. (2005). A systematic review of treatments for music performance anxiety. Anxiety, Stress, and Coping, 18(3), 183-208.

[4]         Harinath, K., Malhotra, A. S., Pal, K., Prasad, R., Kumar, R., Kain, T. C., … & Sawhney, R. C. (2004). Effects of Hatha yoga and Omkar meditation on cardiorespiratory performance, psychologic profile, and melatonin secretion. The Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 10(2), 261-268.

[5]         Barlow, D. H. (2007). Principles and practice of stress management. P. M. Lehrer, R. L. Woolfolk, & W. E. Sime (Eds.). Guilford Press.


[6]         http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BrainLobesLabelled.jpg?uselang=fr#filelinks

[7] Copyright Francis Audet, photograph

[8] Copyright Pete Checchia, photograph

Meet your Professor

The School of Music at the University of British Columbia came up with a fun Q&A to introduce faculty members to the incoming students! Get to know me better by discovering my hobbies to teaching philosophies, many musical stories and ongoing dreams.

Introduce yourself in 280 characters or less.

I am a French-Canadian violist based in Vancouver, where I have the privilege to teach viola and chamber music at the UBC School of Music. In the summer, I teach in my hometown at my most beloved festival, the Domaine Forget international Academy. In the late evening, you can find me knitting, sewing and dreaming about sustainable fashion. I am the mother of Lucien and Tabea and my most precious moment with them is our latte and babyccino ritual on Saturday mornings. I love pugs, sushi, sport psychology and running in Pacific Spirit Park.

How would you describe your approach to teaching music? What do you enjoy the most about teaching?

My teaching is based on infusing deliberate practice, mindfulness and self-sufficiency in my students’ habits. Each student gets a well-balanced technique routine specifically curated to their needs. One of the most efficient way to develop their self-awareness is to ask them questions frequently. While working on the repertoire, I often ask them this set of questions:

  • What is the character?
  • What sound do you need to achieve this mood?
  • What do you need to do technically to make that happen?

This follows them in the practice room later as they craft their artistic vision. It is then my turn to help them express their own interpretation in the most efficient way. 

Most teachers see their students individually only once a week. One of my top priorities is to deepen the quality of their practice throughout the week, so that they can become their own guide, and one day, find a passion to teach as well so these principles can be passed to many generations.

I get most satisfaction when students are curious, enthusiastic and driven by the journey of learning. The outcomes will come generously when the students are present in each step that it takes until they reach their goals. This is what makes music research so fulfilling. I consider myself a forever student (currently working on my last seminar of DMus from a distance at the Schulich School of Music!), and I always dream of further studies and ways to make my playing/ practicing more efficient. 

What courses are you teaching in 2020/21?

I teach Viola Instructions (BMus, MMus, and DMA students) and MUSC 163 (Small Ensembles)

What can students expect during their private lessons with you?

Two key words are extremely important for the music-making in my studio:


During lessons, we learn how to break down or dissemble their repertoire so they can listen to its foundation and connect with what is essential. This technique very much applies to chamber music coachings as well. By making students play in teams (outer voices, inner voices, and mix and match), they listen to different material and notice how they change role constantly. I suggest to listen to everyone but yourself. 

Whether you play a quartet or a sonata with piano, score study is essential.  Prepare your own part before the first coaching or lesson, but also, be aware of how it fits with the others. This not only saves tremendous rehearsal time, but makes the knowledge of the piece much richer and everlasting. Part of the life of a violist is being a chameleon and transforming our sound depending who you are supporting, or if you have the primary voice. 

Of course, accuracy and consistency are important, but not at the expense of expressivity. With the three questions related to character/sound/technique, the student is always thinking of expressivity first, while pairing it with technical tools to support their ideas. These two processes go hands in hands and rarely get dissociated in my studio (unless we are de-rooting unhealthy technical habits!).

What do you love about your instrument?  What drives you crazy about it?

I love the chocolatey and earthy tones in the lower register and the acidity and luminosity of the higher register. 

I am grateful that the great viola soloists of the last century pushed and bent the possibilities of my instrument, shaping its solo voice and its power. The viola is now taking more place into the spotlight of concertante and recital repertoire.

What drives me crazy is the number of newer pieces dedicated to the viola that are melancholic & sorrowful. A lot of composers associate these feelings to the darkness of the viola, but I think that there is currently an unbalanced amount of “slow and sad” pieces in our repertoire. I always make sure to mention this while working with today’s composers and I often get a high contrast, which is refreshing. 

