Performance Coaching in music education It’s very early days for Performance Coaching in music education. Most people don’t know what it is, or whether it is worth spending money on. To my knowledge, there are only a handful of people doing this in the music profession in the UK right now, with perhaps a few more in the US and each coach has their own personal approach and training. (I’d like at this stage to remember and pay my respects to the very well loved and respected Karen O’Connor who was a Performance Coach at the Birmingham Conservatoire and who died from cancer in June.) Yet, in the sports world, it is common place to have all manner of different coaches. Simone Biles, the phenomenal American Olympic gymnast, had a Performance Coach who worked with her intensively from the 2012 Olympics, and he is clearly part of her incredible success in the 2016 Olympics.
A couple of music graduates have asked to shadow me recently to see whether they want to study performance psychology or become a Performance Coach themselves. Despite having brought my performance coaching approach into piano lessons for decades, those students are extremely surprised when I say that I have only been working specifically as a Performance Coach for a few years.
My journey towards being a Performance Coach My own journey towards this point has taken years and during those years, I have been working in the profession as both a performer and a teacher. (I started teaching the piano when I was seventeen.) Alongside performing and teaching, I was constantly exploring other modalities, not having a clue where they would lead but just enjoying the experience for its own sake. Fifteen years of all different types of bodywork courses – Ayurvedic massage in India, a course in London that combined Yoga, Feldenkrais and bodywork with Ken Eyerman, part of a BSc degree at the University of Westminster and vast amounts experiencing all that work myself – all led me to be able to ‘see’ where musicians hold tension so that I can flag that up for them. Then I work with them helping to let it go, often helping them move through the dreaded tendonitis, so they can find freedom again when they play.
The psychological part of my work has come, not from academic study in psychology, but from endless exploration anything that drew me and fascinated me in that whole arena. I can’t begin to list everything I have explored over the years but almost all of it has had an experiential side. In order to be congruent with what I teach, I feel that I have to both experience and integrate it myself first.
I am in the lucky position at the moment of being awash with requests from different conservatoires and universities around the UK to present my talk-master class, and give performance coaching sessions to the students. I will be working in the string department of the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, for three solid days coaching this month, I now have a regular performance class at Leeds College of Music and in November and I will be working at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and St Mary’s Edinburgh. Most of these have been requested by the students which makes me feel that this rather particular and individual type of coaching is very much needed in music education at the moment.