Self-Acceptance Through Learning Music & Hypnosis


Robbie: Hello everybody. I'm Robbie Spier Miller, the host of The Hypnosis Show Podcast. Today we're going to explore a really interesting topic, which is looking at the learning and performing music as a great, a way to understand how we can use hypnosis and hypnotic learning in general in our lives.

We're joined by somebody who's a very accomplished clarinetist and opera singer who's performed at Carnegie Hall and with many large symphony orchestras, and also performed with several Broadway musicals, such as South Pacific, West Side Story and Phantom of the Opera. He first discovered hypnosis in the early 1990s, as he prepared for his master's recital and has been using it to help himself and many others ever since. He is a hypnotist with the Master Hypnotist Society, and also helps people reach their goals with hypnosis. Welcome David Ciucevich.

David Ciucevich: Hi, Robbie. It's great to be on your show here.

Robbie: Great to have you here. So, why don't you start by sharing with us, you know, in the nineties, when you first discovered hypnosis to help you perform? Tell us about the story of how that happened.

David Ciucevich: Yeah, it's a cool story. In the early nineties, I'm dating myself, I was in graduate school clarinet performance, and I felt that I... well, master's recital is coming up and that's like your thesis project. That's like where you play an hour long recital. It's just you and maybe a pianist on the stage and everybody's staring at you and critiquing you and everything and it's like the basis of your degree. So I thought, well, what can I do? Is there something I could do that might help me perform better under stress? Because I've had some stage fright and I felt like it took away from my musical performance.

So, I happened to hear about hypnosis somehow. I'm not exactly sure exactly how, but I remember the college I happened to go to had a woman who had, was ex-Air Force, US Air Force. This was in Colorado, and she was a licensed hypnotist and had learned it, I guess, through the Air Force. And so I found out happily for me as a college student, I could come in and see her through the counselling centre free once a week. So I would go in and it was like 40 and in a way I laid on the couch and we did hypnosis and it really worked well for me right away. I had done meditation and some other things few years before, which kind of probably helped me be receptive to it, but it worked great.

My masters’ recital was coming up, so what I did is she introduced me. She said, well, we can write a script and you can put in every little detail the way you want to see, hear, feel things to be. And so, I wrote up a little script and I had all these details, like I'm in my tuxedo, I look good, my pianist is smiling, the people in the audience had never... they're like amazed at how well I'm playing. And I went through and I scripted the whole thing, very detailed. And then we recorded it and I'll date the era because I had the hot technology at the time, which was my walkman. For you kitties out there walkman was the thing that played these things called cassettes. I don't have one handy, with tape. And so I would listen to, and I think I recorded - actually, I still have it somewhere. I put it on CD. And I recorded in my voice too, and so I would listen to this every day.

And so by the time the recital came along, of course I did my work. It's not just listening to it, but I did my practicing in my work and everything. But when the recital came along with the combination of the hypnosis, my stress levels were dramatically lower. I felt like they had kind of gone from like here to like here. I felt the excitement of performing, but there wasn't really... I felt like I'd been there done that. It was kind of in a cool way. It took like the edge off so that that excitement wasn't detracting from me. It actually fuelled the motion and the performance. And so the performance actually ended up being at that point, one of the best performances I ever did. And I was like, wow, this hypnosis thing is something. And then I took a few years down the road for me to find NGH and then find Scott, Master Hypnotist Society.

And so, I continued to do it, received hypnosis for different things. And then I said, you know, I really would like to be on the other side of the couch, so to speak and help other people with hypnosis, and so I've done that. I've worked online, mainly online doing hypnosis like 5, 6, 7 years ago. I started working with musicians who have - especially musicians that have focal dystonia, which is a performance anxiety issue and other, you know, stage fright and other things as well. So yeah, it's fun. It's fun helping people.

Robbie: Yeah, fun. A lot of people have this challenge, whether it's with performing music or acting or public speaking or just everyday kind of things. So being able to interact with that differently and get into the zone, where actually it's call the zone, you've seen firsthand how helpful that is.

David Ciucevich: Definitely.

