stage fright

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nolinesbarred
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Joined: 30 Sep 2008 01:35
Location: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

stage fright

Postby nolinesbarred » 21 Apr 2009 01:41

I would be interested to hear from anyone who has been able to overcome stage fright/performance anxiety. How did you do it?

DrewE
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Location: Vermont, USA

Re: stage fright

Postby DrewE » 21 Apr 2009 03:18

Depending what you mean by "overcome," I'm not sure it ever completely happens. Even expert professional performers get nervous at times; some very nervous, some just a bit. I don't generally suffer from extreme stage fright or nervousness, but that's still a fair bit off from being "butterfly free"!

One rather silly but surprisingly effective technique I've read of and used is to analyze what exact nervous habits or responses you exhibit, and then force yourself to not do those specific things. If you tend to have quick, shallow breaths, for instance, intentionally breathe deeply and slowly; if you tend to tap or shake your leg, hold it still; and so forth. Somewhat oddly, quelling the physical effects of nervousness seems to somewhat reduce the nervous feelings themselves, too. (It's also more pleasant for the audience, since people prefer to watch a performer who appears confident rather than one who's obviously quite nervous.)

It can also be helpful to give yourself permission to make a mistake or two when performing. I don't suggest intentionally doing things wrong, of course, but expecting that you're not going to have a completely flawless performance—and being okay with the idea—seems healthy to me. Only a robot could achieve absolute repeatable perfection, at least by some standard, and then only until it broke down or got out of adjustment....

Beyond that, all I can offer is to continue performing. Stage fright tends to get less pronounced with (successful) experiences.

nolinesbarred
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Location: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Re: stage fright

Postby nolinesbarred » 21 Apr 2009 03:47

Thanks DrewE. I've tried the quelling-of-trembling-muscles technique, but no sooner have I quelled one set than the trembling takes up residence in another set. My voice wobbles and my brain feels as if it's short-circuiting. I am fed up with it. I don't lack confidence in other areas of my life, but put me in front of an audience and I'm a mess. And, although it took me a while to relax with it at first, I am quite happy to be in front of a class teaching a subject I know. I'd be quite happy to have some 'nerves' before a performance (and even some during), but this is ridiculous.

vaarky
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Re: stage fright

Postby vaarky » 22 Apr 2009 06:29

Being given permission to make a mistake has helped. My husband chanced across this technique, and we now joke about him assigning me one major noticeable error and two minor ones (or some similar quota) for each performance, and I come home and tell him afterwards that I'm under quota. If something happens in performance, I think of how we'll laugh over it together later that night.

The other thing I have been doing is, as much as the negative self-criticizing thoughts come naturally, making a deliberate effort to have positive thoughts, or say positive things to my husband after coming home from a performance. I read somewhere that the subconscious is not sophisticated and believes what it hears most often and most emphatically, so I figure it's something to try that doesn't take much effort.

The other thing is that if I do experience a vocal warble or such, I try to be forgiving of myself. I think of how the me that is my present age would have been gentle on the me that was a teenager, and try to take the perspective that the me-that-will-be in ten or twenty years would wish I had.

One thing I wish I could keep in mind better is how the audience is really there to enjoy the performance and appreciate the good things about it. They're rooting for the singers and are inclined to be supportive and focus on the positive. Not sure how to get myself to really feel that, though.

Intg about making an effort to stop the symptoms of nervousness--will try it at our upcoming performance. Curious to hear about other approaches people have.

nolinesbarred
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Location: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Re: stage fright

Postby nolinesbarred » 22 Apr 2009 10:16

Food for thought there, vaarky. Thanks. Particularly interesting about the unsophisticated subconscious.

anaigeon
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Re: stage fright

Postby anaigeon » 23 Apr 2009 13:58

Having worked thoroughly makes you self assured, I think. The most terrible situation
is when you know there's some thing you don't know well.

I'm an amateur. Usually, I feel anxious ~ an hour before, it may even begin before in the day.
Then, at the moment of the upbeat to begin the first piece, I feel quite cool.
After a few seconds, a little harder moment when I realize "OMG there are people in front of me".
And eventually I feel ok, it will happen what is to happen.

But I admit an amateur has always the easy excuse to be... an amateur.
(an argument we shouldn't use if we want to get better !)

vaarky
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Re: stage fright

Postby vaarky » 24 Apr 2009 06:43

Along the same lines, I am more at ease when the concert is free than when the audience has paid admission.

