Last night on The Next Food Network Star, Alton Brown asked several contestants about the worst thing that could possibly happen during their demo. The answers were predictable- the equipment could fail, the oil might not come to temperature, the mic might not work, there might be a knife incident involving blood, etc. He shook his head no and told them the worst thing that could happen is that they would look at the camera, say uh… and completely freeze up.
Oh yes, we musicians know the feeling very well. It has happened to each and every one of us at some point or another. Those who play from memory spend precious hours making sure there are points to jump to throughout a work “just in case of a slip.” All of us remember in detail the truly horrific ones.
There are countless techniques for quieting the inner voices. Some musicians resort to medications. They used to literally have to push Vladimir Horowitz on stage. I have read interviews with musicians who report vomiting as a regular occurrence before a performance. We have nightmares that we are naked onstage having never studied the piece we are about to play. (Well, ok that was just once and I was really very stressed out.)
This week on The Bulletproof Musician, Dr. Noa Kageyama talked about a new technique for clearing your mind, quieting the bad chatter, and focusing on the relevant task at hand. Writing. Yup, that’s right. Expressive writing about your thoughts and feelings may help to clear your working memory, keeping negative thoughts from intruding on the task at hand. He suggests that we musicians try the exercise first in a more casual setting such as studio class or playing for a small group of friends and move on to more stressful situations from there.
I have an exercise I do with my students which I call Prediction – Reality Check. We look at the score to a piece of music and predict what the character, dynamic & expressive palate, tempo, etc. will be. After the performance, we fill out the reality checks to see how close our predictions were to the actual sound. This is especially effective in groups such as studio classes. It helps the listener’s score preparation skills. It also gives the performer a good idea of how others are perceiving certain aspects of a performance.
The great thing about it is that it isn’t a uni-tasker (Alton Brown would be so proud.) You can put any elements you wish on a Prediction – Reality Check form. This fall, I am going to create one just for performers to write down every thought before and after they play at studio class. And, I might just have the listeners do it as well. We are always discussing the fact that no one is sitting there saying things like, I hope she messes up, or I wonder if he can play that really tough passage, or I want to hear this at exactly 180 BPM—or at least if they are we are not their BFFs. The emotional side of predictions and realities could be very instructive aside from any effect on calming anxiety.
I’d like to write more but what if that guy in Billings disagrees again? I have a rose thorn on the back of my hand. I hate clowns. Did I leave out any commas? Does Alton really even read my blog? Peaches.