Singer-Songwriter Duncan Sheik Says Mantra Meditation Helped Him Get Over Stage Fright

The "Barely Breathing" singer turned Broadway composer spoke to "10% Happier."

ByLAUREN EFFRON
November 02, 2016, 3:37 PM

— -- Duncan Sheik has spent more than half of his life writing and playing music, but when he first started out, performing made him very nervous.

It wasn’t until he was introduced to Nichiren Buddhism, which involves the practice of a form of mantra meditation, that he got over his fears.

“I was an incredibly self-conscious performer and singer,” the singer/songwriter told ABC News’ Dan Harris during an interview for his “10% Happier” podcast. “And there was something about chanting where you’re just sitting on one note kind of continually that really taught me how to sing one note. If you know how to sing one note, then possibly you can learn how to sing two notes, and then three, maybe four, and there was something really great about using my voice in this very calm and specific way that helped me a lot in terms of becoming someone who could actually get on stage and sing.”

Watch the full interview in the video player and download the "10% Happier" podcast on iTunes, Google Play Music and TuneIn.

Sheik, 46, said he first learned about the mantra "Nam-myoho-renge-kyo," which Nichiren Buddhists chant over and over quietly while meditating, at age 19 from a relative. He has continued a daily practice ever since.

“I use the practice to focus on how can I create value in the world, in society, how can I create value for myself, for the people in my environment,” he said. “As somebody who makes art for a living, how can I do that in the best way possible -- That’s what chanting gives me.”

The emo-rocker turned Broadway composer first made a name for himself in the mid-90s with the hit song, “Barely Breathing.” He won two Tonys and a Grammy Award for composing the music to the 2006 Broadway hit, “Spring Awakening,” and went on to write the music and lyrics for the musical adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ “American Psycho.”

Sheik has even weaved Buddhist themes, such as desire, into his music and Broadway shows.

“In Buddhism, there’s this idea that at any given moment you’re kind of shifting through these 10 different life states so hell, hunger, anomaly, anger, tranquility, rapture, learning realization… compassion and enlightenment, and at any given moment… you’re inhabiting one of these states,” he said. “And certainly in ‘Spring Awakening’ you do have all of these life states represented in terms of what happens to these kids and their kind of reaction to it.”

Sheik is currently working on a stage adaptation for Sue Monk Kidd’s coming-of-age story, “Secret Life of Bees,” and a show called “Noir.” Sheik said he is also teaming up again with his “Spring Awakening” writing partner Steven Sater for an adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland” called “Alice By Heart,” all which he hopes will be staged next year.

But he hasn’t forgotten his rock star roots either. This past year, while having two Broadway shows playing, Sheik went back out on tour and put out a new album. He hopes to write another next year.

“Now it’s really about, can I write a piece of music that’s really going to affect somebody’s heart, is it going to take them to some mysterious unexpected place when they hear this music that they didn’t know they had it in them, and if I can do that, that’s the thing that really means the most to me,” he said.

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