Robbie: Yeah. Awesome. Now, the really interesting area is, you know, at Master Hypnotist Society, we look at changes. It's being very important to, for sure, focus on what you want and to prepare and visualize it and engage with it emotionally and in your senses. And we also know how important it is to be able to handle whatever happens. And so, a lot of times when people are focused on only what they want to happen, they might idealize that. And if reality doesn't match the ideal, everything falls apart. And so, I'm sure with training with Master Hypnotist Society and Scott, McFall, you had lots of opportunity to discover what happens when things don't go the way you expect. So, talk a little bit about how you've experienced that first in music, and then with learning hypnosis, how to handle that well.

David Ciucevich: Well, I will say as a musician, totally doubly guilty as charged. All of the symptoms you described there not symptoms, but results, I guess. Those are usually not results we want in music. And I guess this also applies outside of music, to life in general too. So the thing is, I think I came out of... well, in the classical tradition where you study an instrument, you study reading music and you study interpreting music and that sort of thing. In the classical world, certainly we're still very page oriented you know, following observing every little jot and tittle and spec and mark, black mark on the page there. And we get very emotionally wound up in that. It's kind of the parallel of the person who's the academic, who almost, and I find sadly, I still see this with a lot of musicians that they can't separate their self-value, their self-worth from how they're playing.

And I was certainly there for the longest time where it was really kind of like a yo-yo of sorts, like if I was playing great and I did exactly a hundred percent of what I felt I wanted to do. I was high as a kite. It felt really great about myself and my playing. And then if I squeaked - a problem, a clarinet can be squeaking if you're tense or whatever, the reed's not working that day so well. Or if you just lose your mental focus, it's like driving a car, like a race car, like 150 miles an hour; at that speed, if you lose it for like a fraction of a second, you can crash kind of thing. Well, we have the crash and burn thing and music as well too. You can sometimes make such a big mistake that you do the freeze kind of thing from psychology, where ahh, and nothing comes out. We've all had that horrible experience and you don't want to repeat that.

So, those sort of things can happen in performance. And I think, especially when I got to Scott and Master Hypnotist Society, Scott was really good because Scott has that background as a performer as well. That's where I think part of his genius comes from is that not only working a lot with people successfully as he is doing for 30 plus years, 40 years. But I think what he does that no one else does is he brings in the performance aspects, theatre, magic, juggling, all those - he brings that performer aspect into experiencing hypnosis as a receiver and getting the change you want. And then he also brings that too when he trains his hypnotist teachers.

One of the things in music too, is like, especially from the classical side, is I think we don't have the behavioural flexibility. I certainly didn't until fairly recently in my life. And I think working with Scott really lovingly and firmly and tough lovingly kind of made me aware that my behavioural flexibility was a serious problem. And I was identifying my self-esteem, it was too wound up in what I did as a musician. So I've even changed my language when people say, "Oh, you're a musician." It kind of miss reflexive. Now I say, music is what I do. And it just comes out like, it's what I do. And it doesn't devalue me being a musician or making great music. It's just saying, music's what I do, but music is no longer like my blood sugar of a diabetic sort of thing. Because you can't live that way when it's like swinging up and down; it's not a good, comfortable life and happy life. Music part of my life, you know, but I do other things as well, and that's where the hypnosis comes into. That's where I find the time to practice hypnosis myself everyday on myself, and then as well work with people and help them to change through it as well.

Robbie: How have you noticed your performance has improved since you're out of that, because when you were felt at risk personally on your performance, there's too much tension and pressure there? And it can be like this all or nothing thing. And so as you started to realize, oh, I accept myself. I know I'm okay no matter what. Yeah, I love to perform music and you're passionate about it. Tell us about what happened to your performance as you made that shift.

David Ciucevich: Well, what happened before I made the shift was that I had a very traumatic experience when I auditioned for my first graduate school that I thought I was going to go to. This was shortly before hypnosis came into my life. I was not prepared for that experience and the personnel auditioned for, I felt like they tried to like psychologically destroy me. Maybe they felt they were doing me a favour, but it certainly didn't come across when I'd first met them. They didn't know me and they were like, well, you're good for what you do, but you're not good enough, blah, blah, blah, you know, but they didn't get it across in the most... the message in a way that I could make sense of it. And so, it took me a lot of soul searching. I kind of was like, oh my God, should I be a musician? Am I good enough? Is this a wakeup call?

