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A Soprano on Her Head: Right-Side-Up Reflections on Life and Other Performances

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(Foreword, by Lorin Hollander, concert pianist) Eloise Ristad deals here with complex problems which torment and cripple so many of our most creative and talented people, and she does so with compassion, wisdom, and wit. The problem of stage fright, for instance, is a suffering of epidemic proportions in our society, and involves modalities of thought and projections that rob spontaneity and enthusiasm in artistic performance. Those interested in creative education have long felt that an entirely new, holistic and nurturing process of allowing individuals to discover and express themselves is needed if our educational system is to avoid the neuroses and creative blocks of the past generation. This book illuminates through its conversational style the destructive inhibitions, fears, and guilt experienced by all of us as we fail to break through to creativity. This story is told to me day after day in conservatories and college campuses around the world. Indeed I felt at times that she was telling of my own most petty and debilitating fears. But what is important, A Soprano on Her Head supplies answers and methods for overcoming these universal psychological blocks--methods that have not only been proven in her own studio, but which trace back through history to the oldest and wisest systems of understanding the integration of mind and body. The work bears scrutiny both scientifically and holistically. This is a wonderful book. Read it. You are not alone.

203 pages, Paperback

First published June 1, 1981

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Eloise Ristad

6 books2 followers

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5 stars
292 (47%)
4 stars
214 (34%)
3 stars
83 (13%)
2 stars
25 (4%)
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5 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 50 reviews
Profile Image for Joshua Thompson.
814 reviews111 followers
June 6, 2022
Outstanding work by a college professor and pianist about performing. Similar in vein to Barry Green's "The Inner Game of Music," I enjoyed this one more as I felt it was a bit more artful in its execution. The various chapter topics were universal for all musicians, except for one dull one that focused on piano. A great read.
Profile Image for Melanie.
1,019 reviews
October 5, 2016
Lots to appreciate about this book. Although it is written for the musician with performance anxieties, so much can be applied to many of life's circumstances. I liked the author's realistic look at silencing our inner judges, allowing ourselves to make mistakes -- and even occasionally fail, and how to get out of a rut. Really enjoyed the read.
2 reviews
January 18, 2013
Eloise Ristad, a music instructor, shares her experiences gained through teaching and performing. Each chapter is unique in itself, incorporating different methods of living a musical life, including practicing, performing, reading music, and appreciating every minute of it. This humorous yet insightful book is mandatory for any musician. This includes musicians who spend their time in practice rooms frustrated with their lack of progress despite the numerous hours spent running through the music, perfectionists who have lost touch with the joy of music that first attracted them to their profession, or those who cry through their recitals due to performance anxiety.
Profile Image for Laura.
89 reviews7 followers
February 2, 2010
This book is my Bible. I have read it countless times since university. I even had to buy a second copy, because my first one fell apart-from being over read.

If you are looking to change things up a bit, whether it is in your musical life-or your regular one. A Soprano On Her Head will help you identify what needs to change, and how to find some solutions on how to change what isn't working.

Completely readable - and you don't even need to be a musician, in order to "get it".
Profile Image for Ed.
99 reviews15 followers
December 31, 2013
This is a book that was repeatedly recommended to me by teachers and colleagues back in the conservatory days. I finally bought it in Aspen in 2003, but never read it until now, and boy do I regret that. Though I'm not sure I would have gotten much out of it much earlier. This is the sort of thing one has to be 'ready' for, I think, and it's only recently that my approach to my instrument and to music has become relaxed and flexible enough, not to mention mindful enough, to assimilate this sort of information productively into my daily practice.

But after only a week or so, the techniques Ristad describes in learning to overcome one's own inner judges and self-imposed limitations, as well as nerves, have already born fruit and, once again, I'm getting excited. Similar to some of the applications I developed after reading Daniel Levitin's book about the neuroscience of music perception (also on my shelves here), most of what this book has done for me is to remind me not only to practice the trumpet, but to practice practicing the trumpet. If that makes any sense...but it's been a really important step in raising in me a more consistent awareness of my own sound, my own habits (good and bad) and the approaches I have gotten accustomed to using to deal with them. It turns out that it really pays to reassess oneself objectively and with a sense of humor, as often as possible. This is what folks have been saying for ages of course, and this advice can be applied to any field I would imagine, not just music, but Eloise Ristad is really the first person I've read who has put this sort of advice into coherent, practical language that doesn't just get you thinking in circles. A great resource for anyone who values self-awareness, not just musicians.

