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The Weekend Vote weekend vote: Taking meds before a performance

September 15, 2007 at 6:54 AM

I'm coming down with a nasty cold, and just made a run to the store to stock up on various remedies.

But dealing with a cold before a concert or recital is one thing, dealing with a nasty case of the nerves is another. Which brings us to this week's poll:

If you answered 'yes', please tell us what and why. And if you answered 'no,' tell us why not.

From Phil Houghton
Posted on September 15, 2007 at 7:54 AM
No - unless a banana has, unknown to me, been classified as a class A substance...!
From Anne Horvath
Posted on September 15, 2007 at 12:22 PM
I played on a new music concert last week, and since my allergies have been particularly hideous this year, I drank a dose of Alka-Seltzer Plus Non-Drowsy Cold Medication. Worked great.

Also, there are times for us gals that a nice strong dose of ibuprofen comes in handy.

I never have taken beta blockers. I haven't taken an orchestra audition in a long time, but if I had to again, I would consider taking the pills. Auditions for me, were just torture. Bleh.

From Deborah McCann
Posted on September 15, 2007 at 12:26 PM
However, it was not for performance anxiety. I had a sprained ankle and took it for the pain. I knew if I didn't, with my foot down it would be swollen and very painful by the end of the concert. I felt it made me less able to think clearly and slowed my reflexes. I did get through the concert.
From Magdalena Geka
Posted on September 15, 2007 at 12:50 PM
Only once and it was the worst peformance I've evar had, so never more...
From John Henry Gates
Posted on September 15, 2007 at 2:32 PM
Is beer considered a medication?
From gert schubert
Posted on September 15, 2007 at 2:41 PM
"It" happened, at several times.
You could have been stoned days before and still feel it. You might have had some Wine at lunch...
I am also allergic to lots of things and had to take all kinds of medication that had all different kinds of influence.
One time the Orchestra I was leading and had to play with as soloist made bad trouble- so I sent somebody for beer (which I normally don't drink) right before the concert...
That's life.
Normally I don't take anything, as far as I can manage.
I have only seen (and heard) people who took betablockers. Don't! This seems to be dangerous and from what comes out in artistic respect not worth it.
If You have troubles being nervous, try bach's "rescue- drops",as some of my students do. If You really need stronger stuff, you should look for another job.
But the question was: have you ever...
Yes, I happened to...
From Emily Grossman
Posted on September 15, 2007 at 4:37 PM
I've never taken anything, but I've never had much at stake.
From Christina Wilke
Posted on September 15, 2007 at 4:35 PM
Yes, I have taken inderol for performance anxiety. I was younger and auditioning for colleges. I had never even played in a recital so I was terrified. My parents are both musicians and my father had used them for auditions and such. We went to a doctor and I described my symptoms (which definitely fit the bill of out of control nerves) and he gave me a proper dosage. That's the most important part- it has to be based on your weight, age, and sex. I used it and it felt great. Since then, I've been training myself to do it without them, but when it comes to orchestral auditions I don't know yet. I am certainly open to taking them again but I am trying to not have to.
From Cathy Gray
Posted on September 15, 2007 at 5:32 PM
I've never been sick before a performance. so I've never thought about this before.
From jennifer steinfeldt warren
Posted on September 15, 2007 at 5:38 PM
Anyone who says "you shouldn't...." followed by advice about not taking medications is best not to be listened to.

Taking medications whether for performance problems that are out of control or for health reasons that get in the way of performing your best is a personal issue and between you and your doctor and teacher.

There are just so many variables involved that no one knows but you and those people what the best decision would be for your case.

Then again....this topic is a surefire way to get a debate going ... :). Always a hot topic and one that can offend those who need medications very quickly...

As for taking cold medications, it depends on how sensitive you are to the ingredient that makes it "non-drowsy" or the opposite.

My dollar's worth (due to inflation).

