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Performing by Ryan Fox

 

When I started the violin at the age of five, I was unaware that performing needed to be an awful and uncomfortable experience. In fact, I actually liked it! I simply played what I had practiced, oblivious to the fact that I could even possibly experience performing in any other way.

In my middle-school years, having a newfound awareness that an audience could dictate my physical and mental states before a performance, I experienced perpetual performance anxiety that would rear its ugly head despite any amount of preparation and would always defenestrate my ability to demonstrate my abilities. It seemed to be a vicious cycle of experiencing nerves, being apprehensive about whether I would be nervous, and having my focus shifted from playing music to “will I make a fool of myself onstage or not?”  My performances unknowingly became egocentric, which in turn further propagated the self-fulfilling prophecy of anxiety.

Attending the CREDO chamber music program helped alleviate these problems, thanks to a seminar we were encouraged to attend. Dick Ryan, a motivational speaker of sorts, gave his insight as to why we crack under pressure—if performing is what dictates our self-worth, or is the focal point on which our happiness rests, the amount of pressure we unknowingly (or sometimes knowingly) put on ourselves will never allow our performances to satiate the unreachable perfection we strive for. Mr. Ryan depicted this as a pyramid with happiness at the base and performance at the top.  If the pyramid is upside-down, our happiness depending on our performances, it will be easily shaken and likely to topple. However, if we have our fundamentals rooted in other things and let our performances be a result of external and internal happiness and security, they will be much more secure and surely not be so paramount to the quality of our lives.

I always took beta-blockers to eradicate the physical symptoms of performance anxiety, but I’ve been recently trying to not use them. Instead, I try to let this shift in how I perceive myself inside and outside a performance situation dictate how I play. Without the tremendous pressure of my personal security depending on the so-easily shaken foundation of performance and performance alone, I can now achieve the level of quality and gratification in a performance I had become so accustomed to when I was younger.

The inverse relationship of trying harder and harder to play better and having the result be of lower and lower quality paradoxically seems most easily cured by trying EVEN harder. Instead, it is most easily countered by alleviating yourself of as much pressure as possible.


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