“Performing Under Pressure”

I came across a spectacular article by respected violinist, Oliver Steiner. For my students, and for anyone who suffers from anxiety before or during a performance, please click here to read the article.

“Nervousness can co-exist with well controlled, beautiful playing,” Mr. Steiner says. Whatever feelings — whatever butterflies, sweaty palms, or nasty inner voices — may afflict us, if one has prepared well, the feelings need not dictate the outcome of a performance.

First, understand that everyone, professionals and amateurs alike, are subject to nervous feelings, and one cannot simply ignore those feelings; they will be there regardless. Second, understand that these feelings don’t have to be seen as bad. My dear friend and colleague, Sharon Wright, always informs her students: “We don’t call them ‘nerves’; instead, it is ‘excitement’.” Adrenaline can be channelled to make the subject of the performance invigorating and impassioned; the music then has a meaningful edge that separates the grand performance from the standard rehearsal.

Performing well starts with adequate preparation and sound technique. Like the athlete or dancer who practices specific points of movement as a part of their greater plan, a violinist (or any other musician) must do the same. Every bow stroke, every string crossing, every finger placement, and every technique that creates the emotional nuances (yes, the emotion at the heart of music is not neglected; it is carefully planned for, as the body must physically bring these about on a material instrument), it all must be rehearsed to the point where the body can comfortably and easily recreate each function. If the body can anticipate what is supposed to come next, that fear of losing concentration or missing something during performance is much less likely to occur. Your mind will become focused on the planned processes of — and in the joy that comes from — producing beautiful music, not focusing on how uncomfortable your nerves are making you feel, because ultimately that won’t matter to the effect of the performance.

Another important point is this: the degree of performance anxiety often depends on your personal respect for the music you are performing. For example, I will tend to encounter greater anxiety performing a staple of the Classical repertoire, than I do when jamming with my friends in a contemporary band. In a word, to my mind the stakes are higher in one than the other. For a successful performance of a classical work, then, I must do everything within my power to plan ahead, thus assuring myself that I know how to execute this music successfully.

Read the article. Face your fears head on, refuse to let nerves destroy your love of music, and practice and perform well. Good luck!!

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