Piano Inspires Podcast: An Interview with Vanessa Cornett

To celebrate the latest episode of Piano Inspires Podcast featuring Vanessa Cornett, we are sharing an excerpted transcript of her conversation with Alejandro Cremaschi. Want to learn more about Cornett? Check out the latest installment of the Piano Inspires Podcast. To learn more, visit pianoinspires.com. Listen to our latest episode with Cornett on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, or our website!

Vanessa Cornett at NCKP 2023: The Piano Conference.

Alejandro Cremaschi: It’s interesting because we are talking about anxiety, but there’s this other side of what you do, which is about peak performance and using sports psychology tools to help. I think in some ways they are related, right? Peak performance and anxiety?

Vanessa Cornett: They are! This is going to be an oversimplification, but I think musicians are behind athletes significantly. I think elite athletes and their coaches and their sports psychologists have understood for many decades, that if you train the mind for peak performance, that helps automatically with the anxiety because you’re taking a proactive approach. You’re thinking, “How do I win? How do I be the best? How do I get the gold?” You have practiced all of these internal and external things to get there. Okay, what do musicians do? We spend hours and hours training the body in our practice room and when we feel anxious, first of all, it feels wrong. “I shouldn’t be feeling this, this, clearly, I’m doing something wrong.” Then what we do as musicians is we tend to take a reactive approach: “Oh, you have this problem. Let’s see how we can help you fix this problem and get over it.” What I tell my students, is if you go into a bookstore or search on Amazon for “performance anxiety management techniques for top athletes,” “stage fright for football players,” you don’t find those books. You don’t find—Michael Phelps is not writing a book on: “I was Scared and Here’s How I Got Over It.” Because all of the literature is: “What can I do to be the best? What can I do to put my mind in the game where it needs to be?” I really believe—and again, it’s an oversimplification, because music and sports aren’t the same—but if we musicians would take a more proactive approach, if we would help our students and ourselves think differently, or pay attention to our mental processes, I don’t think performance anxiety would go away but I think we would know how to proactively sort of deal with it and it wouldn’t be weird, it would be normal. It would be you know that adrenaline when we feel scared—that’s the same adrenaline when we’re having a peak performance experience. I tell my students, no world record at the Olympics was ever broken except in front of an audience. Those are when the world records are broken because there’s so much adrenaline and it’s funneled in a certain way, right? So why can’t musicians take that adrenaline and instead of recognizing it as dread—”I’m going to die!”—why can’t we get our mind in a place where we use that as fuel as best we can to have what we would call a peak performance experience?

If you enjoyed this excerpt from Piano Inspires Podcast’s latest episode, listen to the entire episode with Vanessa Cornett on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, or our website!


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