And then within me, what came over that, I took a week off, which was odd for me, and I just got really quiet. I just didn't know, no one told me to do this, I just did it. And what came about was from inside, I was like, I got this voice that said to me, "No, you were born to do music." And so then it was funny after that, after I kind of opened myself to the possibility, maybe this is a wakeup call as harsh as it was; once I kept myself open to that, it was kind of like I had a rebirth spiritually and otherwise on the other side of it going through it. And that's when everything, all these things showed up, hypnosis as well.

So I had manifested as a result of that traumatic event, a thing called focal dystonia, which basically caused my hand to not function when I played the clarinet. My hand is totally fine, I was medically examined everything. My brain MRIs, everything - everything was fine. It's just, when I went to do the thing I love, playing the clarinet; my hand was like not under my control - part of it. And it was frustrating and that went on for like 20, 25 years. And I was able to play around it and with it, and no one knew I was able to cover it different ways. And I looked into all kinds of different therapies, but it was a combination of hypnosis. Hypnosis was kind of the beginning of the cracking of the nut of that and letting me be able to separate the parts out in a way. Like, okay, so my self-esteem, the big one was my self-esteem is not dependent and connected to how I'm playing music today or in this moment.

And so, Scott talks about this. It seems some of these things seem counterintuitive. They seem like, oh God, that's the last thing you'd want to do is walk right into this fear or whatever. And it's not like reliving it or anything, but that's how I would kind of describe it. I had to accept that there was something I didn't know, and that knowing what I didn't know and being kind with myself that I didn't know it because I was a very intellectual heady kid. I was the smart kid. You all hated me because I killed your curves in class. So for me, my self-esteem was connected to my knowledge, my book learning and all. And I found out that I needed to have more behavioural flexibility and see that I'm not just what I know in my head and my thoughts and all that sort of thing.

So eventually, hypnosis and some other techniques as well helped me kind of get at cracking the nut of this focal dystonia thing that I brought into my life. And I'm happy to say that focal dystonia is not a part of my playing anymore and that's one of the things I use. I used hypnosis as one of my tools in my toolkit to help musicians get this. Because it's kind of a scary thing when there's no medical or physical reason for your body to not work when you're playing your instrument. You can do everything else usually fine, but when you go to sit down at your instrument, the piano or whatever, and you're giving the signals to move this finger and some other finger moves or whatever, it's a scary thing.

Robbie: Subconsciously your mind is trying to protect you from failing or being abandoned or because your self-esteem was so caught up in a...

David Ciucevich: Absolutely. Yeah, it was a very traumatic thing. And I remember my dad, who was my supporter in music, we drove back, the six hours back to where I was from after that audition and I'm trying to process it. And there was a sign on a church that happened to be facing the one way street where we were going back into our town, and the sign said, "Tragedy can either make you better or better." And I totally got, whoa, boom, that's for me. That was meant for me to see that day. And so, part of turning tragedy from better into better and getting the life lessons from it was hypnosis and especially working with Scott and Master Hypnosis Society.

Robbie: So David, this is really interesting to me because I was also pretty smart as a kid, and so I used to get away with things. And so, I was used to being able to master things - let's not say master, but do things well enough pretty quickly and easily, that I got away with not needing to do a lot of rehearsal practice or apply myself or move through the ups and downs the way that some other people do. And it's interesting to look at your situation, because I didn't have a talent like music the way you do. I played music, but definitely nothing like what you do. You were talented enough at it that you had enough positive feedback from playing that you kept going and you were willing to rehearse over and over again in this area to get really, really good at it.

And it's something that has been missing in other parts of your life because this whole intellectual part of things keeps you away from real life. So the music was a real life thing, performing for an audience was a real life thing, because of this talent, it kind of like brought you over those humps. But then when there were more humps that it couldn't bring you through, that's where you hit the wall. And I think this theme is really common for people. I know when you started training with Scott and I was the exact same way, you were really in your head and wanting to debate what he was teaching you instead of being willing to agree. And when you play music and your music instructor or your music coach shows you to do something better and you simply do it, by doing it you discover, hey, that doesn't work better. But when it's something that's in our heads, it's like, you know, ways of interacting with the world. And we are in a pattern where we think that we need to figure it out, or we need to rationalize about it or understand it or debate about it to solve a problem. It keeps us away from the real life experience. And so, music is a way where you had to have the real life experience and you had enough self-esteem around it to allow that to happen. But for you, with other things, you were taking like the intellectual upper hand all the time to feel better about you.

