This month’s Spotlight interview brings me immense joy and pride. Not only is our featured artist amazingly inspiring, but she’s also a long-term client and friend. Laura Sinclair has created the artist’s dream life, with her ideal balance of performances (because one really shouldn’t have to choose between playing chamber music around the world and subbing in the pit for the national tour of Hamilton!) teaching her beloved and close-knit private teaching studio, and running her peer-coaching program, The Stress-Free Studio (more on that later!) AND speaking about the intersection of music teaching, child development, and neuroscience at conferences and private events.
Laura is taking the world by storm, revolutionizing how people teach–from a more fulfilling way to build their studios to the way they can better understand children (and parents!) She has a truly remarkable story, and I can’t wait to share it with you today.
TFTL: At what age did you start playing the viola? Did you start on the violin? Were you naturally drawn to it, or was it something that someone suggested you try?
LS: I started playing violin at age 7. I was always drawn to musical instruments, so when the violin-shaped notice arrived in my mailbox (in my tiny Canadian fishing village) inviting me to take lessons at a neighbor’s house for $5 a lesson, we jumped at the chance. The viola entered my life midway through my undergraduate degree when my violin teacher thought it would help with some of the physical tension in my body, as well as satisfy my love of inner voices in chamber music. As it turns out, a bigger instrument was a perfect fit and I’ve been playing both ever since.
TFTL: What prompted you to start studying neuroscience and child development? How do you see this added layer helping your students/parents?
LS: I gained firsthand experience working with children from all backgrounds through my work in a Title I public school while building my private studio. What struck me the most is how much I didn’t know. As teachers, our tendency is to teach how we were taught, but it wasn’t working for me. The behaviors and deep emotional worlds of my students perplexed me, and I felt wholly ill-equipped to help with the challenges of modern childhood. This led me on a deep dive to learn as much as I could about the brain and how it learns, emotional regulation, and attachment theory.
This has been hugely beneficial for me as a teacher and parent educator in decoding behaviors in lessons and classes and providing insight for the parent into a child’s internal experience. Often what we see as “bad” behavior is simply the child trying to communicate something, be it a need for connection, a lack of understanding of what is being asked, or a basic need like needing a snack!
TFTL: You have a lot of different balls in the air! A thriving teaching studio, an active performance schedule, AND you’re a coach and speaker. What is a typical day like for you?
LS: Keeping my week as routine as possible has been key. Every weekday starts with a workout with my strength training small group. From there, I begin my day with journaling and digging into any creative work that needs to get done, like practicing and writing. I try not to make appointments or take calls in the morning so I can put my personal work first. Early afternoon typically brings around coaching calls with clients or my own coach. I teach my students Monday through Thursday. My performance work often has me traveling, but I’m typically able to teach from the road or limit the travel to the weekends.
TFTL: How have you found balance in your career/life? How do you keep from burning out?
LS: After years as a workaholic, it has been challenging and exciting to embrace the concept of doing less to do more. Now, I recognize that I bring my best to the table when I have blank space to be creative, have time to nurture my personal relationships, and only accept work that aligns with my long-term goals. Keeping those things in balance allows me to avoid burnout, and I now have a system of accountability in place to not return there.
TFTL: In your Stress-Free Studio coaching work with other private teachers, what do you see them struggling with the most?
LS: I see a lot of them struggling with the business side of teaching. It’s not a subject that is discussed in music school, because the professors teaching us have little to no first-hand knowledge about how to be successful at it. My aim with my coaching work is to help teachers conscientiously design their offerings to highlight their strengths, and automate their business practices so their energy can be devoted to delivering high-quality teaching while not feeling consumed by it.
TFTL: What does success look like for you?
LS: Success to me is having a career that allows me to live my values. I know there’s magic happening in my work when it reflects who I am and what I hold dear.
TFTL: Who have been some of your role models?
LS: I have had many incredible teachers in my life. Dr. Terry Durbin has been a key influence in how and why I teach, and my curiosity about brain development. All of my conservatory teachers helped me recognize that a musician must become both a car mechanic and an artist to be successful.
Often, I find a lot of teachable moments in getting myself into situations that don’t align with who I am, or leadership that didn’t offer me what I need to do my best. From the narcissistic boss to the administrator who just didn’t know how to support me, to the wedding gig catastrophe, I am eternally grateful for having those moments in my life to light up my intuition and cause me to course correct.
TFTL: What is the best piece of advice someone has given you?
LS: If you don’t build your dream, someone will pay you to build theirs. It really made me realize where I was allowing the work for other people to put my work on the sidelines.
TFTL: Practicing: Love it or Hate it? What do you find is the most challenging aspect of it?
LS: It’s definitely a love-hate relationship for me, because to this day, setting aside time to practice (especially when there isn’t an IMMEDIATE performance to prepare for) feels like a selfish act. Now, I do best when I apply the principle of routine to my practice and create space for it in my day. Ultimately, it’s that daily maintenance that keeps me pursuing bigger and better performance opportunities.
TFTL: What is your favorite thing about attending (not performing in) a classical music concert these days?
LS: As an active performer, I really enjoy not being in the hot seat sometimes! I value thoughtful programming and concert experiences that are intimate and personal to the artist. My goal this year is to see the Emerson string quartet while they are in their farewell season.
TFTL: What is most important to you these days?
LS: Making sure I am spending my time conscientiously, and helping others do the same. This means prioritizing music I want to play, students that fit into my studio culture, clients that are excited to create big changes through small changes, and time for friends, family, and travel.
TFTL: Where can people find you? (website, Socials, etc.) and what is the best way for people to show their support for what you are doing?
LS: The best thing people can do is pass on The Stress-Free Studio to that musician in your life who needs a helping hand to become a brilliant teacher–whether they are just starting out after graduating, have recently moved to a new city and are faced with starting over, or are feeling overwhelmed by the logistics of maintaining a private studio. Follow me on Instagram and join my mailing list to stay up to date on my varied offerings and musical adventures.
TFTL: Thanks so much, Laura!