SOPP444: One thing that I think it holds me, and also a matter of my capital focus it's the control of the nervousness in performance
Vidas: Hi, guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 440, of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Carlos, and he writes:
Thanks a lot Dr. Vidas and Dr. Ausra. Well, the primordial matter that I would like to reach in organ playing it's a fine performing level in public. One thing that I think it holds me, and also a matter of my capital focus it's the control of the nervousness in performance. I think that there is a lot of technique to control the panic in scene, I have used some of them and they work well, but I'm sure that you have some great hints for prepare the mind to get a major level for focusing one self in public performance. Thanks a lot for your course, it's pretty good and accurate. Greetings to you all!
A: Well, okay, Dr. Vidas...
V: Dr. Vidas.
A: What can you tell us?
V: Dr. Ausra, I think you all also have some experiences, right?
A: In what, nervousness?
A: Yes, we all do. I guess the main reason is a question you need to ask yourself—what causes your anxiety. Because, well, the reasons may be various, but I think one of the most important is that you are not prepared as well as you should be.
V: And this is right that you are saying this of course. But to be well prepared means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Right, Ausra? Because, how many times have you been in such, in a classroom setting, when your kids, your students said, ‘oh, I practiced for hours and hours, and I could sing it if it’s an ear-training class, sing it without mistakes at all at home. But now I cannot do it in class’.
A: They are lying. That’s what I realized after teaching for so many years. Because either they, if you practice for so many hours as you said and you will still could not do it, it means something is really wrong with you and maybe musician path is not your path.
A: Or you a little bit exaggerated the hours of your practice, which is I think more often the right case. So, of course we are all human beings and we might all experience some sort of panic during the actual performance, and there [are] always things that might happen with the instrument, or with yourself, or with your audience, or something that might not go as well as it was planned. But still I think anxiety, to have some of anxiety during performance, it’s a normal thing. And I don’t think it’s good to get rid of it entirely, because that fresh adrenaline, it gives something really vivid to your music.
A: Vitality, yes, to your music.
A: And excitement and audience gets it and it’s really fun—all this experience. So I think some of anxiety is really good—it helps you. Because otherwise your music might sound boring if you will play it like a machine, let’s say like [a] Sibelius program—it always plays no mistakes, no tempo changes, everything is perfect, but it’s dull and it’s lifeless.
V: You could write down accelerando and ritenuto and they could play back to you with fluctuations in tempo of course, but that’s about, not everything the program can do today. I guess that the software is getting better and better, but to reach human interaction level, I don’t think it can, yet.
A: So, basically, I could say what I do to Carlos, in order to help myself. So my first thing is I really try to prepare very well for my recitals, that I would be really confident that I did everything what I could. It means if I know I will have to perform, I need to practice in advance.
A: Because you always have to leave some time for yourself just in case you will have some unexpected things happening in your life.
V: Imagine if you are a professional musician like yourself, but not at your level, but at the student level. But still you’ve been learning the organ and music for maybe, I don’t know, fifteen or more years, yes, before going to America. But even then Dr. Ritchie suggested you to be ready at least one month before your recital, to have a run-through one month before. Is this realistic, Ausra?
A: Yes, this is realistic, I think. And that’s the way how it should be I think.
V: Mmm-hmm. Would that help?
A: Yes, that would help.
V: To you. But for people who are not professionals and just playing organ as their hobby, I think two months are needed.
A: Yes, that would be really wise. Another thing you also need to know, to breathe, during your actual performance. Because some anxiety comes during your performance, and panic attacks, because many people, especially inexperienced ones, simply forget to breathe. And breathing is crucial—it’s very important. So if you cannot control your breathe during performance then just take a few deep breaths before starting the peace and then maybe at the end of it, or maybe at the slow section of it—remember to breathe.
V: It takes practice.
A: Yes. It’s not so easy.
V: Don’t expect to breathe during public performance when you never focus on your breathing during practice, right? Panic will do it’s own work and you will forget. Maybe you will remember a moment here and there, maybe, if you’re lucky. But if you really want to be free during public performance, you need to incorporate breathing into your daily routine.
A: And the third thing which is very important, especially for those who have very few public performance experience[s] yet, you need to perform as often as you can. The more often you perform, the better you will get on the stage.
V: Every ten recitals or public appearances, you will have a breakthrough.
A: Yes, because, look, if you will perform often enough, you will get tired of being actually nervous, of having that anxiety, because you cannot be always afraid of it.
V: Mmm-mmm. Remember Dr…
A: It will become a habit for you to play in public and you will enjoy it actually. You want to be on the stage. You see some of the musicians, we are old, and we can hardly walk but we still want to play to sing in public—as they make not maybe a nice jokes about them that they will probably die on the stage.
V: Remember Dr. Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra at Eastern Michigan University, told us about her experiences in Germany when she was studying with Harald Vogel. She would have to perform publicly at least once a week, or maybe more, I guess, for that time, maybe for how many months she was there. And that helped her to reduce the stress level to basically zero. It was like daily task for her. Nothing special.
A: And the same in America when we had studio class every week and everybody in Lincoln, everybody would play what we have learned during that week. So that way you would have to perform in a studio class each week and then we would have to play service on Sunday, and sometimes even on Saturday evening. So that’s at least two public performance a week, not counting all kind of recitals where you would take either a part in the recital or you would play solo recital.
A: And that’s how you built up an experience.
V: The reason I live stream my practices for example, from my church on the organ on Facebook, is that not only I want to promote the largest pipe organ Lithuania, not only I want to reach more people with my playing, but I also want to reach the confidence level of my public performance and the freedom it gives. That’s, it’s not a big deal, right, for me to play in front of the camera, or in front of strangers. It’s the same thing for me too. I know I won’t stop the camera at any time. It has to be live without editing and even if I make a mistake I will have to play around it so that my audience wouldn’t notice it.
A: Yes and I think there might be some cases when people cannot overcome themselves, cannot overcome that performance anxiety and it’s just there and you can do nothing. In that case I would probably suggest for such a person, especially if it’s a young one, probably not to, not play any more. That’s very sad but I think there are some cases like this. I have seen kids who would keep just shaking and shivering and panicking, and, I think that because if it’s [a] case like this, and you cannot do anything about it, maybe it’s not your way to be a professional musician.
V: I have to clarify this, because I know what you’re thinking; you’re suggesting that this person might play privately, not in public.
A: Or just switch to another major.
V: Mmm-hmm. Earn a living in a different way and keep…
A: That’s right.
V: playing an instrument as a hobby.
A: That’s right.
V: Yeah, if it costs you too much of nerves and stress, then it’s not worth the effort, probably. Unless there is a clear path to overcome this.
V: Unless you’re seeing the progress in over the months and years of reducing stress, gradually.
A: Because, anyway, I think music needs to give joy, and not nerve.
V: Okay guys, this was a good question. So please send us more questions like that. We love helping you grow. And remember, when you practice…
V: 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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