Grantallen
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Joined: 23 Jul 2009 20:54

Re: stage fright

Postby Grantallen » 23 Jul 2009 21:25

I have been a professional performer for most of my life (40 years) and can honestly say that 'stage fright' has not bothered me one bit! ................ the reason? I have always ensured that I am 'totally confident' about my performance! And how do I reach this state of confidence? .....
Practice! (if necessary) If you are not confident about your performance of a specific piece then the only way to get confident is to practice it until you can play it. On the other hand, if you cannot play (or sing) the piece effectively, you must ask yourself whether you should be performing the piece in the first place!
If you are a professional performer you should not even consider giving a less than 'perfect' performance. If you are an amateur; then I am afraid that nerves are all part of the package!

Kind regards,

Grant

nolinesbarred
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Re: stage fright

Postby nolinesbarred » 23 Jul 2009 21:51

Grant - Since first posting on this topic I have almost entirely overcome my stage-fright. Just 'talking' about it with the people here encouraged me to take a long, hard look at myself in performance mode. I'd always known my material (songs) thoroughly but had the completely mad habit of keeping a close eye on the audience to see what their reactions were to our music - "Could that grim face on the man with the beard mean we're making a hash of this?" "Why has that woman got her eyes closed - is it ecstasy (the old-fashioned sort) or has she fallen asleep?" Needless to say this didn't do much for my confidence. I now anticipate success rather than dwell on the possibility of failure and focus in a more concentrated fashion on the music itself.

Thanks for your comments.

NLB

Grantallen
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Joined: 23 Jul 2009 20:54

Re: stage fright

Postby Grantallen » 24 Jul 2009 20:27

Hi NLB (got it right this time . called you NDL last time .sorry)

I am so very pleased that you have been able to address your 'stage fright' problem. I am sure the fact that you have overcome your problem will help in two ways: 1. It will, I am sure, 'still your beating heart' and 2. enable you to perform at a much higher standard than before.

Very well done Sir.

Kind regards,

Grant.

anaigeon
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Re: stage fright

Postby anaigeon » 24 Jul 2009 20:44

The number of performers is also relevant.
Though I had played in ensemble 2 months ago without being frightened, I've experienced a different situation yesterday; I wasn't 100% cool while playing two movements of a sonate by Bellinzani ;-)
But this is probably because I don't play "solo" (with BC) quite often.

vaarky
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Re: stage fright

Postby vaarky » 25 Jul 2009 01:04

Glad to hear about the improvement.

I disagree with some aspect's of Grantallen's posting, however.

[quote]If you are a professional performer you should not even consider giving a less than 'perfect' performance. [/quote]

I'd hazard that even professionals can't always control to make sure that every performance is optimally prepared. Most commonly, this happens when a professional is called upon to sub for someone else on short notice, or when the nature of the work involves not seeing the difficulty of the music until you get there (esp. common in recording sessions). Especially if one has to make one's living off performing, it's hard to get to the point where you can say no to every opportunity that allows perfect performances. And, of course, there are other factors besides preparation that contribute to stage fright, such as knowing that a particular reviewer is in the audience on a given night. And when a singer is nervous that not every note will be placed perfectly because they have a mild cold but not enough to call off a scheduled performance?

By the above definition, even the Tallis Scholars are not professionals because in a recent concert, a soprano ended half a step under on the last chord and had to adjust up while the chord was still happening. And many opera singers somehow become professionals after several performances of the same opera, but then have occasional nights even thereafter when they're not professionals if they don't hit every single note perfectly in a later performance? I really think this definition is so narrow as to be nearly universally inapplicable to singers.

I also wonder if singers are more prone to nervousness than instrumentalists. I feel it much more as a singer than I did as a pianist, and other singers who were also instrumentalists have also remarked on it. Certainly, every singer I know who was also an instrumentalist has agreed that sight-singing is much harder than sight-reading. And there may be differences in the nature of the physical demand as well (e.g. how the physical aspects interplay to reliably result in the perfect sound). I'd be interested in hearing other people's thoughts on this. Grantallen, have you also been a professional singer, or only a professional instrumentalist?

In any case, I hope that most of us, by the time we've been performing for 40 years, would have been able to work through stage fright, at least as a result of brute systematic desensitization if not due to epiphany. And maybe we'll even forget that we felt stage fright all those years ago if we weren't among the lucky ones who never felt it to begin with.

