Junior cellist wins fellowship to study mindfulness in music

Amora Mikell, a junior music major and cellist, was awarded an Undergraduate Fellowship for Clinical and Translational Research from the VCU Center for Clinical and Translational Research for her project, “The Effects of Meditation and Mindfulness on Musicians’ Self-Talk and Performance Anxiety.” The research will span one year, from May 2020 to 2021, and Mikell will partner with mentor Tiffany Valvo, assistant professor of clarinet. Together, they will begin their research with a survey of music students to identify key difficulties in students’ practices. They’ll continue by administering different work methods to multiple groups to test their effectiveness.

“We aim to dispel the myth that meditation is meant to free you of your thoughts,” says Mikell. “This is simply not possible; the mind is a problem-solver, so creating thoughts is what it is meant to do. We want to help others understand that these practices are meant to free you from your thoughts.”

Amora Mikell. Photo by Terralynn Joy Mikell.

In her research proposal, Mikell wrote that her desire to help music students overcome performance anxiety stemmed from her own struggles as a musician. Mindfulness and meditation helped her recover, and she hypothesizes that the practices could have a similar positive effect on her peers.

“As a musician and music student, I have experienced both ends of the spectrum,” she wrote in the proposal. “I went from doing whatever it took to be one of the best, to doing whatever it took to make others believe that I was one of the best. During these different phases of my life, the only thing that changed drastically was my mindset, my mind processes, and my mental health.”

The fellowship supports research projects centered on human health, with $1,500 awarded to the student and $500 to their faculty mentor. Mikell says that the funding will support the development of a workbook that addresses common problems among music students, and help her and Valvo travel to other music institutions with their findings.

Valvo is a good fit for the project; her class “The Creative Habit” uses mindfulness and meditation practices to teach students to develop positive habits, set goals, and cope with the ups and downs of life. They both hope that the results of their research will be helpful to people in a variety of creative fields.

“Meditation and mindfulness practices are meant for anyone who wishes to improve their mental health and understand how their minds operate,” says Mikell. “My hope is that our project will be a beacon of light to those who are suffering, and those who believe that they are stuck. You are never stuck—you just have to change your mind.”

For more information on grants available to undergraduate students, which include support for internships, research and more, visit the VCUarts Undergraduate Grants page.