Does the way musicians quell their nerves strike a chord?

Does the way musicians quell their nerves strike a chord?

Hampstead Garden Suburb News – Autumn 2016

Clammy hands, dry mouth, heart pounding, feeling sick and the palpable terror that your mind is about to go blank… do the symptoms sound familiar?

Whether it’s a solo at the Royal Opera House, a job interview, an appraisal with your boss, or preparing for a presentation, our ability to press our own selfdestruct button can debilitate our performance.

Sir Laurence Olivier, Maria Callas, Helen Mirren, Robbie Williams and Lady Gaga have all apparently suffered. Adele said in an interview for Vogue, “I puke quite a lot before going on stage but never actually on stage.”

When I used to help teach the Alexander Technique to students at the Royal College of Music in South Kensington I wondered how they learnt to deal with their performance anxiety. Particularly intriguing was the purpose-built virtual reality space – a 3D projection with a choice of scenarios including an audition panel and an audience coughing and fidgeting.

Fired up with adrenalin and ready to face imminent danger is handy if you spot a lion lurking behind a bush. Less useful if you are about to play a sonata or go into a business meeting.

Judith Kleinman teaches the Alexander Technique at the Royal College and remarked, “If you are anxious, you will be interfering with your coordination. It’s like waiting years to go on a date with someone and you’re so nervous you knock the orange juice over. If we’re feeling fearful, we fix like a scared rabbit in the headlights. We particularly fix in the head, neck and shoulders as well as the stomach and we stop breathing. And immediately we stop breathing we stop seeing.” Literally a blind panic.

By helping us recognise our own particular symptoms of nervousness rather than trying to ignore them or hope they’ll go away, the Alexander Technique can help us feel calmer and able to cope with whatever comes up.

The incessant and normally critical internal mental chatter that you’re not good enough is best ignored. And what about the dread of your mind shutting down and standing in front of an audience completely tongue-tied?

“Confident people don’t expect it to go wrong so it doesn’t go wrong,” says Judith, “It’s like walking a tightrope. If you are thinking you are going to fall off, you probably will.”

The truth is your body language is communicating something from the moment you step into the audience’s vision – whether that audience is in a theatre, a classroom, your future employer, or a potential business client.

If you can succeed in being unruffled, you will come across as confident and therefore far more effective.

ELIZABETH ABRAHAMS

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