Thoughts on Performance


Let’s be honest – so many kids, and adults, dislike performing. I can’t tell you how many adults have shared their childhood recital experiences with me, and how they were a thorn in their youth music experience. Folks, it does NOT have to be this way! Let me share some thoughts…

I struggled with performing too, but because I decided to get a music degree (100 years ago when I rode my dinosaur to college), I HAD to figure some things out if I wanted to succeed. Here’s some simple things I learned that helped me manage what our society calls PERFORMANCE ANXIETY.

Let me first say, I am not a natural at performing. It is not an area that was easy for me as a youth or as an adult. There were indeed some reasons for this, but that is for another discussion. Just know, I’m not speaking as someone who loved performing and would get a natural high from it.

First of all, IT’S JUST ENERGY. You know, that sick feeling you get in the pit of your stomach as you wait in anticipation for that “dreaded” moment. Whether it manifests as that, or sweaty hands, or shaky knees, or whatever, IT IS JUST ENERGY. Someone, somewhere, in the history of performance, mislabeled it “performance anxiety” or even worse, “stage fright.” I wish that had never happened, because it put a negative perspective on the whole experience that should never have been there.

Now I’m not a psychotherapist, physiologist, doctor or scientist, but I know through my own experience, that this ENERGY is necessary. It has something to do with how our body responds to perceived threats so that we have what we need to protect ourselves, but it also is the body’s response to risk taking. I’m not completely sure why, but I know that I NEED this extra bunch of ENERGY when I perform to help me hyper-focus, and to put excitement and energy into my playing. (This excitement is what you feel when you attend a live performance, and it is why the audience keeps going back – it’s awesome!)

The thing you need to know about this ENERGY, is that it can be channeled. This is one reason why preparation is important, so you can practice channeling that energy into focusing on what you want to communicate. How to do this is a whole other discussion in and of itself, but a simple way to start, is to focus on the expression. This also yields a most wonderful experience for not only the performer, but also for the audience, which brings us to what I feel should be the NUMBER ONE REASON for performing:

The reason I perform, and feel my students should perform, is primarily focused on SERVICE. Believe me, I know what the benefits are for the performer (also a topic for another discussion). But if our purpose for performing is not focused on the good we bring to the listener, then I believe we are performing for the wrong reason.

Music lifts and inspires. It communicates emotion. It is a healthy release. It can even open up lines of verbal communication when other attempts have failed. It is spiritual, and powerful, and beyond our full appreciation and understanding. I want to experience that when I perform, and I want others to experience it also. When you are focused on blessing the listener, pride, judgement, stress, shame and all those other nasty emotions have no room to survive.

There are some tools I’ve learned to help make this happen, but today, I just want my students to know two things: IT’S JUST ENERGY that YOU CAN USE IT TO MAKE YOUR PERFORMANCE BETTER! and, ALLOW THE THREE MINUTES YOU PERFORM TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE FOR SOMEONE besides YOU. It is not about you, it is about bringing joy to others. If you do this, you will learn to love performing.