Wednesday, March 08, 2017

The Tuning Slide: 2.27- Anxiety

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

I’ve written about performance anxiety before- and my 45 year battle with it. Last May I described what I have always considered my initial bout with it on a Memorial Day over 50 years ago. (I will repeat that post at the end of May, by the way.) Throughout this year I have continued to work on it and I am finding myself improving. I have sorted out some of the other issues like perfectionism, making a fool of myself, worry about what people will think, letting myself down, letting the other musicians down, letting the audience down, and on and on.

No wonder I get performance anxiety- that’s a lot of heavy-duty baggage I carry around to every performance.

One thing I have taken note of is that performance anxiety does not generally happen in rehearsals, although there have been exceptions. That usually happens a) in the larger groups when all of a sudden (as if I didn’t know it was coming? Right!) I have a part that stands out, and b) in a final rehearsal before a concert. In fact most of the time in rehearsal my self-improvement plan of the last two years has shown positive results for me. I am generally pleased with how things continue to fall into place. I more often than not leave a practice session feeling fulfilled and relaxed.

But some of the signs of the anxiety still show up in the performances- overly concerned with what’s going to happen, dry mouth, some nervousness, the feeling down deep somewhere that I’m about to blow it- again. It’s not happening as much as it used to, but it’s still there and I continue to tweak my methods.

Looking back in my notes from the Shell Lake Trumpet Workshop the other day I found this list of ways to deal with it. I don’t remember (and didn’t note) if this was from one particular lecture at the workshop or a combination of things from different places. If I am neglecting to give someone credit, my apologies. Let me know and I will give you the props for it. In any case, here is the basic note with my updates and thoughts about each as I have worked on it this past year.

To deal with performance anxiety:
  • Don't be overly concerned about what other people think of you.
    They probably don’t even notice when things aren’t perfect. I have done some improvising- as part of the big band and at a jam session. I am looking to do more of that to help me continue to gain the skills of listening and translating it into the language of the trumpet. I am learning that when I do that, people are usually on my side and want me to do well. No one is sitting there saying, “I really want Barry to mess this up!”
  • Put the performance in perspective
    One performance in terms of whole career? It’s a lot smaller deal than I am making it. Not to mention that I am not doing this as a career. In the while scheme of things any given performance is not all that earth-changing, especially at my level. Yes, there are performances that do make a difference, but most of them aren’t. By experiencing performing without anxiety, I can learn that I am able to perform better than I thought.
  • Breathe. Be in the moment.
    I talk a lot about this- and can utilize it in many ways, except on stage! On stage it seems to enhance the concerns and anxiety instead of easing them. That probably means I need to practice my mindfulness with less depending on it. It does work, but it can’t if I focus my breathing on how I’m about to mess up. Relax- and tell Self One to just be quiet!
  • Take the emotion from the music, not the other way around.
    We are the conduit. Let the music do the talking. Let the horn speak. This is part of the focus we seek in our practice. Did I say practice? I know that too often when practicing something more difficult or a solo part, I tend to look too much on the technical quality of what I am doing. By the time I get to a concert or gig the technical part shouldn’t be a problem. I should be moving well beyond that in my practice room and into the groove, emotion, rhythm, and style of the piece. In rehearsals I should be listening to how my part fits into the greater whole. Whether it is a concert band solo or improvising in a big band piece, I need to know the emotion of the music… and all music isn’t stuck in my emotion of anxiety.
  • Think like someone else.
    Like Miles or Maynard? Well, maybe, but in reality what I almost have to do is begin to think like a person who can play the part- and play it well. I am not the bumbling musician that self one is convinced I am. I know what I am doing- again, especially if I have given practice the time and energy it needs.
  • You are a person who plays trumpet, not a trumpet player who happens to be a person
    It’s like going in a circle- I am back to the first of these ideas. My personal dignity, worth, or self is not the trumpet, t’s in being who I am. THAT is what I want to share through the horn. I am learning how to do that, which makes it easier to put the anxiety aside.
  • Have fun practicing!
    I do this because I enjoy it. I need to enjoy the music I make in practice as well. That is where self one learns to trust self two. Maybe I need to stop the tweaking of my plan to get over performance anxiety- and just learn to do it. No, not learn to do it- just do it. And that takes the ability to focus. We’ll get to that next week.

By the way, I am going to end year 2 of the Tuning Slide at the end of March. Last year I kept going and then ran into the idea of publishing it which entailed design and editing as well as the actual publishing. This year I’m going to be going at it a little differently. I will have more to say about that in a couple weeks. The posts will continue with repeating the jazz series from last summer before heading into some new ideas. Again, more on that in a few weeks. If anyone has anything you would like me to talk about in the next couple weeks, let me know.

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