Art and IFSCuriosity

The songs of inner harmony

People often romanticize the worlds of music and theater. It’s a common perception that musicians and actors live in a bohemian utopia, freely expressing their creativity without a care. The reality is starkly different.

As a music director and a passionate advocate for mental health, I know every performance is preceded by hours of practice and nerve-fraying repetition. An unforgiving inner critic is often present throughout, leading to a struggle to access Self. Traditional teaching methods can amplify these harsh voices within us by top-down, patriarchal leadership dynamics. Then we go out on stage and wonder why our performances are stilted and self-conscious or why we are paralyzed by stage panic.

My husband, Michael (Micha) Schoepe, and I have been exploring ways to transform this. We were initially inspired by The Voice Care Network, where we learned that people thrive in environments that foster curiosity, experimentation, and playfulness. We began to rethink our methods and embraced the idea of being fellow learners with our students, asking questions instead of imposing directives. We started focusing more on creating a supportive, non-judgmental space to allow creative expression to safely emerge. When Micha and I discovered IFS, we saw that its principles aligned closely with our goals and intentionally incorporated IFS into our work.

I had already begun incorporating these concepts into my work (before learning about IFS) as the music director of Aspen Choral Society. I started each rehearsal with a guided check-in, encouraging choir members to temporarily set aside anything that pulls them away from the present moment (Parts) and to connect with their inner peace, wisdom, and creativity (Self). We would set intentions for our time together and focus on being present and supportive rather than striving for perfection. This approach fostered a sense of community and connection that ended up transcending the music itself.

The results were remarkable. Our choir became a tight-knit community, where members started looking forward to seeing each other. There was a palpable, felt sense of connection. Remarkably, audience members began to notice and comment on our bond. They felt the warmth and unity radiating from our performances. This feedback supported our suspicion that people who show up as Self can make music that is more expressive.

Given our success when my efforts were unintentionally aligned with IFS, I doubled down and now approach rehearsals and performances with the intention of calling forward the Self—in my performers, board members, and audience. Micha does, too. He leads a residency with LGBTQ teenagers that helps them explore their inner worlds through artistic expression. Each session begins with presence exercises, where participants share their current feelings and sensations, normalizing inner exploration. Micha introduces foundational IFS concepts, like viewing emotions as parts of our personality. He encourages the teens to notice these emotions, locate them in their bodies, and treat them as “inner people” with their own stories.

He’s also introduced a storytelling circle that introduces a weekly theme, followed by artistic explorations such as theater, visual arts, photography, and movement. These activities allow the youth to experience and recognize aspects of their personalities. Each session concludes with an inner check-in and optional sharing.

Music and theater are powerful tools for healing and self-discovery, and our experiences have demonstrated this is even more true when practice and performing are guided by the principles of IFS. We are eager to hear from others who have explored similar paths. How have you incorporated IFS or other therapeutic modalities into your artistic and group work? We invite you to share your experiences and heart-opening ideas with us. Our goal is to continue learning and growing together.

By fostering environments of love, support, and playful experimentation, we can transform the way we teach and practice the arts. Let’s create spaces together, where every voice is heard, every part is welcomed, and every individual can thrive!

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Author´s Bio

Author

  • Paul Dankers

    Paul Dankers has a Bachelor's degree in Choral Music Education from the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, and a Master's degree in Vocal Music Education from the University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg. He is music director for the Aspen Choral Society.

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