From Roy Sonne
Posted on September 15, 2007 at 6:10 PM
When I was in my late teens and early twenties I suffered horribly from performance anxiety -- horrible bow shake, etc. etc. I didn't know about inderal. I don't know if it was even available at the time. But it would have saved me from years of anguish and made a major difference in my professional development.
Nowadays I don't need any medications for performance anxiety but if I did, I would have no hesitation in using them. Many of my professional colleagues use inderal on a regular basis.
Please folks, don't be moralistic about this. If you are against taking medication, that is your prerogative, but don't be preachy about it, and PLEASE don't withhold the information from friends or students who are suffering.
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on September 15, 2007 at 6:16 PM
I wasn't quite sure what to answer, I answered "no," but I probably could have answered "yes." I had industrial strength performance anxiety for years. I tried inderal once, not for violin performance, but for public speaking. I used to get extremely wound up before giving scientific talks. But I didn't notice much of a difference with inderal, so I didn't use it again. I worked on the public speaking by joining Toastmasters for practice, taking a public speaking class, and memorizing my slides. Those things helped, whereas inderal didn't.

I do take my ADD meds every morning, whether I'm performing or not. And I think that they help me practice better, and thereby feel more confident and prepared, and so also perform better, but that's more of a side benefit.

From Dottie Goldfarb
Posted on September 15, 2007 at 7:58 PM
Yes, I use inderal every time I perform solo in public. I learned about it from a coach in a chamber music workshop after having panic attacks during performance. It opened many doors for me doing things I never thought I could. I recommend taking the lowest strength that you need to. But for those of us with fear of playing for an audience, fear no more. You must however check with your doctor first.
From Yixi Zhang
Posted on September 15, 2007 at 8:42 PM
Never did and won’t.

Nerve-racking experience is part of the experience that I’m asking for in life, if I want to do anything meaningful to me: be it performance, public speaking (including talking to the media, judges, politicians, group of experts, etc.), be it under pressure and feeling under-prepared, and be it speaking and arguing in a foreign tongue. If I put myself through the ordeal on my own volition in the first place, why would I need substance to deal with the nervous effect that will obviously come along with the whole package? I would not feel good about my performance if the good result is brought with by using substance or aids.

From Albert Justice
Posted on September 15, 2007 at 9:15 PM
I have taken Aleve for joint pain, but that would've happened anyway.
From Sung-Duk Song
Posted on September 15, 2007 at 10:16 PM
Interesting question...
I never had to use medication to calm nerves before a performance, usually because of my throrough preparation but also because of an amazing technique that was taught to me by 2 world-class Olympic figure skating coaches called "visualization". What this entails is running through your mind different possible scenarios and "visualizing" yourself performing the concerto or piece under those unusual circumstances. It really helps decrease the nerves but also reinforce memorization.

My mother (a pianist) has used medication before her performances to get over nerves back in the 1970s prior to her debut with Lenny Bernstein. Since then, she has occasionally used medication but complain about stomach cramps as one side effect. (She prefers to perform on an empty stomach but the drug insists that it is taken with food).

I remember reading an article in Reader's Digest about 5 years ago talking about Barbara Streisand using medication to control her nerves as well.

So I guess cases like this exist.

From Tommy Atkinson
Posted on September 15, 2007 at 11:18 PM
unless caffeine and/or vitamin b because i've got a church gig at 8am count, no.
From charles johnston
Posted on September 16, 2007 at 12:23 AM
There is no doubt that beta-blockers harm musical performance. On the other hand, valium in small amounts virtually eliminates any nerve problems without having the slighest negative effect on performance. It's a good idea to try a small dosage during practice (half of the smallest pill) to determine whether it has a negative effect (rare, but possible). If half of a tablet isn't enough, you could take a whole pill. Again, practice with that amount to get used to it. You probably won't have any bad effects with that amount either, but it never hurts to be sure. If you drink even a small amount of alchohol with valium, you guarantee a dreadful performance.
From Ray Randall
Posted on September 16, 2007 at 3:26 AM
For a recent rehearsal I took half a Percocet for major back spasms. I never ever played better. My stand partner laughingly begs to differ.
It kind of went similar to this poor Priest:

A new priest at his first mass was so nervous he could hardly speak.
After mass he asked the monsignor how he had done.

The monsignor replied, " When I am worried about getting nervous on the pulpit, I put a glass of vodka next to the water glass. If I start to get nervous, I take a sip."

