The process of dealing with Performance Anxiety needs to contain some healthy doses of perspective and self-reflection.
Ask yourself questions like:
- Why am I doing this?
- Is there really anything at stake other than my pride?
- Am I afraid of disappointing a teacher (either real or imagined pressure)?
- Am I trying to prove to loved ones that it’s worth the time and money I’ve spent on lessons and an instrument?
- Am I trying to get approval from others, or acknowledgment from the musical community that I “belong there”
- Do I need the faculty/judge/audience to approve of me in order to move forward in my career or dreams?
In this segment of my Performance Anxiety Series, we’ll look at not just answering these questions, but whether or not they are even valid questions to begin with.
I think we honestly all have a bit of these questions within us. I also think we can see how they aren’t healthy ways of looking at performing and how they can put undue pressure on ourselves. So a bit of looking at yourself in the mirror and seeing which of these strikes home is helpful, if not easy to admit to.
In the end, we must acknowledge that our value as a human being is in no way diminished or enhanced by our performance.
The people that loved you before this performance will still love you after it (if not, it is more of a reflection on them than you). While our experiences may change us, they still can’t alter our status as human beings and our inherent, God-given value. You can play well, and you’re still you. You can play poorly, and you’re still you.
I think the sooner you dismiss the kind of thinking that puts your value at stake, the better off you will be able to weather the good and the bad.
So what’s a “good” goal then? This will vary from person to person, but here are some that come to mind for me:
Sharing what I love with others/wanting to bring them the joy I feel from music
Wanting to improve my abilities
Wanting to give back to friends, loved ones, and the community that support you
Overcoming a fear
The Dangers of Being a Professional.
Certainly, there are those who want to make a career or are making a career out of music. So the goal might be “Wanting to get this gig performing here.” This is a fine goal, but it’s so easily tied to then wanting to please the audience for their approval. This is a special kind of scenario that I want to take a moment to address.
If this is one of your goals, then I strongly recommend that getting that gig not be your only goal. If your only goal is to meet the approval of who is auditioning you, what happens when you do a great performance and don’t get hired? This has happened several times for me. Auditioning stinks. But it is a necessary part of life as a musician. If all your eggs are in the basket of some stranger who has the power to give you thumbs up or thumbs down, then if you don’t get hired, were you not good enough?
This is a dangerous line of thinking. One should never place their art in the hands of a stranger. There are people who are well-intentioned and there are teachers who are abusive. These should not have that kind of power over something that you love. So don’t give it to them. Only trust the ones who have earned your trust. Have a close group of people who will tell it to you straight, but will also support and encourage you.
I once auditioned to sing for an opera company. I was really prepared for this audition. I had the technique down, I had the translation down, I had the acting down and the musicality…you name it. I nailed it. I was perfect for the role. And yet, I didn’t get hired. This particular company gives feedback (which is rare), and the woman had mostly negative comments about my technique and musicality. However, I knew what I did, and I knew I sang well and I sang according to what the roles required for those arias.
So what then? Was I way off-base and I need to go back yet again and rework my entire technique? I didn’t think so. When I read the feedback, I was shocked, but I knew what I knew. In the end, all of this comes down to one person’s opinion. Now, if that’s the feedback I got time and time again, I might question. But it was one instance and one person. I was not the person she was looking for. It’s that simple. That doesn’t devalue what I did in the slightest. In fact, since I had given myself a goal outside of “getting the gig,” I was still very happy with my audition. And the foundation I built in preparing for that I was able to bring to my next performance.
No matter if you are wanting a career or just wanting to perform on Youtube, set a goal for yourself. Whatever you choose, make it reasonable considering where you are now in your journey. If this is your first performance, it might simply be, “to make it through this piece,” or if you’ve already performed before, it may be an observation you made about your previous performance that you want to improve upon. It could be a more specific technical goal.