Some folks might find her language a little fruity, but that's their problem.

Check it!
122 reviews
May 30, 2011
I only read this book because it was recommended to me by a fellow musician/songwriter who (like me) often suffers from stage fright. The book was so-so at best. I kept waiting for the great advice to come, but I read the whole thing and was disappointed by its lack of substance. Ristad's tone is pretty annoying throughout; it smacks of "look at me, aren't I clever? Isn't it great the way I helped all of these people solve their problems?" She also quoted from a lot of late 70s era self-help books that nobody ever reads anymore. I got annoyed with the way she described things as "meditative" or how people suddenly gained amazing insights through her little tips and tricks.
12 reviews
February 8, 2011
If you can get past the 70's psyco-babble this book has a lot of good ideas and insight that is helpful to the practicing performer. While there is a lot of talk about the "inner child", repressed feelings, beating things with batakas and banging on bongos, Ristad does fairly often hit the nail on the head when describing the crazy self talk that all performers experience at one time or other. Not a "must read" but a "try hard to read" book for musicians.
I also went into this book thinking it was mainly for singers and was disappointed to find that it was piano centered.
Profile Image for Jill.
62 reviews9 followers
October 11, 2014
I read this while trying to finish my PhD, on my musician sister's recommendation, and it was amazing. It didn't matter that it's written for musicians, not scholars, I found it hit the nail on the head. Like performers, scholars, and perhaps PhD students in particular, are under immense pressure to perform brilliantly, and most certainly suffer from the delusion that everyone else is super-confident and successful while me, well, I have of course a fraud, soon to be found out. Highly recommended. (from the first time I read it: http://jilltxt.net/arkiv/2001_06_01_a...)
2 reviews3 followers
March 15, 2007
This is a fantastic book about performance/teaching/music. It presents ideas about stage fright and overcoming our personal hang-ups with performance. I definitely recommend this book! I wish I had the chance to see the author speak or teach; her writing made me feel that she was a beautiful person.
7 reviews
April 11, 2009
I read this after a master class with the author in music school. It's a game changer.
Profile Image for Jayne.
2 reviews
August 11, 2012
Love, love this book. It really helped me get over my stage fright! Now I can perform without much nervousness :)
Profile Image for Holly Weiss.
Author 3 books120 followers
July 9, 2018
Approaching life, practicing, performing with new techniques. Great therapy for singers and others.
Profile Image for Natalie Baker.
64 reviews3 followers
July 1, 2020
If you are a musician, performer or human, I highly recommend this book! I can't believe it's nearly forty years old--the ideas feel very fresh. I'm keeping this one on my shelf for future reference.
Profile Image for Felicity.
887 reviews27 followers
January 19, 2019
This is a fantastic book that every musician should read. It also applies to life/other professions so would also be interesting to others.

Eloise Ristad is a piano teacher who does a variety of workshops with musicians to help them loosen up and to kick toxic habits such as practicing for too many hours a day. She relates many of these workshops and how her methods helped the performers. She also relates her own performance nerves and how she struggled and learned to make peace with them. She covers the classic topic of people who took piano lessons at school but didn't see them through as they struggled with taking it in and being able to read music.

I took a lot of tips from this. It was the perfect read before my mid term recital and I am sure I will be re-reading it.
Profile Image for Berni Phillips.
623 reviews3 followers
December 21, 2019
I first read this about 40 years ago on the recommendation of my voice teacher. I wasn't ready for it then.

I have re-read it on the recommendation of my current voice teacher, and now that I'm a lot older, I get it. This book is aimed at musicians, but it applies to anyone who is confronted by issues that hold them back - mainly our inner judges and tension within the body.

She cites books written by athletes which helped her develop her techniques on how to get people to loosen up and work past their roadblocks. I'm a little to old to try standing on my head, but there are many other ways to look at things from a different perspective.
May 16, 2020
A fun look into the alternative teaching methods of Eloise Ristad!

