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More About Stage Fright

Posted on "Cello Chat" by Maeve S.

Does anyone have any advice on how to handle stage fright? I have been doing ~a lot~ of performing since I graduated last year (when this problem began), and it is becoming so horrifying. I can deal with just being nervous; it makes me feel more alert. But this stage fright hits me in the middle of a performance, and I feel like my heart's going to explode from the terror. It happens in symphony, chamber orchestras, quartet...everywhere. I want to try other alternatives before drugs, but breathing and thinking positively havn't worked for me so far. Thanks in advance for any ideas,
Maeve

Answer From Matt T.

Definitely stay away from the beta-blockers. I have found that the best way to for me to deal with stage fright is to get on stage as much as possible. When I was preparing for my graduate recital a few years back, I had a terrible stage fright problem. But, in the two months before the recital, I arranged 5 relatively low-stress performances of the recital. Each performance got better and better as I experimented and learned how to direct and control the nervous energy. Towards the end of the series, my accompanist became amazed at my ability to actually play BETTER on stage than in rehearsal. I had learned to direct the nervous energy in such a way that it actually enhanced the performance. My recital went really well.

But, regretfully, the story does not end there. After my recital, I did not perform again for several months. When I finally did play for others, I found that my stage fright was back in full force.

I think that there are two primary factors in preventing stage fright (also known as performance anxiety). The first, and most important, is preparation. The more prepared you are, the less of a factor stage fright will be. However, despite what others have said here, that is not a cure-all. Leonard Rose never overcame his stage fright, he took beta-blockers. I would bet his preparation was pretty good :-).

The second factor is treating performance as a skill to be practiced, or perhaps as a muscle that must be exercised regularly. Play for anyone who will listen. That could include friends, family, senior citizens, etc... And when you do it, pretend it is the real thing. Don't talk to them before to let off tension, dress up like the real thing if possible, and make a grand entrance. Every time you should try to convince yourself that you are about to make your Carnegie debut.

Finally, stay away from sugar and caffeine the day of the concert. They'll kill ya!

Answer From Tim Janof

First of all, please refer to the Technique Tips portion of the ICS website for some discussions on overcoming stage fright.

I have some additional thoughts on this subject. You might try telling yourself the following messages over and over, like mantras, not only while on stage, but also before concerts, perhaps even for several months prior to the concert:

1. "I deserve to be seen. I am worthy of being seen."
2. "If I make a mistake, I am not bad."
3. "If I make a mistake, I am still ok the way I am."

You might also ask people that you know will be in the audience the following questions (preferably friends at first), "If I make a mistake, will you still like me? If I make a mistake, will you still respect me as a person?" If they say "no" to either of these questions, then raise your emotional shields, since anybody who would say "no" is a jerk, which has nothing to do with you. If you are feeling really courageous, ask these questions of the audience before you perform.

Say the above mantras and ask the above questions as much as you need to. After awhile, you may even start believing them, deep down that is.
Good luck!

Answer From GK

Stage fright could be a result of you feeling that you are not prepared enough for the performance. I know that when I get scared that it is usually because I have so much going on that I haven't had alot of time to get ready. Please don't turn to a medical solution, like beta blockers or something like that. Eat a banana, it has a calming effect, it contains a natural relaxant. I don't know why orchestra makes you scared, the entire performance is not resting solely on you, same goes for chamber music, solo I can understand. Maybe even focus is the problem, your mind wanders while playing and you think about the audience, and that might be why you get scared during a performance, when your mind wanders, try to notice it wandering, this also has to do with focus, but don't allow your mind to think of anything but the music. I hope this will help. Good luck.

Answer From Vito S.

What GK said about preparedness could have a great effect on how you feel on stage. Something that should help is getting on stage before the concert starts. Sneak on, look around, breathe, and think that I can do it. Before anyone arrives for the concert, sit yourself and your cello down and just play the music. Once you hear yourself on stage you should start feeling a great deal more comfortable. Also, try and dress comfortably, because any other physical discomfort will really make you feel terrible about going on stage. Relax before the concert, close your eyes, and focus only on the music and the conductor, nothing else is there and nothing else matters.

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Tim Janof, ICS Director
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