Noa Kageyama (M.M. ’00, violin) came back to Juilliard in 2011 in a somewhat unique capacity—on the faculty, he specializes in performance psychology; as a staff member, he’s the chamber music manager. Noa is used to hybrid roles. The Marysville, Ohio, native started studying the violin at age 2, and in addition to his Juilliard degree, got his bachelor’s in psychology from Oberlin and a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from Indiana University. At Juilliard, he had a crystallizing moment when he and some friends were talking about what they would do if they won the lottery. The others dreamed about furthering their careers in music. “I didn’t know exactly what I would do, but I did know I would quit playing the violin,” Noa said. So he started soul-searching and realized “while there were many aspects of music that I cared deeply about, there were other things in the world that felt more me.” Noa credits his wife, Ahlin, with teaching him “to believe that really cool things are possible, and to trust that at the end of the day, things will work out O.K.”
As chamber music manager, you coordinate ChamberFest (January 12 to 17). What can we expect from this year’s edition?
It’s going to be an interesting mix of repertoire and musicians—from an opening concert (January 12) of groups comprised of students from Juilliard, Paris, and Vienna and a piece that will be completely improvised on the spot (January 15) to an almost-but-not-quite-premiere of a piece by Steve Reich (’61, composition) for two pianos and two percussionists (January 17).
What’s the biggest ChamberFest organizing challenge?
There are a slew of tiny details and moving pieces, so even with a checklist, it can be tricky to stay on top of it all. And then there is the element of surprise. For instance, last year a coach and a pianist were both stranded in California due to weather issues on the day before coachings were set to begin. We ended up having to scramble to find another coach and a pianist, which sounds straightforward enough, but can be challenging when it’s winter break.
You’re a performance psychologist—can you tell us what that means?
As a performer, I often wondered why I could be totally prepared, and sound great in the warmup room, but then go on stage and sound like a shell of myself. Or conversely, be unprepared, sound pretty iffy in the practice room, and then have an inspired performance when the moment arrived. Even practice mystified me. I remember practicing a ton my senior year in college, but feeling like I wasn’t progressing any faster than I was when I was practicing half as much. For most of my life, I thought that these were just some of life’s mysteries, like the socks that disappear in the dryer. But then I learned that there is an entire field of psychology devoted to studying these questions and concrete, actionable techniques and strategies we can learn, to more consistently play up to our full abilities when it counts. That field is sport psychology (or performance psychology), and it centers around helping high performers develop the mental skills—like focus and confidence—that are critical to bridging that gap between the level of performance you know you’re capable of and what you demonstrate on stage.
Where else do you work?
I’m in private practice as a psychologist and have been a performance psychology coach at the New World Symphony. I also do workshops and mini-residencies at schools and institutions ranging from the U.S. Armed Forces School of Music to the Perlman Music Program.
If you’re stressed out, do you remind yourself to follow your own advice?
Oh, totally. My “performances” are all of the speaking variety nowadays, but I still use the same preparation and performance strategies that worked for me when I was performing on the violin.
Which teacher most inspired you?
I’m increasingly grateful for all of the driving my parents did, and the sacrifices they made to give me the opportunity to study with pretty amazing teachers from an early age, among them Shinichi Suzuki and Juilliard community members Donald Weilerstein, Stephen Clapp, Masao Kawasaki, Paul Kantor, Roland and Almita Vamos, and Ronald Copes. I find myself thinking about, quoting, or sharing things I learned from them on a near-daily basis and feel like I am a mashup of their different influences. Sort of like gumbo. Don Greene was also instrumental in helping me transition from music to psychology, both in opening doors and giving me the confidence to pursue a path that much of the time, I couldn’t really see.
What’s the most embarrassing moment you’ve had as a performer?
The most humiliating was when Isaac Stern lost patience with and walked out on my group in a chamber-music coaching. I thought that it was more about me failing to meet his expectations than my colleagues, and that stung for quite a while.
What are your nonmusic interests?
I’ve been lifting weights since college but have recently gotten into deadlifts and overhead presses. I like that there’s a lot of technique involved and I’ve found parallels between music and lifting. For instance, if you don’t think you’re going to be able to make the lift, you’re probably not going to, much like, if you don’t think you’re going to nail the high note, you probably won’t.
What are you reading or following?
I try to stay current with the latest psychology research, not just for continuing education purposes, but also for material for my blog, bulletproofmusician.com. There’s an iOS app called Zite that I find totally indispensible. It pulls together all of the latest articles and news that I find interesting (from psychology to marketing to technology to food) in one place—and even learns what I like and don’t like over time. I recently read Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, which explains how we practice and study in ways that we feel are effective but are massively inefficient. I promise it’ll help you get better grades while studying less and make more progress in the practice room in less time.