Describe one of your most memorable performances (good or bad!).

My Curtis audition was a memorable moment. I had prepared like an Olympic champion and felt invincible. Every night, I dreamed that I would play like a star and would breeze through the audition like a charm. This was mostly the case!

The first round was bulletproofed. Everything happened according to plan. I was so happy. The results were posted onto the board and I had made the cut (from 100 to 10) and was scheduled to play in the finals later in the day. I was over the moon, to say the least. 

As I was warming up for the final, I was convinced that the jury would ask for the Gigue of my Bach Suite, so I went over that carefully again. It was taking so long until it was my turn, I started playing Carl Flesch exercises for up to an hour. I wanted to stay warmed up, but didn’t want to make my repertoire too stale. As I was almost falling asleep in the practice room, I was ushered to the audition room. They indeed asked for the Gigue, and that made me feel at ease. The whole final was very natural and convincing. Everyone was happy on the jury, and the President asked if any members would like to hear anything else?

Only Joseph DePasquale nodded his head, with a “reversed smile” on his face. He said: “I would like to hear to recap of the Walton Concerto, 3rd movement.” He seemed grumpy (maybe he was hungry? ). This was my favorite excerpt from the whole audition rep list. But at this stage, as I thought that the audition was over, the adrenaline slowly escaped my body and I started to feel extremely tired emotionally and physically. I still felt grateful to be playing the gorgeous passage infront of all of my favorite violists and thought to end on a strong note. The pianist started to play the tutti before my entry, and as I got ready to play, I prepared my hand frame on the fingerboard, and started playing, half a step too low

I thought to myself: “OK, it’s over. I made a mistake. It’s Curtis, they don’t want me anymore.” 

Then: “Whatever, just come back strong and make it more beautiful than you ever played it before.”

We left Philadelphia. And as much as I had dreamed to get into Curtis prior to the audition, my expectations were low at this stage. I had found out that I got into Juilliard at that time, with the same teacher as I would have had at Curtis, with a full-ride, so I was grateful of the overall outcomes of my college auditions (I had only done two!). No news from Curtis. The day that I was filling out the paperwork for attending Juilliard, the phone rang. It was the president of Curtis. I was in! He asked me how I was doing, and I told him about the paperwork I was just filling out. He kindly told me to recycle it and then, my half-a-step too low Walton recap felt completely unimportant forever since!

#youdontneedtoplayperfectly #playwithyourheart #dreamaboutmusic #reachyourgoals

What is your favourite piece of music/composer/musician?

Franz Schubert, Winterreise. I dream to play the whole cycle on the viola with piano, one day. I have been studying the text or various translations for a few years. I am obsessed with Ian Bostridge’s version with Julius Drake. 

If you couldn’t play viola, what instrument would you like to play?

See previous question (voice). Everybody tells me that I am a soprano, but my heart says Contralto. I guess I will stick to the viola!

When you’re not practicing or teaching or performing, what are you most likely to be doing?

K-n-i-t-t-i-n-g (or running after my children).

Finally, what advice would you give students entering the BMus program this year? And for students thinking about the BMus program, what are your top three best reasons for studying music at UBC?

As I am a forever student, it is easy for me to imagine what the top three reasons would be, choosing UBC SOM:

  1. The large ensembles and their incredibly motivating projects (multimedia world premieres to music for social causes);
  2. The rich offerings of small ensembles (from early music, string quartets, to contemporary players and gamelan ensemble); 
  3. Caring staff and faculty who truly want to guide and mentor you on your journey as a musician and help you find your way with the rich possibilities ahead. 

Lastly, I would like to leave you with this advice: Try other people’s ideas as if they were your own. I love students who come to lesson/coachings prepared and present their vision of a work. Your time in school is when you should be trying ALL kinds of different ideas and aesthetics, even though they might not feel like “you.” The versions of the works that you learn here are not final. I don’t even feel that the versions I put on a published recording are final as well, if that makes you feel better! Your BMus should feel like a four-year-long lab, where you feel safe to explore and expend your horizons. No need to get “married” just yet with a specific interpretation. Stay open to new ideas and constructive criticism. 

For my new friend, Hans-Karl Piltz

It is with a heavy heart that I write this post about a brilliant man, who has been an incredible source of inspiration in my new role at the University of British Columbia this past year.

