Saturday, March 17, 2007

On “Stage Fright”

This weekend my NC flute students are participating in a adjudicated event. They have all worked hard on their music and are well prepared. Each student was coached with piano in their lesson this week and performed their music for peers in a masterclass/concert.

The focus on performance preparation this week has reminded me of some things I wish to share.

We all have some level of nervousness when we perform, whether music, dance, drama, athletics or public speaking. Adrenaline—the natural chemical we produce under stress—elevates heart rate and respiration. This can cause some people to feel very hot or to sweat in performances. It can also cause the heart to beat so fast and hard that it is more difficult to count rhythms and rests.

This same adrenaline can allow us to accomplish great things under stress, such as great athletic achievements or actions of super human strength in the face of emergency, such as lifting a fallen tree off a loved one. Some adrenaline is certainly useful in musical performance (and can even help a performance be the best we have ever done), but too much is problematic; managing its release is very useful. Here are some suggestions, based on my years of performing experience, for managing the release of adrenaline.

Literally ground yourself: feel the floor supporting your skeletal structure--feet, legs, hipbones, torso, and head. Unlock your knees and ankles and release your tailbone.

Breathe deeply, allowing your spine to lengthen as you release your breath. With each inhalation or “inspiration” imagine the entire phrase of music you will perform with the air you are taking in, then recreate the phrase as you release your breath.

Remember you are in control. Take time to compose yourself before you begin, and, most importantly, remember that you chose to be there. You are not a victim! Be joyful that you have the opportunity to study music and have a chance right now to do something that you really enjoy doing.

Think large rhythmic units to keep your place. Always be where you are now, not where you were when you made that small slip. A mistake is so unimportant if the flow of the music continues afterward. Graceful recoveries from errors are truly appreciated by your audience.

The art of music performance is a process, and presenting music gets easier each time you do it. You are taking a positive step toward overcoming stage fright simply by performing.

I am proud of each of my students for their hard work and for the individual ways they distinguish themselves as they grow, both musically and personally.


Sunday, March 4, 2007

“Behold the turtle. He only makes progress when he sticks his neck out.”

“Behold the turtle. He only makes progress when he sticks his neck out.”
James Bryant Conant (1893-1978)

I was waiting at the gate for an early flight on February 15 (the date my new website was scheduled to publish). Most of the seats were occupied by the usual assortment of business travelers wearing their morning masks. I noticed a somewhat nervous looking young woman and smiled in her direction. She responded by asking me, “When do I know when to board the plane to Houston?” I answered her question and she proceeded to tell me her story: From a small community in a remote part of NC, she had never flown before, or even traveled out of state by car. She had awakened before 2:00 a.m. to make the 3 hour drive to Raleigh for the 6:15 a.m. flight. At least she had not been sleepy en route because she had been so nervous about the trip! She had a long day ahead of her, since she was to change planes in Houston (another new experience for her) and fly on to Portland Oregon, far from home, to visit a friend. She was not dissuaded from her intention to visit this friend by any of her fears.

I acknowledged her fears and sincerely congratulated her on her courage. Then I informed her that she now had a new ultimate scary experience which to compare all future events—a new benchmark.

As we deplaned in Houston, she seemed more confident and ready for the next phase of her adventure.

Once upon a time, my “ultimate scary experience which to compare all others” was driving an unfamiliar rent car in an unfamiliar large city to attend an orchestral audition. That was later supplanted by performing at a National Flute Association Convention, then by--the to-date ultimate scary musical experience--sightreading the piccolo part in Richard Strauss’ Elektra on opening night with Christoph Eschenbach conducting.

Publishing a new website, a long, drawn-out process of concept, creation, collaboration, and evaluation, does not compare to the immediate stress level of the Elektra experience, but it is a benchmark experience, nonetheless. Putting one’s ideas forward in such a public way calls for both clear intention and courage in the face of uncertainty.

I hope the information provided by the new website reaches those who need it.

I am grateful for the process of website creation and for those who have helped me along the way, especially Judith Gadd of Star WebWorks who has been an ideal cohort and navigator.


"I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it."
Pablo Picasso

“Be brave enough to live creatively. The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You cannot get there by bus, only by hard work, risking and by not quite knowing what you are doing. What you will discover will be wonderful; yourself.”
Alan Alda