David Ciucevich: Have you been living in my house?

Robbie: Yeah, because I very much gets this personally, so I got it. So it would be really interesting too for you to share with people. Just as I'm talking about this, what comes up for you around that? Like, what was valuable about learning music? And as people listen, they might be musicians or maybe they have a talent in another area. What I'm looking for is how can people learn from your experience and discover, hey, how can I use this area of my life to discover new things everywhere in my life and grow everywhere. So if you could just address that, that would be great.

David Ciucevich: Well, yeah, I was thinking that having gone very far in music and I continue to go further into it and also hypnosis as well; I'm struck with the parallel. They kind of are parallel equal tracks between hypnosis and music because when you learn an instrument, like you were saying, there are certain things you do or should do. I think the first thing is, well for me was, I knew enough to know when I got into playing an instrument, and that's what I wanted to do. Love can achieve, and a tremendous amount and you have to have love. Love is the thing that I think in some ways separates like the genius, the high achievers from those who don't quite achieve those higher levels, that love or that passion is what makes you do the discipline of the work every day, even when you don't want to. Like someone was saying, the differences between an amateur and a professional, I think Stephen King might've said this for someone else has said it. They said the amateur works kind of when they're inspired, but the professional starts working at 9:00 AM on Monday morning. It's that sort of thing.

There's times when you don't want to crack this, but you have to be ready. You just have to say, well, I've got to do this in front of people and I have to show mastery of it, so I know what I need to do. So one of the first things I would say is you have to find great role models, great teachers, now with the internet and that sort of thing, you can find videos of people. Like when I was coming around, we didn't have the internet, so television and other places like that. But I was lucky the town I grew up in had a professional orchestra, and I knew that I wanted to... instead of studying with like academic clarinet teachers, like at a college, no offense to those folks, they can help a lot of people and sometimes they understand the mechanics and the physics and can give the right specific cue to help a student correct a physical problem as well.

I wanted to work with the people who were doing it for a living, the pros, the people who are eking out a living playing in that local orchestra, because I figured those people are demonstrating it, they're doing it. And so, that will rub off on me, being around that greatness, modelling that greatness is so important. I was lucky to work from the very beginning with performers who played and made their living from playing. And then you know, I had my models growing up too. I mean, I still love Benny Goodman. My dad had Benny Goodman records around the house and that kind of fuelled my early love of music and kind of turned me toward the clarinet, I think.

And then years later, I worked in that town. I worked with students of the Principal Clarinet of the Cleveland Orchestra, Robert Marcellus. And if you're ever looking for something great to listen to, find the Mozart Clarinet Concerto, it's the greatest solo piece ever written for the clarinet. The slow movements used in many movies out of Africa, et cetera, but there's a recording of it where Robert Marcellus and the Cleveland Orchestra, George Szell, I had still 30, 40 years on one of the top recordings of it. So through working with Robert Marcellus' students, I got in that system, that lineage, if you will, that approach to playing the clarinet, what do you sound like? What kind of equipment do you use? How do you approach playing? What's your style of applying? How do you phrase music? Phrasing in music is like how we speak, but it's musical terms, like how you say a sentence is how you phrase a line of music.

So I've worked with his students and then I kept ascending the ladder working with more of Mr. Marcellus' students until I got the pleasure to meet him right before he passed in the early nineties. And I worked with him in Chicago and it was really like meeting God for me. It was like you get yourself into this lineage, this system, and then you finally get good enough or have enough experience. And it becomes part of you and you get to actually work with that person and be in the room with them and swap stories and stuff. And so I've continued, he's gone now, but all of his students, we pass on proudly that lineage to our students. So I still hear myself saying phrases he would say like, you know, when you tongue notes, tongue on the wind; a lot of his phrases will come popping out of my mouth and I'd be thinking about it.