As a singer the title was of course relatable, but little did I know that I would find so much relatability to other instrumentalists. This though-provoking work has furthered my understanding an need for an awareness based practice and performance process!
Profile Image for Christina Mathis.
8 reviews5 followers
September 16, 2018
If you tend to delve too deeply into your thoughts and lose the purpose of why you became a musician, this book is for you. Ristad's ideas seem far-fetched at first, but they are very useful and have already helped me tremendously to learn how to get out of my own way and really make music.
515 reviews6 followers
December 31, 2021
Delightful book on performances. I'm not qualified to speak to all the issues raised here, but as a performing artist, and sometimes performing in my day job (presentations, etc.), I got some good ideas to try out.
Profile Image for Kathy.
474 reviews7 followers
March 18, 2017
some interesting stuff, an interesting anecdotes, about learning, dealing with pressure, pressure situations, mental blocks, stuff like that.
36 reviews
December 26, 2017
I didn't finish as I borrowed it but I really took to heart what I did read. Lots of methods to help in becoming a better musician and trying to overcome performance anxiety.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
46 reviews1 follower
October 22, 2018
I actually decided not to finish this book. While I found the first half to be rather interesting, I felt like the second pretty much just rehashed the points that were made earlier.
5 reviews10 followers
May 25, 2019
So many great outside-the-box ideas in here. Applicable to areas outside of music as well.
Profile Image for Ariana.
272 reviews6 followers
Shelved as 'abandoned'
April 14, 2020
Just haven’t got the energy or need to read this right now. It’s probably pretty useful for its intended purpose though.
Profile Image for T.S. Gibson.
Author 2 books1 follower
September 23, 2020
At a time in my life when I really needed it, this book was there. It righted so many wrongs in my noggin, for which I will forever be grateful.
7 reviews
May 4, 2021
I re-read this book every year or two. For a practitioner of some physical art such as music, dance or theatre, it is worth its weight in gold. It cheers, heals and inspires, especially about that thing all performers do regularly, that thing that is the paathiram/container for so many discoveries, struggles and fear: Practice.

I feel that this book, along with The Inner Game of Tennis, Drawing with the Right Side of the Brain and How Children Learn (and others by these authors), can together be treated as a manual on how to learn and practice something.

These authors -- all of whom were teachers -- stress the dangers of "words that sound right", the use of imitation over verbal instruction, the usefulness of tuning into the bodily senses, of cultivating improvisation (that dreaded word), self-observation and visualization. They teach a deep skepticism about hand-me-down knowledge and about authorities who know best. They are not afraid of the inherent unpredictability and the contrariness in human nature. They discuss non-traditional training solutions that they each have devised, to a variety of complex blocks that students and performers undergo.

Among these teachers, all of whom are giants in the art of learning, for me, Eloise Ristad stands apart. She touched something hidden and mysterious in the human psyche, and used it to help others. In this book, her curiosity about human nature and her compassion for the specific human beings in front of her shines in every page. I love that she left it all somewhat incomplete. There is no attempt to set out a fully-formed, self-contained, anxiously self-defensive methodology. It's more a book of anecdotes, of conversations, classroom sessions and experiments. What theories you derive out of the book and how you put them to use is up to you.
Profile Image for Mary Funk.
5 reviews
January 5, 2023
TRULY changed my perceptions, and started focusing on my perfectionism, and anxiety. My college professor let me borrow this book in 2019, and it did change my life!
Profile Image for Marie.
34 reviews2 followers
May 30, 2008
I've always loved to perform, but as a Vocal Performance student at the University I started to loose sight of why I chose that major in the first place! The critique of certain people got to me, and I started to feel judged even when I wasn't really being judged! This book helped me set all my insecurity aside, and get back to the joy of music and performing! Even if you're not a musician or performer, this book can apply to anybody.
Profile Image for Lake Lady.
119 reviews
September 6, 2012
This was recommended by a friend and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The first time I picked it up I didn't get far, the second time I whizzed through it. It may not be a valuable book for everyone, and it's not just for musicians. Read with an open and curious mind it's full of great reminders for anyone who is interesting in any sort of learning and/or teaching. I found the ideas and examples delightful and am sad that the follow-up was never finished due to the author's untimely death.
178 reviews5 followers
January 26, 2022
The information in this book wasn't new to me (most of it), but it was presented in a way that was new to me. It becomes easy in lessons to get caught up in details, but this books gives you big picture concepts that help with actual performance and individual practise. I think a lot of this I've discovered in practise by luck, but I now feel the liberty to expand upon these ideas and keep using them.
The writing was accessible, clear, and inviting.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 50 reviews

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