One thing that I’ve never really addressed is my performance anxiety because I’ve always felt ashamed of it and I felt that to have performance anxiety was a huge weakness. I haven’t always had it but I’d say within the last 2-3 years it has been an on-off battle. I struggle with anxiety and during the last 4 years I went through periods of time when honestly, I was quite depressed due to many things that had happened. I think this is when I first started to have negative thoughts about myself and the music that I was making. Ultimately, for me, it all comes down to confidence and I am guilty of lack of self-belief sometimes. I think the crucial catalyst in me experiencing nervousness is whether I believe I can succeed in a particular performance – more often than not I used to tell myself that I couldn’t do it. I now know that positive affirmations really help and anxiety definitely is NOT a weakness.
I actually really love performing and it’s a fundamental part of being a musician. I guess it’s just the vulnerable position in which I put myself when I stand exposed in front of others and expect them to enjoy my music. I love sharing music with others and I’m always very excited to perform whether it is solo or ensemble work. My typical symptoms were shaking of the bow arm, fast heart-rate on stepping in front of the audience, tension throughout my body, inability to physically and mentally relax – my mind often wandered and I was very prone to being put off by any potential distraction. All these things especially when playing the violin contribute to poor sound quality and lack of music to give and enjoy. Currently, I’ve managed to eliminate the shaking in my right arm and hand but my heart still races which sometimes causes me to rush however, I have implemented various warms up and breathing exercises which enable me to try and relax.
An aspect of performance which I think aids my fears is that there is always judgement and critique from someone, somewhere. This is why I hate performing to other musicians in a performance class or something of the sort – because they are judging the piece and the way I’m playing it. In a way it’s good for feedback and discussion on ways to improve but I guess no-one likes to be judged too severely by others. Obviously in an audition setting, there is no escaping judgement however in a typical performance most people are there to enjoy the music. The average concert-goer probably isn’t a musician themselves; they just want to have a good night and enjoy some good music. That’s something that has taken a long time to accept. If I play a wrong note, most people don’t notice and if they do, it doesn’t take away from the all-round performance experience. As soon as I sense that the audience is supportive and friendly, I immediately play better and more confidently.
One of violin teachers used to say we (musicians) do not have a life-threatening job – nobody is going to die if we mess up or play a wrong note so just play. And it’s so true. I used to beat myself up about a performance that didn’t go so well. I used to believe that I let everyone down, myself, my violin teacher any one who’d ever invested the time and effort to help or see my performance. I’ve learnt that it pays not to dwell on the bad but to just accept that things go wrong and work on how I can gradually eliminate anything that poses itself as a threat to my performance. This may be a technical aspect so I now try to break my practice down into chunks and take any technical difficulty out of context, isolate it and work on it until it is more fluent. Sometimes it takes 10 minutes and it sorted and other times I have to do little by little and maybe to it only 10 minutes each day. It’s a learning process.
I’ve been trying to practice performing in a true performance situation. It’s so easy for me to play brilliantly in the practice room but it’s a different thing when it really counts and there are people watching or listening. This is why performance classes and informal concert opportunities are key. I only wish that when I was at Purcell, I had the confidence to just put myself forward more.
When it comes to performing, my current violin teacher reminds me to just enjoy the music and as simple as it sounds it has been working very well. The minute I stop thinking about the things that could wrong and start focusing on the music itself, that’s when I start to relax and just let it flow!
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If anyone has any ways to combat performance anxiety please feel free to leave a comment.