And this is the same thing with Scott. I think Scott does that extremely well. The students are very loyal to him as well, but he's just modelling his teachers as well, too, like Erickson and other people that he worked with, that whole idea and Erickson, "my voice will go with you". That's the same thing as with Mr. Marcellus' the clarinet. So yeah, that's a huge thing is finding a teacher that you resonate with who has... and sometimes the resonating might be okay, well, I don't know if I totally agreed, but I think there's something there that I can learn if I just relax and let some of my mental processing go.

Robbie: Being willing to have the experience first before you judge anything.

David Ciucevich: Flexibility, yes, yes, yes, that's one big thing I've learned from Scott and it helps me in everything.

Robbie: From the point of view of music, you were on this mission in a passionate enough way and you felt safe enough in your own talents to be able to find masters to model and be willing to put things aside, whatever your opinion was aside, and willing to agree to simply learn from them and in the same, like, do what they were doing.

David Ciucevich: It's a lot easier I find for me to do that modelling [unclear26:52], and I think my life's goal... I think music popped up in my life the way it did for me to have an avenue in my life to do that modelling and to work with people in that way. And now my mission has been to kind of bring that fluidity and that ability into the other parts of my life. I'm a lot better than I was. I still have a ways to go. But yeah, it's weird, isn't it? It's like, anyone can look at their master field and they just kind of naturally have flow and experiencing and you go, "Wow, I just naturally accept criticism over here." In music, you have to. If someone comes to you and says, you're doing this wrong, or a conductor is staring you and you've got 80 colleagues around you, you can't say, well, I just know better than you and that's not what Mozart wanted. People are going to think you're a complete idiot and you'll lose your job. You have to work and say, well, maybe this conductor has some insight, maybe something that I've not thought of.

And even if I disagree with what - even if I think the conductor's totally wrong; if I'm playing in a large group like that, I have to put my will into the greater good of the group. I have to make the whole group sound good. It's not about me sounding great, so that's an important... Music teaches so many life lessons, that's why I think it's important. I think everyone should try to play an instrument, not try, I think they should do. They should play an instrument to whatever level. And it's not about making yourself professional quality; I think if more people had a musical outlet, like they used to every home used to have a piano in the Victorian era. I think if people have an experience of making sound, even if it's with the voice or playing a drum or whatever, the world would be a lot more peaceful place. And I think people would be happier and they would achieve more in life if they had that musical tangible experience of making music.

Robbie: And we can even generalize that and say that that experience of learning in that way, which you had through music, if people make it part of their mission to find some way to have an experience like that in their life, it doesn't really matter where it is, but to find somebody who's excellent and masterful at something that you want to become excellent and masterful at, and being willing to simply agree to emulate what they're doing for long enough that you learn how to do a better and you start to see, oh, now I get why they're doing it that way. Because sometimes it's not clear, that that would be a really valuable exercise and experience for people. Because once you get it, it's like you have enough experience with this to see how much you sabotage yourself when you weren't doing it elsewhere.

David Ciucevich: Right. Well, it's also nice too when you have a mentor or a master teacher or teachers that you work with. They have been where you've been and they've guided obviously many other people who are in the same exact spot you're in now. The thing and being a teacher myself too, the thing I love is being able to go to a young student and sometimes the young students think, I know at all, what's this guy going to teach me, I know how to do this. I find that it's nice to be able to say, well, hey, think about this aspect because I had to go the long way I had to be the pioneer, and suffer and maybe create a bad habit. Or I made this harder on myself to learn this concept, but here is what I've learned. It's a lot easier if you do it this way over here, then this reinventing the wheel method over here, which wastes a lot of time.

Again, the student has to be willing to, you have to have rapport with the student. They have to rapport with you. They have to trust you. They have to respect you. A lot of things can get in the way of that, that screw up that delicate balance where there's a receptivity back and forth. The conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra George Szell, who made the orchestra by the international quality group it is, he said about teaching. I don't know that we want to adopt this model, but I liked what he said. He said, "I think the model of teaching is backward." He said, I think it's the teachers that should pay the students because we learned so much from the student and the student doesn't realize that's happening. But it's like, I get behavioural flexibility when I teach student.

