As you may have guessed by now, I too have struggled with performance anxiety. I will never forget the abject terror I felt whenever my piano teacher would write the finalized recital date on my most difficult piece yet. I would have to perform on that day, and there was no escaping it.
These feelings of dread didn't go away in college; in fact they got much worse, as my audience went from friends, family, and strangers, to being exclusively my fellow music majors and professors. Talk about intimidating!
There's good news here though. I now look forward to performing! Something that once rendered me sleepless the entire night before, is now an experience that I actively seek and look forward to. How can such a transformation happen?
There are so many great tips to help with stage fright! For this week's blog, I'd like to get out of words and descriptions, and focus on the movement of the body. Often, when we are working on a piece of music, we have a description of what we want it to sound like. We might write it on the pages of sheet music, or say it to ourselves in our heads before beginning our performance.
Often these descriptions are simple such as, "Play this first part forcefully." But after several tries, or several months of rehearsal, sometimes these types of descriptions don't really seem to help. We might hit a wall after practicing the piece this same way for months, and feel like it's lost that sparkle just before we need to perform it. Or we may feel like it's never really had that sparkling quality at all.
Younger students can also experience this with the simpler pieces that they're learning. Often times this appears as boredom and frustration with a piece barely started.
When this happens, there are several approaches one can take, but one of my favorites starts with listening. Find a recording (or several) of the piece you or your child are learning and listen to it. Close your eyes, and try to imagine a scene that would go along with the music. Have your child draw out this scene, if s/he likes to color.
Another approach is to listen to the music once or twice and then try to act it out. The sillier and more uninhibited, the better! Try to capture the essence of the music. It could be crazy, terrifying, funny, angry, stormy, suspenseful, happy, or anything in between!
Physically embodying the music can be a fantastic way to connect with the sound that in turn informs us of the "Why" of what we're playing (as discussed in Part 2) and helps to distract us from the "What." What I mean here is that we can capture an intent, a reason, or a motivation for the music, giving us greater purpose, and not worry so much about each potential flub or tricky section.
Suddenly, instead of "Play this section fast," you or your child might be thinking, "Play this as though you're running away from something." A different feeling emerges both in the performer and in the audience, when a piece is performed this way.
As a fun exercise, pick a handful of different pieces, and act out the music with your more uninhibited friends or children. Here are a few good ideas to help get you started:
O Polichinelo - Villa-Lobos
Chariots of Fire - Vangelis
Bolero - Ravel
Watermelon Man - Herbie Hancock
Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy - Tchaikovsky
Prelude in C# Minor - Rachmaninoff
Take 5 - Dave Brubeck
The Cat & The Mouse - Copland
Rhapsody in Blue - Gershwin
Classical Gas - Mason Williams
Flight of the Bumblebee - Rimsky-Korsakov
Any others you'd like to add to this list? We'd love to hear your ideas!