Hans-Karl Piltz and I met backstage after my UBC debut on October 9th 2019, where I performed in front of my new family, with my long-time friends and musical partners, pianist Philip Chiu and clarinetist Jean-François Normand. Prof Piltz and I immediately discussed string pedagogy & engagement and made plans for meeting soon again. The next day, I received my first email from him about the genesis of UBC’s School of music and how he was implicated.

His rôle in the Department (not yet called a School) “was to teach incoming violin and viola, start an orchestra, teach Music History, start a Public School string teaching course, and to make sure that they would continue in a later, and more ‘developed’ phase. There was always a fear that a Music program at an institution of higher learning, would be cut from the overall University’s curriculum, if it did not succeed, so ‘results’ in the nature of number of students and how this kind of ‘Arts’ was viewed by the rest of the University and the influential people in the community.” -Hans-Karl Piltz

His writing was always fascinating, full of history and fine details. 

From the page of Ginger Sedlarova, his daughter in law

“I was born in Germany, moved to the U.S. at age 4 with my family. I grew up in Chicago where I studied violin until I was introduced to the viola in my High School Orchestra days. I continued to study violin until I was inducted into the US Army and served ultimately in Europe during WW II.

After my three year Army service, I studied viola, starting with the principal viola of the Chicago Symphony and ultimately getting a Master’s degree in performance at Northwestern U. Then followed professional orchestra work: 4 summers with the Grant Park Orch. in Chicago, a year in the touring Arkansas Chamber combined with principal with the Arkansas Symphony and finally, 2 years a principal viola of the Atlanta Symphony.

I switched to the College/University teaching world after that, teaching progressively at 4 different schools until being hired as one of only 4 people from the US, challenged to start and develop [ a Bachelor of Music degree program] in 1959 and taught here until I retired… which was mandatory at the time at the age of 65.  Since that time, I was heavily involved as the ‘musical director’ and violist of a chamber music enterprise focused on the North Shore, usually called the ‘Pro Nova Ensemble’ which had a formal series of 4-5 double performances a season. In addition, all sorts of concerts in Public Schools and other performances sometimes raised the total of concerts to around 20 or so per season in the Vancouver area.

Due to arthritis in both hands, I now only play one of my small violas in my basement studio for myself. The viola d’amore, however, gets a weekly workout in a small group of gamba players where I play the Treble Gamba part since they are short of regular players.

Hans playing with the West Coast Symphony in 2016

Right after reading his email for the first time (I stopped counting how many times I have read it now), I had an idea about creating a space to share the experiences from outstanding artists, like Hans-Karl, and their powerful stories. Soon after, I started a blog dedicated to young string players in academia. He had subscribed to Viola Borealis (said blog), and often gave me feedback on various topics. He was truly curious, kind and generous of his time.

I was blessed with a polite knock on my office door from time to time and short visits from him in between lessons. These lovely encounters would automatically fill the next viola lesson or chamber music coaching with a tremendous amount of energy! I did not realise that my new friend was 96. He was driving to school, attending many concerts (sometimes during the day, sometimes in the evening, sometimes both in one day). We both got to share more beyond academia during Isabel Da Silva’s retirement party. This is the moment he met both my children and my partner. He seemed to genuinely enjoy the presence of the little ones (even though they had way too many deserts and were running everywhere uncontrollably). Soon after, I received a charming note from my new friend. He shared fond memories of his early years at UBC:

“It was good to see you in another role besides being a virtuoso violist the other day.  I admire the gumption and fortitude in bringing your two children to Isabell’s reception.  Reminds me of my two, who, however were some 10 years apart. My first, a girl, was sometimes involved in the early days of the Music School in ‘cleaning up’ the stage after I had presented a concert with the orchestra and with other things I needed to do there. The second one, a boy, was connected with the Music School by being a student there and taking a B.Mus.”

The string division had expanded the offerings for StringFest this year, and I felt compelled (and proud) to invite him to a few events that I thought he would particularly enjoy. He, of course, wanted to attend most activities, but was also a dedicated caregiver to his wife, Irene. I saw him twice that week, lucky me. The Tuesday String divisional concert, showcasing a few of my students playing in solo and duo settings, and the grand finale concert, featuring three Brandenburg Concerti by J.S Bach. Hans-Karl co-founded the Vancouver Society for Early Music  in 1969 – now known as Early Music Vancouver. I sat next to him with my two-year-old for this event. I felt that I had reached absolute bliss, watching the students play with such professionalism and ease, alongside my new friend, and my little boy who was soaking up every musical gesture.