Like I had a student one time who was an excellent high school player and she couldn't play certain high notes. And I'm like, these are easy high notes for a high school senior who plays every day to play. And I'm like, why can't she do this? And then something told me, duh, look at her mouth piece. The part where the reed is, which is in your mouth where you blow into. And I didn't think about this, but I went ahead and looked at it and there was a chunk missing out of the left side, like someone had just dropped it. And I'm like, of course now that's why - the mouthpiece, that's why she can't do it. It's not her, it's her equipment is broken. And so I said, get another mouthpiece from the band director right away, and then the problem was solved. And she didn't seem to be like, oh, thank you so much for finding that out. And that's all right. But I kind of thought that she would have been like, "Oh, thank you for helping me solve a problem that I didn't have any..."

She was just going to play, who knows how long she'd been playing maybe years with this broken mouthpiece. And I didn't think to look for a broken mouthpiece because I had never encountered that in a student. All my students, anyone ever showed it to me had a normally functioning mouthpiece, but her behaviour or her experience caused me to kind of say, okay, well now if something's not working, I've got to break it down even further in a sense, and make sure that their reed is not broken and their mouthpiece is not broken.

Robbie: That's a really interesting story because I would guess from an emotional point of view, that either she was totally dissociated from her wanting to learn how to play better and do her best, or she was in a lot of shame or fear for asking for help. Like, she just didn't feel permission or that it was possible to make something better. So I think it shows a lot about where she was in her maturity and where she was emotionally about things, because it wasn't even on her radar to say, well, thank God you figure that out and you fix that for me.

David Ciucevich: You're totally right. That's exactly what I felt when it was happening. And this happened after all my hypnosis experience, so I'm kind of sitting there watching it play out. And I felt like, oh my goodness, it was like, as the teacher tried to connect with her and let her know, hey, you're safe. I'm on your side - we're on the same team here. And so I tried to use all my techniques and kind of get that across to her that, hey, I'm supporting you. I'm not judging you. I just want you to be able to do this. I want you to be able to play this piece that you say you want to play in two months or whatever. I want you to play as well as it can be done.

Robbie: Yeah. So she might've felt a sense of shame that maybe she didn't realize for all that time that her mouthpiece was broken.

David Ciucevich: We've all been there, and realize, I should know this.

Robbie: Yeah, she needs some help with fear of scrutiny and a good attitude towards learning for sure.

David Ciucevich: I know as myself as a young kid, because I was the smart kid, maybe you can identify with this too, some other folks can too. My parents actually did expect me to know everything. Like, I just remember that feeling that I was expected to know everything. So I just took on, okay, I'm supposed to know your thing. And like you were saying, sometimes I was smart enough that I could bluff enough to cover my tracks, so people thought, oh yeah, he knows that he knows that too. And so yeah, I've gotten better, it annoys some people sometimes, but really what helped me was being able to say, hey, I don't know. You know, I don't know. It frees me up saying, I don't know. And sometimes I do know, but a lot of the times when I say I don't know, I don't know. And that means I'm in a learning humble state; I want to know more about it. I'll go off and find the information or have the experience about it, and then I will know about that.

Robbie: Yeah, so this belief that some people have that they need to be knowing everything from the time they exit the womb, that there's nothing that they need to learn or not know, or make a mistake about - can hurt people.

David Ciucevich: We should have never come here then, we shouldn't have been born then, because life [unclear36:06]. I think that's why in my belief system, I believe we came to have experiences to do things in this life and add to our previous data bank of knowledge experience that we had from previous, if you believe in other lifetimes or whatever. Whether or not you do, it doesn't make any difference, but yeah, I think that we're here to kind of add to the body of experience.

Robbie: Yeah, and knowing it is one thing, but like knowing it, right, knowing it in your whole self, in your subconscious, in your emotions, in the way that you're intuitively responding to life. So, I think that stories are really good example of how with hypnosis, we're always watching, what are people actually doing with whatever random situation, and any situation can show us where they're at in terms of this kind of maturity and learning and self-acceptance model.

David Ciucevich: I remember Scott saying, I think something, you can learn a lot by watching. What you can learn in life if you just look around, you know, and just kind of get quiet and watch, and don't try to go internal and start interpreting things, but just absorb what's happening and you see, hear, smell, taste, touch; your senses, pick up all kinds of stuff. And you can kind of read people in their situations and almost what they're thinking before they know that it's showing up, because it's almost like out here and you can almost see it in a way - that helps as a teacher.