5 Must-Read Books for Classical Musicians!

Books musicians are reading to get inspired

Looking for some inspiration on what to read next? We have got you covered with five fantastic books looking at mental health, performance anxiety, and careers in the arts!

1. Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Dr. Emily and Dr. Amelia Nagoski

Burnout is something almost every musician will encounter at some point or another in their career. We are pushed in so many directions–take every gig we possibly can, practice at all hours, and still do everything else humans have to do. It is often even worse during really intense seasons in our lives, like college, or a bunch of auditions we are taking, or traveling every week to get to the next gig. Burnout addresses all of this, and so much more. As Dr. Emily and Dr. Amelia Nagoski put it, “wellness is not a state of mind, but a state of action.” It is not just the passive, feel good stuff, but also what we do to ensure that we are actively taking care of ourselves, seeking balance, recognizing societal problems that add to our stress, how our brains help (and hinder) our progress, and some tangible steps to help complete the stress cycle and avoid burnout when we can. And the really cool part? Dr. Amelia Nagoski has a DMA in choral conducting so she gets it from a musician’s perspective and uses examples like making recordings to demonstrate the stressful situations we find ourselves in!

2. First, we make the beast beautiful: a new journey through anxiety by Sarah Wilson

Unless you are one of the lucky few, most musicians experience performance anxiety in some capacity or another, popping up at inopportune times like recitals, orchestra concerts, auditions, and even private lessons. Sarah Wilson has tried almost every possible way of managing her anxiety and health conditions and in this book, she compassionately addresses her reader as she takes them on her journey through her diagnosis, highs and lows, the history of anxiety as a medically recognized condition, and what she has found to help her and why. A big thing she brings up is the importance of meditation, but that it doesn’t have to be perfect. Your brain will probably wander, your thoughts will flit by, and that’s okay. It is more the act of showing up for yourself consistently that matters and will make the difference. 

3. The Confident Mind: A Battle Tested Guide to Unshakeable Performance by Dr. Nate Zinsser

Dr. Nate Zinsser has trained the most elite athletes and served as the director of the Performance Psychology Program for the US Military Academy for over 25 years. So he really knows his stuff when it comes to performing under pressure! In this book, he defines confidence as “a sense of certainty about your ability, which allows you to bypass conscious thought and execute unconsciously.” He guides his reader through the steps of how to develop confidence, how to help get the negative self-talk to quiet down, how to practice for performance, the importance of visualization, and how to self-evaluate after you are done with the performance to improve for next time. And reminds us all that confidence is something we can develop and nurture, not something we are born with.

4. The Art of Relevance by Nina Simon

Does the idea of making your art relevant to your audience excite you, but you aren’t entirely sure how to do it? This is the book for you! By using real world examples, Nina Simon walks her reader through what relevance really is, how to achieve it, and why mission is so important to the success of arts organizations. She also demonstrates how to integrate the elements of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access into relevant, engaging programming. A book you can read and come back to many times, you will always find something enlightening when you do!

5. The Entrepreneurial Artist: Lessons from Highly Successful Creatives by Aaron Dworkin 

Written by the founder of the Sphinx Organization, this book explores perspectives from a variety of different performing artists, writers, and musicians we all would consider to be “successful.” In the introduction, Aaron Dworkin explains his own path to found Sphinx through his dive into Black composers during his undergraduate degree, how he prioritized fundraising and eventually corporate sponsorships to make it the success it is today, and how this organization has fulfilled him, professionally and personally. Then, he takes the reader on a journey, going through the careers of artists like Lin-Manuel Miranda, Rachel Barton Pine, Marin Alsop, Midori, Wynton Marsalis, and many more, with each chapter highlighting takeaways for the artist entrepreneur. Inspiring and educational, this book demonstrates how resilience, tenacity, and creativity all played a part in the successes of these individuals.

Written by: Anna Dunlap, 7/17/23

Wanna learn more?!

Check out our free resources!