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Cassie Belk Instructor: Malcolm Campbell English 1102 September 31, 2013

When performance anxiety exists, where do I go?


Standing in front of an audience their Easter Island faces challenging you to make them feel, glowing for that sickening moment for you to fail, I thought that was the toughest ask. Wasnt it the case theyd utter in their stony judgment that you were only as good as your next performance. But when sight blinked out like a ruptured bulb, a globe roasting to a bang in the belly of a microwave, the doctor queried cool with the years of medical intrigue as to whether I minded someone sitting in all for the benefit of learning you understand. I sense the student breathing, the thump of blood through their eyes as they gawp and gulp experience. Amazing, they exhaled as though my eyeballs were jiggling in a ring and catching fire. Unusual the specialist intoned a textbook case, an opportunity to advance the territory of science. Almost miraculously unusual. Never been a case thats quite like this. Not that I have read about and I read many things. My stomach shivered with the pop of glass. I blinked and craved for this little act to fail, to welcome the drop of this theatre curtain that hoists the flag of seeing. To be infused with light wrenched from the dead. To joyfully trade glances with mortals. I will even forgo This audiences gentle hand clap. Graeme Turner

As I take the stage, my mind is reeling with information. There are people staring at me and expecting an amazing performa nce. I know that I can play my music because Ive been working on it for six months. However, I am still nervous. I am shaking and my hands are sweaty. My mouth has gone dry. At this point, I am visualizing all of the things that can go wrong. I could trip and fall. I could mess up a piece. Then I wonder what can I do to cope? This is my senior recital. I have to perform well enough so that my committee passes me so that I can graduate. This is part of my exit requirements! I am a musician but can I show it and prove to

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everyone that I am a capable musician? There has to be a way for me to get over the performance anxiety and to have the performance of a lifetime. Unfortunately, performance anxiety is something that every musician faces at some point in their life. In many cases such as mine, it is an unavoidable circumstance. I am required to do this performance. It is part of my graduation requirements. However, some musicians choose to be in the spotlight. They want to play for an audience that may or may not be familiar with the music that is being played. The people who feel higher levels of anxiety are those who have no choice in the matter. As a performer, we are putting ourselves out to the world. Everyone will be focused on us for the entirety of the concert. My performance reflects me so I consider the audience to be seeing a part of me that others do not always see. I am interpreting the music so it is me that is being shown through the music. According to Krger, performance anxiety is merely an understandable reaction to situations in which we lay ourselves open to the judgment of those around usa challenge for which hardly any of us has ever been prepared. If this is true, how can I ever hope to overcome it? All I can see is a mountain looming in the distance that I know I will have to climb regardless of which path I take. According to experts such as TJ Huberty, there is more than one type of anxiety, state anxiety and trait anxiety. Trait anxiety is anxiety that is chronic and pervasive across situations and is not triggered by specific events. Huberty continues by explaining that, state anxiety is a type of anxiety that occurs in specific situations and usually has a clear trigger such as an event taking place or a meeting that is about to begin. With this being said, performance anxiety is a branch of state anxiety. A performance is definitely a trigger which is needed for someone in my position because I am usually a calm individual.. Therefore, my performance anxiety does not come from trait anxiety and is in fact state anxiety.

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Performance anxiety usually harms the overall quality of a performance in varying levels. Some common effects of anxiety lends to the performer are clammy hands, cramped muscles, elevated heart rates, sweating, and other symptoms that inhibit the performer mindset. These symptoms are accompanied by fear. This is because the performer knows that these symptoms will cause them to mess up which is where the performer can get into serious trouble. As soon as fear sets in, the performer immediately begins to question their abilities, which inevitably leads to mistakes. However studies such as the one conducted by Margaret Kendrick show that having performance anxiety is not always a bad thing. In many cases the anxiety acts as the motivator to do well. It gives focus and direction to the performance that is occurring. She states that The objective then would be the development of effective methods of reducing anxiety to the level necessary for optimal performance. As is turns out, there are many different ways in which one can cope with performance anxiety. There are many physical and tangible methods that I have come across as well as psychological means that can be used to help reduce the effects of performance anxiety. However, I have to be careful not to do too many things. Based off of Kendricks findings I know that I have to retain some nerves in order to perform at my best. But I also cant have too many either. Its going to be a hard line to walk. When I begin practicing for a performance, I find myself analyzing the score. This is where the foundations of confidence begin. By analyzing the score, one discovers how to best approach the piece from a practice standpoint. Is it in sections/movements? What is the style? Questions such as these are asked and answered through analysis. It is even a good idea to look for a second opinion. After one feels like they know the score very well, he/she should look for someone to help give them a second opinion (i.e. a private lesson instructor). Karen Haids

