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Jess G

The Best and Worst of Live Performance

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This question is for any of y'all who do any kind of live performing arts.

Do you enjoy it?  Wish you didn't have to do it?  Bit of both?  How does it affect your relationship with your art (and, for that matter, with your own self-care)?

I'm a violinist 

play the violin

I study the violin with my college Symphony Orchestra.  I'm not a music major or minor, and am nowhere near the same caliber of our conservatory-level musicians, but we're in something of a dry spell and need violinists' bodies in chairs, so they keep me around.  It's a lot of fun--I love going to rehearsals, hanging out with other musically inclined peeps, and playing cool music.  Still, I hate pretty much everything about actually being on stage, from the hollow sound it makes underfoot to the bright (hot, so very hot) lights to the audience that I can feel but not see because of said lights.

When I get nervous, the first thing I notice is tension.  Usually in my knees, then my hands.  Sometimes each finger will go numb above the second joint.  Then my hands start to sweat.  Even if you don't play a stringed instrument, you can probably see why this would be a problem.  If I concentrate, I can get some of the tension to go away... but the more attention I'm paying to the over-tight tendon in my left hand, the less I'm paying to the repertoire.

I kind of see performance as the price of admission for being in the orchestra.  I get to spend my time with this cool group of ridiculously talented musicians, and in exchange I have to grit my teeth and spend 2 or 3 hours per semester in front of an audience.  I realize this probably isn't the healthiest way to look at it.  But as much as I love music and sharing what we've been working so hard on with others, I would be seriously fine with rehearsing for a full semester and having no concert at all.

What makes it all extra special and strange is that I don't get the same thing with horse shows--at least not in the same way.  Best guess: when working with horses, the worst case scenario remains the same whether you're practicing or competing (you could get into an accident, risking serious injury or death).  Without that element of physical danger that you have to accept before starting even the most informal practice, music is a bit less clear.  Worst case scenario in rehearsal: you get frustrated, maybe a little embarrassed.  In performance: ???  Public shame? Failing an audition?  People you care about are in the audience? 

Call it performance anxiety, stage fright, or something else, it doesn't happen for lack of talking about it.  I can't tell you how many times I've heard a seminar about harnessing that high-energy alertness to achieve a "flow state" or "get in the zone".  Did you know Chopin hated big concert halls and sometimes refused to play piano outside a parlor setting?  Itzhak Perlman has said that even he gets nervous on stage!  So misery (and, apparently, performance anxiety) loves company, but you and I are neither Chopin nor Perlman.  

So I thought I'd ask how y'all feel about live performance, musical or otherwise.  Love it?  Hate it?  What do you do when the stress sets in, and disengaging long enough to calm down isn't an option?  

Hope everybody has a good weekend!

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