Today’s Spotlight is shining on Violinist, Teacher, Blogger, Podcaster, and all-around guru of mindful musical work, Renée-Paule Gauthier.
Currently based in Chicago, Dr. Renée-Paule Gauthier performs with all the top bands in town: Lyric Opera, Joffrey Ballet, the Chicago Philharmonic and is a regular sub with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
She is the String Area Coordinator, Co-director of the Chamber Music Program, and Violin Instructor at North Park University, and is also part of the faculties of North Central College, the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, and the Birch Creek Performance Center, as a violin instructor and chamber music coach.
Her dissertation, The Mind First and Foremost: An Exploration of Mindful Practice Techniques and Strategies for Violinists, explores how cutting-edge research on mindfulness and personal growth can help violinists in the practice room. She is currently at work turning this dissertation into a book.
She blogs about creating a meaningful practice at her website, Mind Over Finger, hosts the Mind Over Finger Podcast and travels throughout the United States giving masterclasses and clinics on the topics of mindful practice, audition preparation, and anxiety management.
And when she’s not doing all of THAT? She’s also a wife and mother. I asked her how she started down this path, what her life looks like as a top-tier freelancer in a major cultural mecca like Chicago, and how she manages to get it all done.
Find out how she starts each day, what she finds difficult about practicing and her magical way of listening to a performance.
TFTL: At what age did you start playing the violin?
RPG: 7 years old
TFTL: Were you naturally drawn to it, or was it something that someone suggested you try?
RPG: My parents were both musicians, and so was my older sister, so I think you could say that it was very much encouraged! 😉
TFTL: When/How/Why did you decide to start a podcast?
Living in a big city (Chicago) where I spend an insane amount of time in my car commuting, I consume a lot (!!!) of podcasts on all kinds of topics! There were a few very good classical music podcasts already, but I had not found one that talked specifically about my favorite topic – mindful and efficient practice – and I always had several questions in my head that I dreamed to ask the guests. In November 2017, I was driving back from a conference where I had just given a talk about mindful practicing techniques. As always, I was listening to a podcast and kept running additional questions in my head. Then, this voice just popped in my head and said: “You should launch your own podcast!” At first, I thought it was a crazy idea but, once the spark was ignited, I couldn’t shake it. The first episode of The Mind Over Finger Podcast came out on September 7, 2018, featuring violinist James Ehnes, and it’s been an incredible ride!
TFTL: Was it outside your comfort zone or something you had some familiarity with already?
RPG: It MOST DEFINITELY was out of my comfort zone!!! And it felt really scary! But, it also felt exciting and the calling and desire to push forward were really strong. The voice in my head kept talking about it, and I just decided to listen to it and take small actions, every day, to see if I could actually make it happen. They say that courage and confidence come from action – that’s what I tried. Another important thing is: I asked for help!!! Jason Heath, who has an AMAZING podcast – Contrabass Conversation – was always generous with his time, advice, and encouragement, and he was instrumental in bringing The Mind Over Podcast to life! It’s a lot of work, but also a lot of fun, and it’s an endless well of inspiration for me. It also brings me an incredible amount of joy when I receive emails or comments from someone telling me that it brings value to their life!
TFTL: I get a lot of requests from high school and conservatory students to give them a taste of what different career paths really look like. What does a typical month of work look like for you?
RPG: Ha! There is no typical month for me! It’s always a juggling act, and I keep things organized by planning everything carefully ahead of time – from gigs to administrative work, to family activities, to meals. I wear many hats! As a performing musician who also teaches, runs a chamber music program, hosts a podcast, and has a family, I need to find time to practice the repertoire I perform, answer tons of emails, create content in time for releases, prepare material for my students, and handle all of the logistical details to make all of this happen. My family is also a big priority, so I make sure to plan quality time with my kids and husband and make sure everyone gets to their classes, sports practice, and scout meetings.
TFTL: Did you always have a clear picture of what you wanted your career to look like?
RPG: Not really. I’m really happy with where I am and what my life looks like, but if I could pass on one piece of advice to young musicians, it would be to get very specific with what they want – the kind of music they want to play, with whom they want to play, what kind of setting they want to play in (orchestra? chamber music? shows? solo? creation?), where they want to live, and the lifestyle they aspire to. This could make a tremendous difference in how focused they are in their work and the decisions they take when thinking about the future.
TFTL: What were some of the obstacles that you faced in your path towards becoming a professional musician?
RPG: Obstacles can be both external and internal. I faced them both throughout my life and, as most of us, will face more as time goes! I would say the following about obstacles: always accept the external obstacles as a part of life and an opportunity to grow and/or change direction, and face internal obstacles with humility and self-compassion, and thrive to get better, stronger, and more loving to others and, especially, yourself!
TFTL: What do you think it takes to “make it” in today’s classical music world?
RPG: This is a very difficult question! I think you need a LOT of dedication and focused work, and also a bit of luck. Of course, you want to always be prepared when opportunities come knocking, so focus on the process and try to be consistent and meticulous in your work.
TFTL: Practicing: Love it or Hate it? What do you find is the most challenging aspect of it?
RPG: Love and hate! What is most difficult I think is that the work is never done. I try to make it more enjoyable by getting creative with my practice drills and finding different ways of working on things.
TFTL: Who were some of your role models as a young musician?
RPG: My biggest role model as a young musician was my first violin teacher, Jean-Francois Rivest. If you catch his interview on the podcast (episode #25), you’ll understand why! His love of music and the enthusiasm he exudes made me the musician I am today.
TFTL: Do you have a morning ritual or routine to get you going each day? Can you share some of it with us?
RPG: Well, ALWAYS coffee first! Because of my ever-changing schedule I don’t have a set routine but, whenever possible, this is what I aspire to on days I don’t have a morning rehearsal: after the kids leave for school, a bit of tidying up because a tidy house makes me feel better, then meditation and gratitude practice for 10-20 minutes, and day planning where I look at all the things I have to do and organize my day (although the bulk of the planning is done on Sunday nights on my Google calendar). If there’s time, I love to also squeeze in a run or a workout.
TFTL: What is your favorite thing about attending (not performing in) a classical music concert these days?
RPG: The joy of feeling like a child again and enjoying music. I almost never listen to concerts with a critical mind – I sit back and try to savor the gift that the musicians are offering to me.
TFTL: If you could have dinner with any classical musician, dead or alive, who would you choose, and what would you ask them about?
RPG: This is going to sound tacky but I would say Mozart hands down! There are so many anecdotes and stories about him – I would be eager to see the man behind the legend and pick his brain about everything I could! I would also love to see his face when I make him listen to some Brahms, Shostakovich, Debussy, or Ligeti and hear what he thinks!
TFTL: What 5 things are always in your carry-on when you’re traveling?
RPG: My phone (to listen to podcasts), my phone charger (😊), an extra sweater, a book (usually about something related to mindfulness or self-growth), and gum!
TFTL: Where can people find you, and what is the best way for people to show their support for the awesome work you are doing?
You can find me at www.mindoverfinger.com, or as mindoverfinger on both Instagram and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/mindoverfinger/ and https://www.instagram.com/mindoverfinger/). Mostly, I hope people tune in to The Mind Over Finger Podcast and reach out to me with questions, comments, and suggestions! You can download it on all podcasting platforms, including Spotify, or stream it on my site!