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research has led to a better understanding of this technique. Her findings were that Thorough study of the score and preparation of the music is essential for any successful performance. Once the preparation is complete, the performer can move to the next step in preparation which is to decide how you can best practice the piece. This process is a way of breaking the performance into smaller and more manageable units. It gives the performer smaller chunks to work on. This is also a way for the performer to keep themselves from being caught up in the extensiveness of the performance because they see small chunks. This is a technique recommended by psychologists as well. Huberty refers to this structure as modifying a task. Self-control techniques are popular. Self-control involves putting yourself in the performance setting without actually being in the moment. The idea here is to desensitize oneself to the performance. A suggested way to do this is to write down different situations in a situational diary. Since humans naturally think about the worst possible outcome, the performer will already know all of the possible outcomes. There will be very few surprises just because the performer knows best where his/her problem areas are. Also, the performer should spend a considerable amount of time performing for a small group of friends. This will get the initial, oh my, Im playing for people, out of the way. The idea is for the performer to simulate the actual performance as many times as possible. These mock performances will help the performer see all of the possible problems that could happen and the performer will know how to handle them if they were to occur. There are drawbacks to this technique. If the initial rehearsals do not go well, the performer could possibly have less effective rehearsals and then a less than satisfactory performance. A musician named Branford Marsalis uses this particular technique. Marsalis is a jazz saxophonist that now performs around the world anxiety free. He claims that by doing as many

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performances he has, that he has become immune to the nerves that are commonly associated with these kinds of performances. Also, he has discovered that most people actually do not know if the performance is good or bad. Therefore, performers should play with complete confidence because they should be able to play it off. There are also many different types of yoga techniques that can be used as well. One of them is the Feldenkrais method. The Feldenkrais Methods goal is to make one more aware of the body so that the performer can control the bodys natural impulses This is important because it allows the performer to be able to control their heartbeat and the fight-or-flight response mechanisms which would reduce symptoms such as shaking hands, heavy breathing, and dry mouths. The only disadvantage to all of these techniques is that it takes time. What if I forget something or something changes last minute? Because, lets be honest, something unpredicted always happens. For example, my accompanist for my recital that takes place in a month from now was diagnosed with cancer. I am still without an accompanist. This is added stress that I do not need while I am preparing for a concert that is of this calibre. An option I have available to me for a quick fix is medications. There are two different types: illicit and prescribed. Most performers are open-minded only towards the prescribed. Too many dangers of addiction and abuse come with illicit medications (with alcohol being the most common). The most common prescribed medication is beta-blockers. Christian Nordqvist has a detailed explanation of how beta-blockers work. Beta-blockers block beta-adrenergic substances, such as apinephrine (adrenaline) in the autonomic nervous system (involuntary nervous system). They slow down the heartbeat, decrease the force of the contractions of the heart muscles, and reduce blood vessel contraction in the heart, brain, as well as the rest of the body. This shows beta-blockers really

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do no harm to the body immediately. It functions as a soothing agent that calms performers down. However, the want/acceptance of medications being used as a coping mechanism for performance anxiety seems to be directly related to the level of experience the performer is. Regina Struder explains that This may be due to the experience of negative aspects linked to a musicians career, such as poor financial rewards, the competitive nature of the job, and uncertainty about employment. These factors are likely to increase the pressure on musicians to succeed as they advance in their career. Performers are just looking for the quickest and easiest solution for the problem of performance anxiety. They already put in so much time and effort into each indicidual performance that it would be preferable to go the easy route and take a pill. It just chalks up to if you are okay with using this kind of coping method. However, the draw of medicine as a quick fix is dangerous. There is a strong possibility that the performer will become addicted to the medicines. Therefore, it is best to use some of the other methods mentioned. According to doctoral research completed by Arknoff, anxiety is actually caused by a persons irrational beliefs and something called sel f-talk. The self-talk is how the anxiety stays intact. It is those moments when the performer cant let go of all the thoughts telling them what could possible go wrong in the performance. In other words, anxiety is all in a persons head and can therefor e be treated as such. Ellis has done much research on this cognitive perception of performance anxiety. Ellis has a Rational Emotive Theory that backed up the idea of performance anxiety being all in the performers head. This theory has led to Systematic Rational Restructuring as noted by Kendrick It places Rational Emotive Theory into a systematic program which attempts to make clients aware of their maladaptive selfstatements and to change their behavior through persuasion, encouragement, and education in the

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form of rational analyses. This is combined with Self-Instructional training which restructures the way that the performer talks to him/herself. The training that I find to be the most relevant to my current positionis the Attentional Training. This is based upon the theory that highly anxious people have a tendency to have a split focus between self and task relevant variables while a mildly anxious person will be able to focus only on the task at hand. Attentional Training is addressing this aspect and gives the performer only on-task things to deal with. This is actually a technique that I have used in the past and that I do believe to be something that I will use in the future. The idea behind all of the cognitive approaches is to make the performer see things in a more positive light. This way, performers will not psych themselves out before a large performance. As it turns out, my recital was a success. I believe that this happened because of how I structured the event. I had everything prepared and laid out about two weeks in advance. I knew exactly what time I was doing what and I knew who was coming to help me get ready and I made sure to add in extra time in case it was needs. It was. I ran into heavy traffic on my way to the venue and arrived at 6:50 instead of 6:00. I was stressed out! However, My stagehand was a close friend and he calmed me down alongside my mother. I walked out on stage and had the performance of my life. I had fun and received not one, but three curtain calls! It was a nice feeling. It also helped to know that I had ran out of program by 7:15 when the concert didnt start until 7:45. That means that I had over 75 people present at my senior recital. I overcame my nerves and put on the best performance of my career thus far.