And the next day, I woke up like a child on Christmas morning, checked my inbox, and here it was:

“Thank you for alerting me to come to the concert last night. Bach is always good to listen to as well as be involved personally with performing works of his. And, I had a chance to hear 7 of your students do their stuff. Looking at the other side of the program, I am sorry that I didn’t get to see and hear the other one.  They all looked eager and competent….and judging from some of their actions with you after the performance, they seem to be most happy with their new teacher.” 

As an early music specialist, he also kindly expressed some things he would have done differently and I truly appreciated his sincere feedback and impressions on the concert. 

Soon after, we made plans for lunch at Sage Bistro. From this moment, I understood that it was truly important for him that faculty members not only performed and shined internationally, but shared their artistic visions with the Vancouver community. He handed me a list of every work he had performed at UBC, solo and chamber. I told him immediately my plans to organize a concert in his honor next year at StringFest. A recital where the string students and I would highlight repertoire that he cherished and put forward. 

“Looking at the repertoire that you have already under your belt, immediately sent good vibes in my own memory….the solo ‘Lamentations’ of Barnes…..the Bridge ‘Lament’ for two violas……the Sonata and the Madrigals of Martinu….and a host of other music on your list, push my nostalgia button and bring up memories of past performances.”

Doesn’t that look like the perfect recital program already? 

We then made plans for me to visit his library and finally meet his wife, Irene. This meeting never took place, due to the Covid-19 crisis.

“ I think about the effects of the Music School’s operation… the academic classes, the operation of the large and small performing groups and the private teaching.  I also am thinking of your personal calendar of performances that you list in your profile that are hanging in the balance and how that affects you. Your brain must be in turmoil. Thank God that you are young and resilient…”

Soon after the regulations were installed regarding social distancing, UBC’s wellness committee discussed various ways to reach out to our student body and motivate them to make the most of this period of their life (if they felt like it, of course!). Being subscribed to my blog, Hans received a notification that this video was up and shared his highly productive plans with me: 

“I have watched and listened to your detailed plan on Viola Borealis for the immediate future a number of times and have paid attention to your request to hear about your watcher and listener’s plans. I know you have directed this at your students, probably mainly to spur them on to doing creative things while the virus crisis is at its most problematic point that could be so unnerving with things changing by the minute and them not knowing how to cope. So, let me hitch a ride to your request and tell you of some of my own plans.


I want to revisit some of the music that has occupied a good bit of my time since retirement from UBC. As I mentioned above, I’ve been busy arranging and adapting music written for other instruments than the viola from the Late Renaissance, the whole Baroque and through the Classical periods…even into the Romantic period, music that I wish I had had at my disposal when I was teaching viola. With today’s continuing interest in ‘Early Music’, violists find themselves now constantly in demand to play in various formations (…), I have been creating a library of material for violists that may help develop another marketable professional possibility. Of course, maybe more importantly, it adds another repertoire just for the violist’s pleasure in making music.

Here’s a partial list of what I intend to revisit and most probably revise:

* solo Gamba Divisions by Simpson and Baltzar

*some 30 pieces originally for ‘Lyra Viol’ which had been the musical examples from the Ph.D. dissertation of  a UBC colleague, John Sawyer

*some 20 Sonatas and movements originally for the Gamba by K. Fr. Abel

*Slow movements from the ‘Bel Canto” style of Aless. Rolla and Paganini

* Slow movements from J.S. Bach’s Organ repertoire.  The latest one of these being a severe revision of the Kodaly arr. of the Chromatic Fantasy

These are just some of the ‘Early Music’ things, but there are other things like:

*32 Concert Etudes, orig. for clarinet by UBC composer Elliot Weisgarber, written in ‘multi-modal’ harmonic style .

*Caprice Variations for Solo Violin (selected for viola) by George Rochberg

This just a partial listing of what I intend to go through during the time when free movement outside is curtailed.  Let’s hope that my plans will actually be put into action. I certainly have the time. I get up usually at 5 in the morning and between that hour and lunch has always been my most fruitful time for practice and planning.”

