Second Performance class with Hester- Academy open day: Brahms Sonata in Eb op 120 no. 2, 1st movement (Allegro Amabile)

This performance class showed me the importance of overcoming my nerves, as even though Hester and I performed exactly the same piece as before a couple of months ago in front of Peter and the strings students, I was more nervous and therefore was not as happy with how I played back in November. The problem with nerves that I find is that they’re almost completely random in how they strike- for example, when I played a concerto with orchestra last summer I was nervous but the exhilaration of the performance was such that I got over them very quickly, whereas during this small performance class which was effectively a showcase for new prospective students, I was pretty nervous throughout my performance for no good reason that I could work out. One thing may have been that I sat watching the 2 performances before mine and getting more nervous, whereas in a concert situation like the concerto, one just walks straight onto the platform without having to watch other performers (and subconsciously compare oneself to them, I guess!)

The devastating thing about nerves is that they can spoil a perfectly good, well prepared performance in all but the most self assured performer. I’m pretty sure that every famous performer you’ll see on the concert platform or on the TV has experienced them, and I know for a fact that so orchestral musicians seek help from their doctors for performance anxiety. Even Hester said she was nervous, and she has almost a lifetime of performance behind her, but she is now in her late eighties and when tired as she was then, she loses some of her co-ordination.

My nerves aren’t always as crippling, but here are some examples of the effects that my nerves can have:

  • Bow shake (when the bow wobbles when you draw it across the string)
  • Very tight and narrow vibrato
  • Sometimes, cold hands making it difficult to play
  • Dry mouth
  • Fixed expression on my face which I am self conscious of
  • Intonation problems and errors that I don’t usually make
  • A feeling of ‘I’ve got to get through this’ rather than concentrating on the music itself
  • Ultimately, frustration that I could have done better had I not been so nervous

The key thing, it seems, is not how to avoid becoming nervous in the first place, but how to control the nerves once you get them. But how? I guess it’s a mental thing, and you have to have a very strong inner voice telling you that you are going to be fine and play well. I know there are several books about this, such as ‘The inner game of music ‘ (http://www.innergameofmusic.com/) which I haven’t read- has anyone found these kind of books to be helpful?

Going back to the performance class itself, as it was an open day, there was no feedback from the audience, which would have been  nice to have. The only comments I got on my performance were from Robert himself. Famously noncommittal, he said to me afterwards, ‘That was very nice, thanks Jess.’

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