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The Mind Over Finger Podcast

Nov 23, 2018

In this episode, I speak with Jason Haaheim, principal timpanist with NY’s Metropolitan Opera since 2013.   We discuss his fascinating journey, going from working full-time as an engineer to holding one of the most coveted position in the world.  He applied the principles of deliberate practice in his life in a way that will amaze and inspire you! 

Jason’s experience and insight on deliberate practice and music-making are eye opening!  

We elaborate on:

  • His unorthodox path – securing a position at the MET
  • How he was exposed to deliberate practice
  • What is “talent?” (Pssst!  It’s not what you think!)
  • How his playing soared once he figured out what type of practice works for him
  • How deliberate practice is, in essence, applying the scientific method to instrumental learning
  • How refining the technique in a scientific, methodical way, leads us to musicality and expression
  • Why feedback is so crucial in learning and growing as an artist
  • Why essential to be process-focused and how it impacts the end result
  • Why it’s up to you and the decision you make over the years
  • Why it pays to be a tenacious loser
  • What the things you can control are
  • How the process never ends (and that’s a good thing!)
  • Why we should keep asking questions and how they make us better
  • How his process continues in his career
  • How results are a by-product of the process
  • His audition preparation process – how he organized it and what it involved (have specific goals, a solid plan, record yourself, play mock auditions, get lots of feedback, etc.)
  • How he uses Anders Ericsson’s Mental Representation concept
  • How recording ourselves transforms how we pay attention to our playing in real time
  • How he prepares for the opera repertoire






Metropolitan Opera:

Artful Timpani Auditioning Seminar:

Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else by Geoff Colvin

Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson



Jason Haaheim (pronounced HAW-heim) was appointed a Principal Timpanist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in 2013. In addition to performances at New York’s Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, Mr. Haaheim can be seen and heard performing with the MET Orchestra on television, international radio, and Live in HD movie theater broadcasts. Mr. Haaheim is on faculty at the NYU Steinhardt School of Music and the Bard Conservatory of Music. A sought-after clinician, Mr. Haaheim gives masterclasses both nationally and internationally, and is the founder of the Northland Timpani Summit. He is also a frequent coach for The Orchestra Now (TON), the Carnegie Hall National Youth Orchestra (NYO), and the New York Youth Symphony (NYYS).

Mr. Haaheim’s guest principal timpanist engagements have included the Seoul Philharmonic, the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, and the Milwaukee Symphony. He has also been principal timpanist of the Lakes Area Music Festival, and a resident artist of the Twickenham Festival. Prior to the Met, Mr. Haaheim was principal timpanist of the Southwest Michigan Symphony and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, and he performed regularly as timpanist with the Madison Symphony, Illinois Symphony, Peoria Symphony, and the Illinois Philharmonic. Mr. Haaheim has also been invited to perform as guest principal timpanist with the Chicago Symphony, the Detroit Symphony, the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), the Glimmerglass Festival, the Auckland Philharmonia, the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, and the Hong Kong Philharmonic.

Mr. Haaheim began studying piano in 4th grade, adding percussion studies in 5th grade. He holds a bachelor of arts degree with a double major in honors-music-performance and physics from Gustavus Adolphus College (St. Peter, MN); he also holds a master’s degree in electrical engineering from UC-Santa Barbara. Influential teachers have included John Tafoya (Indiana University, National Symphony), Dean Borghesani (Milwaukee Symphony), Jonathan Haas (Aspen Music Festival, NYU), and Robert Adney (Gustavus Adolphus College, MacPhail Music School). While auditioning and freelancing, Mr. Haaheim worked as “Senior Research and Development Engineer” at NanoInk, a Chicago-area tech company. In this capacity, he gave invited talks on nanotechnology, authored multiple peer-reviewed publications, and was granted numerous patents. In 2017, this dual-career path was highlighted in an interview with Melissa Block on NPR’s Weekend Edition.

Active in all musical areas, Mr. Haaheim has also performed extensively as a chamber musician and jazz drummer. He collaborated with Yo-Yo Ma in a Civic Orchestra / Silk Road Ensemble performance, and recorded the premiere of Augusta Read Thomas’s “Terpsichore’s Dream” with members of the Chicago Symphony. Mr. Haaheim has performed with Chicago’s ensemble dal niente, and premiered Ryosuke Yagi’s “Mirrors…for timpani” with the UCSB Ensemble of Contemporary Music. Other projects have included drumming for the jazz-fusion quartet “The J3 Intent” and the alt-country band “The Lost Cartographers.” At Gustavus, Mr. Haaheim was selected for the honors recital and won first place in the orchestra’s concerto competition. Extra-musical interests include backpacking and hiking, rock climbing, and both downhill and cross-country skiing.



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Visit for information about past and future podcasts, and for more resources on mindful practice.


Most sincere thank you to composer Jim Stephenson who graciously provided the show’s musical theme!  Concerto #1 for Trumpet and Chamber Orchestra – Movement 2: Allegro con Brio, performed by Jeffrey Work, trumpet, and the Lake Forest Symphony, conducted by Jim Stephenson.

Also a huge thank you to my producer, Bella Kelly!




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