This is a fantastic article from professional (and incredible!) violinist, Clayton Haslop. I thought it extremely apropos, as students are finishing up their courses and getting on stage to present what they’ve learned… much as my friend, Nico, and I are excitedly gearing up for our BIG SHOW this SUNDAY Afternoon!!!! In preparing for this very rare concert opportunity (although, we hope it will lead to more such opportunities in the future), I have absolutely found the following tips from Clayton to be valid and extremely helpful. I hope you’ll find value in these ideas, too!
Some years back my mother told me a story out of her experience as a freelance accompanist. It made me laugh so hard I cried.
At the time it must not have seemed very funny, particularly to the hapless subject. In retrospect, however, particularly from my mother’s vantage point and telling of the story, it is quite hysterical.
This is what happened. She was accompanying a performance given by the local community college chorus. In the course of it a woman with little or no previous experience singing in front of an audience was called upon to deliver a solo. When the time arrived for her to take the spotlight, she froze.
A moment later, as a suspenseful silence fell on the hall, she managed to utter, in a fading voice, ‘I’m sorry’; then she dropped to the floor in a dead faint. She reached the deck such that only her feet and legs remained in view of the audience and my mother – accompanying as she was from a piano placed in front and somewhat below the level of the stage. Of course the show had to go on. Almost without missing a beat my mother skipped to the next entry of the chorus, leaving stagehands and one or two chorus members to manage the situation behind the curtain. A minute or two later legs and feet and legs slid offstage… Now, before you condemn me for finding humor in this, you must understand that I have quite a bit of experience with performance anxiety myself. On one occasion, as a kid playing for memory on a student recital, I had to go to the piano to remind myself what note the thing started with. Indeed it took me years, into my early professional career, in fact, to really get a handle on this all-too-common plight.
There were three things that turned the table. First, preparation. As a youth I didn’t fully appreciate how deeply rooted and secure my technical mastery of the music had to be.
Second, visualization. From a performance anxiety standpoint I’m talking about practice in which you imagine yourself, in every detail, performing onstage. This must be so real, in fact, that you experience an adrenal rush from it. Once you can conjure nerves in a practice setting you can find ways playing effectively in spite of it.
Third, breathing. Not just any breathing, mind you. I’m talking about the kind of ‘belly-breathing’ I teach in every one of my courses. When the diaphragm is fully engaged in the process it sends a powerful message to body; RELAX. Needless to say, if you don’t practice it at home chances are you won’t in performance either.
Oops, there is a fourth. Give yourself a break. No one should go into a performance feeling under the gun to play perfectly. That is not what it’s about. Being in front of an audience is, after all, about sharing one’s enthusiasm. This is something to remind yourself of continually as you learn music.
Ask yourself, ‘what is it I like about this piece?’ Then find ways to preserve this feeling. Practice it in. So there you have it; my toolbox for subduing the great beast of performance anxiety. And who knows, the adrenal rush that comes with performing in public may actually come to CONTRIBUTE to your success. Wouldn’t be the first time this has happened… —Clayton Haslop