The Wholehearted Musician

By Dana Fonteneau

My name is Dana Fonteneau and I am the creator and founder of The WholeHearted Musician™.

To fully explain what the WholeHearted Musician™ is and how it’s come to be, I have to first explain a bit about myself.

I was born into a musical family. My sister is a violinist (now in the Boston Symphony and founder of the Concord Chamber Music Society) and my parents are Suzuki String Teachers.

After a rough start with the violin, I begged to switch to the cello at age 5 and a half. My Dad was my first cello teacher. From then on my life was dedicated to music.

I left home at 16 to study at the Crossroads School for the Arts and Sciences and the Colburn School, with Ronald Leonard as my teacher. A couple years later while at the Round Top International Festival, I formed the Round Top String Quartet that was personally mentored and guided by cellist Martin Lovett of the Amadeus String Quartet and violinist Rostislav Dubinsky, founder of the Borodin String Quartet. Though the group was short lived, we performed all over the United States and England with a highlighted performance at the National Portrait Gallery in London.  Other summers were spent at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, La Jolla Summer Fest, Yellow Barn and Tanglewood.

I studied at Oberlin and then the San Francisco Conservatory of Music with Bonnie Hampton, earning my BM in cello performance and MM in chamber music performance. I was invited to start teaching at the precollege and adult extension divisions while a still student there.

It was not long after graduation that I created a full and busy freelance life of teaching at both SFCM and the Crowden School, playing the in the Santa Rosa Symphony, the New Century Chamber Orchestra, Ear Play, Empyrean Ensemble, Gold Coast Chamber Players and more. As my husband had recently won the cello teaching position at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, I had decided that I would create my musical life in California however I could.

Being a freelance musician is a cruel awakening after the lofty promises of a musical education. I couldn’t quite come to terms with the fact that my life as a full time freelancer and teacher was not lining up with what I had spent me entire education preparing for. I also had to acknowledge that my choices were limited.  I didn’t want to play in an orchestra and I had no desire to do international competitions, so how then do you create a musical life?

These were the kinds of questions that led to the birth of the WholeHearted Musician™.

In January of 2004 it came to me. One day I literally woke up with the “ah ha” that I wanted to become a therapist for musicians. Just like that my life changed.

I was always fascinated with the mind-body connection.  Being a Suzuki kid, learning by ear and imitation is a very embodied way of learning to play a musical instrument. I was so intrigued with how as a kid, I could hear something, know how I wanted to play it in my mind and then make it happen, even if sometimes I didn’t have the technique for it yet. I was also a people person. I was fascinated with human behavior and psychology.

I was terrified to leave my musical career, as I believed that once it was gone I could never get it back.  Nonetheless, I went back to school and earned a M.A. in counseling psychology with a concentration in somatic (body based) psychotherapy. As I continued on the long path towards licensure, it became too much to try and maintain my musical life and this new endeavor at the same time.

Gradually I waned out of all performing and teaching and focused entirely on earning licensure as a Marriage and Family Therapist in the state of California, which I did in 2010.  From there I went on to build a thriving private practice as a somatic psychotherapist and healer.

As I grew my private practice, I took courses and seminars in business, finance and personal development. I learned about marketing, networking, advertising, sales, etc. It was a stark contrast to anything I ever learned about business as either a musician or a psychologist, which frankly, was nothing.

All along this time though, I couldn’t leave music behind. My work with musicians began in 2007 as The Psychology of Performance. I taught classes addressing performance anxiety and stage fright. In these classes I integrated a lot of mind-body tools and psychological reframes to help musicians shift their fears to empowered outcomes.

In 2012 I discovered the work of Dr. Brené Brown, a Ph.D. social worker and researcher based at the University of Houston. Her TED talk, The Power of Vulnerability, literally rocked my world.

In this Ted Talk (one of the most successful Ted Talks to date with nearly 22 million views) she addresses tough topics like shame, guilt and vulnerability. She speaks about how guilt and shame KILL creativity, and that people who embrace vulnerability (i.e. accepting that they are not perfect) are actually the most creative. She calls them Wholehearted.

I watched that talk three times in a row shouting “YES!” at nearly every sentence she spoke.  “WHY is no one addressing this in the music world?!” I asked myself.

As musicians we are schooled in guilt and shame, comparison and competition. Vulnerability is only allowed when everything else is perfect, and by then it’s often too late. We defend ourselves, critique ourselves, shame ourselves and those around us. We often feel we are never good enough, successful enough, smart enough, talented enough, established enough, etc. And yet, to be truly ourselves, to share our authentic voices, we must be vulnerable.

So right then and there I named my business The WholeHearted Musician™.

I started with a blog and then evolved into classes, coaching and consultations. I work with individuals, ensembles and organizations. I work in person and via Skype with people from all over the world.

My business is devoted to empowering musicians and artists to create a fulfilling, healthy, inspiring and financially rewarding life in the arts.

I’ve worked with Grammy Award Winners, Naumburg Award Winners, members of the Dallas Symphony, San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, Charlotte Symphony, members and founders of world-renowned chamber ensembles, as well as faculty, students and alumni from conservatories and music schools around the world.

I’ve presented my work at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the Apple Hill Chamber Music Center and in my own venues. My writing has been published in Strings Magazine, San Francisco Classical Voice and soon in Chamber Music America’s Fall Issue 2015.

In 2016 I will be presenting at the California Music Educator’s All-State conference as well as be a career advisor at Chamber Music America’s National Conference in NYC.

Through these difference ventures I aim to address the following challenges:

  • Musicians and Money: How to communicate your worth and get paid in fair exchange and how to get out of the rat race of stress, scarcity and poverty mentality
  • Musicians and Self-Care:  How to be healthy and have a sustainable life in the arts
  • Musicians and Communication: How to communicate with others in an empowering and successful way.
  • Musicians and Psychology:  How to think empowering thoughts and created the career you dream of.
  • Musicians and Confidence:  How to get up on stage and do your very best.

Musicians are some of the most phenomenal people-we are creative, intelligent, insightful, empathic, caring and inspired.  What we do matters and makes a difference. The fields of Sociology, Biology and Neuroscience are proving this again and again. There is no reason why we still have to be undervalued and suffering financially and socioeconomically.

Finally, it became apparent that in order for me to better serve others, I had to walk my talk. There was a time that I thought I would never play the cello again. Yet, I wanted to be able to get up onstage and use the tools that I teach others. I knew that I was getting extraordinary results with people, but I hadn’t achieved them myself with the cello. So I challenged myself to get back in shape and BE the WholeHearted Musician.  Two weeks ago, I did just that. It was the scariest, most terrifying, exciting and inspiring thing I’ve ever done.

If I can do it, so can you.  I’m here to help.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and learn about who I am and what I do.

Here’s to your success!


Dana Fonteneau, LMFT is a cellist, somatic psychotherapist (MFC49425), SRI Wellness Educator, writer, speaker and creator of The WholeHearted Musician.

To read her blog and learn more, visit and

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