I found out about Hans passing on Saturday evening. All of a sudden, I am filled with so many projects I wish I could run by him. I was waiting to answer his last email, as I was preparing a pedagogical video series. What I would give to read his opinions on these videos and hopefully involve him in some ways. Sending Hans a note was often a bit selfish, because the response was always so interesting, beautifully written, and simply charming. I am sending this off to him, as a huge thank you for his mentorship in this unforgettable first year in my new adventures at UBC. 

Thank you, my dear new friend. May you have a peaceful journey after such a fulfilling and generous life.

PC: Laurie Townsend

Audition tips

Auditions are around the corner and you have been practicing for months. Your priority should be to recharge your energy levels so you can perform at your full potential on audition day. Most students overlook this step and will get sick a couple of days prior to the audition, or feel physically fatigued the day of, due to over practicing at the last minute. What are some concrete steps to bring your preparation to the next level?

Imagining your best performance

Now is a good time to start visualizing your dream performance in front of the committee.  Did you ever experience a performance where things just fell all in the right places? You felt calm yet energized, relaxed and powerful and overall played at your best. Perhaps there is a bit of concert magic for these special moments, but most likely, you set yourself up for experiencing such a great performance. In your practice breaks, turn off the light, sit down and revive these happy performance memories. Use this as a template to visualise your upcoming audition. 

As most of our performances don’t exactly go according to plan (because we are human!), strive for excellence, versus perfection. If something happens, here are a few acronyms which you can use to recover:







These acronyms will help you get back into the zone and continue according to your initial plan!

Sweet dreams

Two nights prior to the event is when you should go to bed a little earlier than you normally do. It takes that much time for your body to process sleep! You can go to a normal bedtime the night before. Swap screen time for any Don Greene’s book on Sports Psychology applied to musicians. You can also practice meditation by simply bringing awareness to each inhale and exhale, and use body scanning techniques to mentally relax every part of your body, from the toes and up. Sweet dreams guaranteed! 

Mood check

In the week leading up to the audition, you might feel under more pressure than usual. You might feel more sensitive to criticism, experience ups and downs, and even take yourself a bit too seriously. My biggest wish for you at this stage is that you do everything that you can so you are in a good mood! Watch inspirational movies (I recommend Jiro Dreams of Sushi), or TV shows who make you laugh (always “The Office” for me personally). Get some light exercises to release endorphins and to get your blood flow moving. I practice yoga, and walk or bike to work. I would recommend any physical activity that your body is used to. Now is not the time to start CrossFit if this is not already part of your routine. Starting the day with a walk outside is an amazing tool to uplift your mood while getting some fresh air and exercise.

It’s all about character

My last tip for you is to write on a post-it note three keywords for each work (and movements) that you are playing at your audition.

Here are the three questions you will need to answer:

  1. What is the character (e.g festive)
  2. What kind of sound do you need to achieve this character? (e.g resonant)
  3. How do you make that sound? (e.g bow contact + speed)

Mock auditions in front of friends and family are a must. It will give you the opportunity to practice taking the time prior to each piece or movement to read these keywords. This will make your music making clear and convincing.

You are now genuinely and wholeheartedly ready! We are very much looking forward to hearing you soon and potentially working together next year!

*Shout out to my mentor Jean-François Ménard who passed down a lot of these teachings to me. Stay tuned for more Sport Psychology writings from me around mid-april!*


I am over the moon to launch my journal, Viola Borealis. This is the platform where you can find out in greater details what inspires my playing and teaching. Viola Borealis is your new go-to blog for slow living, mindfulness and music-related content.

Some background informations about the project and how it got started: UBC School of Music is taking active steps into creating a healthy environment for their students. As part of UBC’s wellness committee, I had the chance in November to present the basic principles of Sports Psychology to the music students : Athletes in the practice room. When posting about this event on my social media, there was quite a demand both in the comments and in private messages to make this content available online. You have been heard! 

Today, I am thrilled to be giving another talk on a related topic : Practice Journal and Time Management. These organizational tools have been part of my practice for years and I could have never done all of my dream projects without them! Vancouver community, please drop by today, January 17th at 12pm in Gessler Hall (UBC).

For my first journal entry, I thought it would be appropriate to share with you a research that I did a few years back while at the Schulich School of Music of McGill University, on the benefits of meditation for musicians: The Art of Zen Music Playing.

Stay tuned for new content coming up in the next few months, as I am at the early stages of a research on Sports Psychology applied to musicians, under the supervision of Dr. Gordon Bloom at the McGill University.

For my official website:

Thank you Paule Trudel-Bellemare for another beautiful artwork!