Embrace the Unknown by Daniel Wang

When we perform, there will always be variables and things beyond our control. Most of the time, we can’t predict exactly how our viola will sound or respond in a new space or hall—the temperature, acoustics, humidity, who is in the audience, placement of the music stand, lighting, etc., are all potential variables. When taking auditions or getting ready for important performances, inevitably, there is always something that goes wrong, such as a bad night’s sleep, a loose peg right before you walk onstage, the leather in your bow suddenly shifting around, being stuck in traffic, injuries, etc. Other common variables that can affect your playing include the clothing and shoes you wear, the new equipment you try, pressure from social situations, sicknesses, etc. The list could go on and on, and I have unfortunately experienced all of the above and let them negatively affect my playing. As musicians, we strive hard to achieve excellence and consistency in our playing, but the truth is that whether we like it or not, there will always be things in our lives that we didn’t see coming and there will always be variables in performance settings.

So how do you deal with it? How do you perform with consistent excellence under pressure like Jascha Heifetz or Kobe Bryant despite all the unknowns that inevitably come in high-pressure situations? The truth is: I don’t know. But I used to completely choke under pressure, and by learning from my mistakes I have created a small list of rules that I follow, which have helped me improve vastly over time.

1. Eliminate stupid variables. If you know that you will be performing in a dress shirt with a collar, practice in a dress shirt with a collar from time to time and take note of how you feel. If there is something you know you can eliminate, take care of it.

2. Practice hard and well.

3. Rely on your fundamentals. Know who you fundamentally are.

4. Embrace the unknown. Take those risks—go on an adventure!

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