DrewE
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Location: Vermont, USA

Re: stage fright

Postby DrewE » 25 Jul 2009 19:25

vaarky wrote:I also wonder if singers are more prone to nervousness than instrumentalists. I feel it much more as a singer than I did as a pianist, and other singers who were also instrumentalists have also remarked on it. Certainly, every singer I know who was also an instrumentalist has agreed that sight-singing is much harder than sight-reading. And there may be differences in the nature of the physical demand as well (e.g. how the physical aspects interplay to reliably result in the perfect sound). I'd be interested in hearing other people's thoughts on this. Grantallen, have you also been a professional singer, or only a professional instrumentalist?


I'd have to say I'm more of an instrumentalist than a singer (which isn't saying I'm anything beyond an amateur at either one). I don't know that I've found sight singing to be vastly harder than sight reading, in general; they do, however, have some quite different challenges. One major difference is that instruments, to varying degrees, provide some sort of pitch correction or control that is a great help in staying on key. A piano, for instance, will always play a C when you hit the C key (or not, if it's out of tune, but that's not the result of poor technique on the part of the performer), while a singer needs to control the pitch continuously. Other instruments are not quite so defined in their pitches, requiring some care by the player, but there's still at least some built-in pitch control. It's quite possible to sight read, at least after a fashion, without "hearing" what the music sounds like in your head (and having a solid feel for the intervals being used, etc.), in a purely mechanical fashion; that's not really the case with sight singing.

On the other hand, sight singing never requires worrying about producing more than one note or melody line at a time, in the way that sight reading a piano score often does. The same applies, of course, to some other instruments; I've yet to have to play two notes at once for any trombone part I've tackled in the local community band.

As for stage fright and nervousness, an instrument does help distract one a bit, in that it gives something for the hands to do and someplace for the eyes to focus. It's also more common for instrumentalists to use a music stand (and have music), which gives another barrier to hide behind, if only psychologically.

nolinesbarred
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Location: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Re: stage fright

Postby nolinesbarred » 26 Jul 2009 03:09

I must say that I didn't feel any anxiety when playing the tin whistle, recorder then clarinet; not much when singing in a big choir either (I'm strictly amateur and not a soloist). It's only when singing in a small ensemble that things get a bit rocky. I suspect there's something in the idea of having something other than oneself on which to concentrate, knowing when playing most instruments that if you hit the right key, cover the right holes, etc., you'll at least achieve the correct pitch, just as mentioned above, and feeling, or not feeling, too 'exposed'. We're trying to learn all our material so that we don't need to use our sheet-music folders in performance. Some members of our group can't manage this; I can, but am considering having my folder with me as something to concentrate on (hide behind?) - but I'd much rather not.

NLB

Grantallen
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Joined: 23 Jul 2009 20:54

Re: stage fright

Postby Grantallen » 28 Jul 2009 22:49

Hi Vaarky,
You make some very interesting points about my posting and I have to say that I agree with an awfull lot of them!
I have been, as you suspected, a professional 'Instrumentalist' and I take on board what you have to say about the difference between an instrument and the human voice.
I agree that; if a singer has a sore throat or a cold etc. then his or her 'instrument' is not fit for purpose whereas a saxophone player (for instance) is quite capable of an optimum performance.
I also agree that 'sight singing' is obviously more difficult than 'sight reading' as an instrumentalist!
It is somewhat unfortunate (but tangible) that professional performing musicians celebrate their own esteem with regards to sight reading and interpretation.Most professionals (other than the teaching fraternity) would run a mile if asked to fraternise with any amateur ensemble!
I suspect this is true of many disciplines.
Where I would take you to task is your comment on 'the possibility of an influential critic being in the audience'............ No sir! You, and only you, are responsible for your musical performance! This is not an audition! This is a performance!
I have crossed the 'Rubicon' and am busy rehearsing my 'Jubilarte' choir (amateur).We are going from strength to strength and tackling such pieces as O Fortuna, The Mesiah,
Ave Verum (Mozart), Lacrimosa (Mozart) etc.etc.
I would like to think that my professional musical abilities (even as an instrumentalist) have enhanced both their understanding and love of music.
I am now enmeshed and intertwined within my local amateur fraternity and loving every minute of it!
I am aware that my previous comments were brutish and somewhat 'clinical'.... For that I am sorry.
I did not wish to offend anyone.
With kind regards to you all,

Grant.


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