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Must-have For Good Musicians: Meditation

Posted by Meditation USA on July 23, 2020

Ji-Hye Shin / Oboist

hin Ji-hye is a promising and talented Korean oboe player. After studying in Germany, she returned to Korea and has participated in several orchestra and chamber music performances as a guest soloist. She attended the Korea National University of Arts Conservatory and Kyungpook National University. Professor Yoon-jeong Lee (now Professor of Kyung Hee University), Shin’s advisor while she attended Korea National University of Arts, said of her, “She’s an excellent musician. She is always professional and her performances are consistently excellent.” Shin credits her consistent performances to her meditation.

Continuous competition and applause but no happiness

If you’ve ever been to an orchestra performance, you may have noted that the oboe usually plays the tuning note for all of the players. Before starting to play and before the conductor comes on stage, the oboe plays a tone and all the other instruments tune up to that note. If the tone the oboist plays is wrong, then everyone in the ensemble will be wrong. There’s a lot of pressure to get it right. People think that the life of a musician must be really great, but it is continuous competition. Competition with entrance exams, tests, auditions…

I’ve been a musician since my childhood. Because my mother was a pianist, she was always playing. She played in the house, she was in an orchestra and she played many solo performances. In this kind of environment, it only seems natural that a mother would want her children to play music as well. My first instrument was piano. Then, I learned cello. Finally, I began playing oboe in middle school. They say that the timbre of the oboe should be sweet and touch a person’s emotion and those things came very naturally to me. Practicing was difficult but I enjoyed the accomplishments of getting better at playing and of course, the applause and attention I got from performing for others was great.

Though I was getting attention and enjoying playing music, I was never really very happy. I was actually more stressed because I didn’t want to make any mistakes. I was also very sensitive. The oboe is a woodwind instrument and it requires a lot of breath to play properly. My teacher would tell me that in order to play this instrument properly, I must have a consistent breathing technique, but it was not easy for me.

I want to keep my mind. I continue my meditation even while studying in Germany

My opportunity to change came in my junior year of college when I began to meditate. At first, I was only going to meditate for a week, but once I started to let go of all the stress in my heart, I became so comfortable, I didn’t want to stop. I let go of all the pretending minds that I had and my stress and worries. After a while, I started to realize that my playing was gradually getting better.

Then in 2007, I went to Mannheim National Music University in Germany to study abroad. It was a lot of fun. Back in Korea, I thought I was a good  oboe player. Once in Germany, I felt like I was behind my peers. The language was very difficult to learn as well. Probably the most comforting place I could go was to the meditation center in Paris, France.

Now in Berlin, Germany, there is a meditation center, but when I attended Mannheim University, the closest meditation center for me was the Paris center. The center is near the Eiffel Tower, 3 hours by train. There were many students there including Korean professors, office workers, and international students. Everyone was meditating to get out of their burdens, so of course the atmosphere there was good. Thanks to this, I had the courage to really get rid of my rigid standards and my idea of what hard work was and so many other things that I was holding in my mind. I really think the meditation made it easier for me to continue studying abroad.

I remember one day when I was meditating and I realized that I had a very big attachment in my mind to playing oboe. I couldn’t imagine my life without it because I always felt so confident and secure when I played. I also saw how playing oboe had made people like me and admire me. This attachment was holding me back. Playing oboe had become such a big part of me and my identity. It’s how I got recognition from others. It made me nervous and anxious to think if I didn’t play oboe, others would have no reason to interact with me.

The oboe has a very unique “reed.” It’s basically two thin wooden pieces that one blows into in order to create the tone of the instrument. Since 80% of the instrument’s timbre or tone depends on this reed, it can easily be broken – even while simply practicing. Every person who plays oboe knows that we all have a different tone when we play, even though we are all playing the same instrument. Well, when I started to clear my mind, my tone changed.

Music, honor, love… I can enjoy Playing music when I let it all go

I sincerely wanted to let go of my attachment to playing the oboe. I meditated about it for a few days and the feeling of being liberated from that thinking finally came in a significant moment. I felt freedom. Music, honor, love… When I let go of all of these things and cleared my mind, I knew I was really feeling freedom and liberation.

When I let go of all the thoughts in my mind, I knew they would gradually disappear, but now this meditation has given me an even bigger gift. Now, I’m able to truly enjoy playing music instead of always just trying to succeed. Performing on stage has changed 180 degrees for me. When I’m performing has become precious and I can really do my best every moment.

I’m still playing the same pieces, but now I can see and feel things that I didn’t before. I keep coming up with new ideas on how to interpret or express this music. Before, I only played for myself and my narrow minded ideas in my own little world. Now I have a much larger perspective. I used to always worry about how well I was playing or performing, these days, I just play from the heart and I’m no longer concerned with what others think.

Now my performances are more natural and music comes out of my like water flowing. My friends also says that I look more comfortable and that my face has changed. I used to always concentrate so hard on practicing but now I can just unleash my talent and abilities and make it look so easy. I realized that all of my old thinking and stress is not real.

For musicians, it is especially important to take control of your hearts. If you look around, there are a lot of performers who can’t stand on the stage and play. True musicians express themselves through music. For musicians, my hope is that more people can let go of their old thinking and truly enjoy the natural beauty of sharing their music with the world. Good music makes people feel comfort and happiness. I want to communicate with the world with real music without mind. I dream of a day when there are so many people who say ‘I really enjoyed your playing’ after listening to my music.

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