SOPP312: I'm playing for a wedding and have some issues with performance anxiety
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 312 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. Today I’d like to share with you the discussion that was going on our communication channel on BaseCamp between Total Organist students. Annabelle wrote the answer to the question “What is she currently working on?” and “What is she struggling with?” So she is playing Wedding March by Wagner and she writes:
Annabel: I'm playing for a wedding in October and have some issues with performance anxiety. So I thought it would help to learn it by heart.
David: Great idea I have the anxiety issues, too. 2 bananas 30 minutes before performance has been helping me keep my hands and ankles from shaking so badly and slows down my racing heart.
Recently my doctor suggested trying a medication called Propranolol, so this Sunday will be the first run with it. I don't always need that kind of help, but when my performance anxiety gets out of control, I need just a little help.
Annabel: I’ll try bananas, that's very interesting. Is it the potassium? I'm fine accompanying hymns, I just don't like being a soloist!
David: Potassium for the heart rate, but allegedly they have a natural beta blocker in them to help with shaking hands and ankles. It's folk lore, but there seem to be a while lot of even professional musicians who swear by it. I opted for Propranolol because I can't have too much potassium.
Annabel: Fascinating, thanks David. I've started reading quite an old book called "Tensions in the Performance of Music" edited by Carola Grindea. It was recommended to me by a professional harpist.
David: Thank you! I will look for that
Vidas: I once ate bananas and drank mineral water entire concert day. When my turn came up to play, I felt as light as an angel.
V: Do you remember Ausra that time when I experimented with bananas?
A: Yes, I think bananas are good.
V: Have you had experiences with bananas before concerts?
A: Yes, but not like eating them all day long but if I have performance that day I try to eat two bananas.
V: Do you have performance anxiety which goes out of control for example?
A: Well, not now, but yes I have performance anxiety. I think anybody who tells that they have no performance anxiety at all they are lying.
V: Or tried to convince themselves.
A: I think it would be wrong if you wouldn’t get any performance anxiety.
V: Robots don’t have performance anxiety.
A: That’s right.
V: What did you feel when you ate bananas before concert? Was it a small reaction to them or a very significant one?
A: It’s hard to measure that help of bananas but at least I felt better myself for doing something good for myself, for my anxiety. So I think anyway it will not hurt to eat bananas.
V: For people who are not allergic to potassium or bananas in general.
A: And of course now you have to be especially careful when eating bananas because I’m sure you guys read in the news that there is a new mania spreading throughout the world.
V: Tell us more.
A: Putting needles into your foods. I think it all began in Australia where some supermarket people bought strawberries and tried to eat them at home and they were filled with needles. And now we have had already a few cases in Lithuania where people found needles in bananas. So be careful before eating them. Maybe just slice them down in small pieces.
V: When you slice them then the needles would appear? Wow, crazy people.
A: I know.
V: Instead of hurting others and making fun of them obviously they should do some other creative work.
A: I think you really need to be mentally ill in order to do such a thing.
V: Right, the world is a dark place sometimes. But yes, if you have a nice pack of bananas, you peel them and you check for needles, and you have performance anxiety you could drink mineral water and that day, concert day or public performance day, you will start feeling really light just because of that healthy food of course, and lots of water. And that helps to clear your mind as well, don’t you think Ausra?
A: Well, yes, but think about it if you have performance late at night and all that long day you will just have bananas.
V: No, that was me with my crazy experiments on myself being like a human guinea pig, but take moderation of course with those things. Eat one or two bananas and see what happens.
A: Yes and the other thing if you have really, really bad performance anxiety, if you really cannot play because of that I think you might need to consult your physician. Maybe they will have some medications for you.
V: Don’t choose the medications for yourself, right? Because…
A: I don’t think you could get medications without prescription for that purpose.
V: Umm-hmm. Right. But even if you have some at home you better consult the real physician because for your purpose, for your situation, maybe you bought it for another condition, right? And if you want to reduce anxiety for organ playing maybe you need to tell the doctor.
A: Because usually what performance needs we need to know that our hands and feet wouldn’t shake but some of those medications just simply suppress your brain function and you might not be able to play at all.
V: Right. I guess breathing helps. I found out sometimes 10 or 15 minutes before the concert if you are alone backstage or next to the organ bench and nobody can see you. You go into the corner if there are people around. Try to be alone for a while. Sit there and take deep breaths while closing your eyes and I think that helps to calm down a little bit, stay in the moment, right?
A: But you know if you take breaths that are too deep you might be in trouble as well.
V: Yes, you can faint.
A: (laughs) Can you imagine during your performance you start breathing deeply and slowly and suddenly you just faint.
V: But if it’s during your performance that you start to panic then actually reminding yourself to breathe helps to get out of this situation and control your music. Ausra, before we end why do think people are afraid to perform in public, it’s like public speaking also, people are very frightened?
A: You told me statistics that some people are not so much afraid of dying.
V: Yes, peoples number one fear is public speaking, dying is number two.
A: Work as a teacher for a while and then after a year or two you wouldn’t get that fear.
V: The more you practice, the more you appear in public, the less risk it appears because personally I believe people are afraid because of high stakes, what would happen if you make mistakes, what happens in your head. You think people will start to make fun of you, maybe your career will be over. If your career will be over then you won’t any more invitations to play organ concerts. If you won’t get any more concerts then you won’t have any money. If you won’t have any money you won’t have anything to eat, no money, no food, no shelter, then you will die. You see because just making a mistake or two playing sharp instead of flat there is a sudden thought process going subconsciously basically into dying. Fear of death basically what it is. But it’s all in your brain, you can control it I think mentally while staying in the moment, or trying to stay in the moment as much as possible. Ausra, what do you think?
A: Yes I agree, but it’s not as easy you know.
V: It’s constant struggle, right? With each practice you get a little bit better I think but you have to remind yourself to remember to stay in the moment and keep your eyes fixed on the music if you are playing from the sheet music, on the current measure.
A: That’s right.
V: OK guys, we hope this was useful to you. Please send us more of your questions, we love helping you grow. And remember when you practice…
A: Miracles happen.
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Drs. Vidas Pinkevicius and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene
Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
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