So next Sunday he took the monsignor's advice.
At the beginning of the sermon, he got nervous and took a drink.
He proceeded to talk up a storm.
Upon his return to his office after the mass, he found the following note on the door:
1) Sip the vodka, don't gulp.
2) There are 10 commandments, not 12.
3) There are 12 disciples, not 10.
4) Jesus was consecrated, not constipated.
5) Jacob wagered his donkey, he did not bet his ass
6) We do not refer to Jesus Christ as the late J.C.
7) The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are not referred to as Daddy, Junior and the spook.
8) David slew Goliath, he did not kick the $$=+ out of him.
9) When David was hit by a rock and was knocked off his donkey, don't say he was stoned off his ass.
10)We do not refer to the cross as the "Big T."
11)The recommended grace before a meal is not: Rub-A-Dub-Dub thanks for the grub, Yeah God.
12)Next Sunday there will be a taffy pulling contest at St.Peter's not a peter pulling contest at St. Taffy's

On the other hand I heard that my solos (accidental) sounded pretty good.
Moral: I would be careful what you take and try it out first.

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on September 16, 2007 at 4:57 AM
That;s the funniest version I've seen of that joke. Daddy, Junior, and the Spook, huh?
From Donna Clegg
Posted on September 16, 2007 at 2:08 PM
Oh Ray...LOLed and still grinning.
From Sarah Hao
Posted on September 16, 2007 at 2:06 PM
"There is no doubt that beta-blockers harm musical performance. On the other hand, valium in small amounts virtually eliminates any nerve problems without having the slightest negative effect on performance."

Charles, where's your data? I wouldn't make such a definitive statement without looking at the data first. Perhaps in your experience, but you can't make such a conclusion based on that. And you're also making a recommendation for a drug that carries a high risk of dependency (especially for people who have to use it often), while beta blockers don't carry this risk.

From Bart Meijer
Posted on September 16, 2007 at 5:51 PM
On one occasion I have used a beta blocker. It worked well: I suffered from nerves considerably less than usual. But later I tried other approaches that helped as well. Just admitting: "I am very nervous" already helped.
I once played with a beginning cold and the running nose that goes with it. When I was nervous, my nose was relatively quiet due to natural adrenalin. When I started to relax, my nose started running! I should have taken medication then.
From gert schubert
Posted on September 16, 2007 at 4:43 PM
Sarah, where's your data?
Of course beta- blockers carry the risk of dependency, because- as it is with alcohol- once you got the impression it helps, you'll take it again and again...
but only for performances, and this- taking them every once in a while- seems not to be what they are made for. As Valium, which I would not recommend for musical performances as well, due to the change of intensity it may cause on whatever you really wanted to do...
Anyway- don't (if you can- of course you wouldn't risk the effort of a that long and hard time of learning, just because being nervous) take medication for a problem, that is not a medical problem at all! It's just kind of a little misunderstanding- let me try to explain, what I mean...
Being on Stage normally means, you are playing for people who trust you alredy, otherwise they would not have spent any money for their tickets. As long as you are prepaired and know, what you want to say, it's pretty hard to disappoint them. What do you fear? Sombody showing, he could do it better? Not at the moment, you're on stage. This is your moment. As long, as you know what you think about the piece you are playing, as far as you took care about how to tell the others while practicing, nothing bad will happen. And if you fail exactly being as good as you could imagine to be- please don't forget, you are the only person, that knows about your expectations. The Audience will only hear somebody doing his best.
There is no medication made especially for musicians being nervous. Please always make sure to know, what you are taking and what it was really made for.And don't take too high risks for something, that itself is no risk at all.
Sorry for my english- but maybe this was clear. Of course I would never just say "don't" Do whatever you need- but make sure if you need it, first.
From Nicholas Tavani
Posted on September 16, 2007 at 6:13 PM
greg, sarah means chemical dependency. you're talking about psychological dependency.
From Nicholas Tavani
Posted on September 16, 2007 at 6:15 PM
sorry!..i mistyped. I meant gert, not greg. my brain is on autopilot today.
From gert schubert
Posted on September 16, 2007 at 6:59 PM
Hello Nicholas,
I think dependency is dependency. Especially as all Substances talked about have very bad side- effects on body and soul, if you take them frequently.
Isn't the cause for the discussion a psycological one? And, as well, the reason for taking whatever?
As a smoker, who should stop smoking, I know a lot about the mix of physical and psycological components, things could unexpectedly have...
From jennifer steinfeldt warren
Posted on September 17, 2007 at 12:32 AM
Well, see, I told myself I wouldn't get sucked into this conversation AGAIN... and that it isn't possible to explain this one to someone who is closed-minded and doesn't know it.

Some people suffer from nerves that are to an extent that it IS A MEDICAL PROBLEM. And Inderal doesn't affect anything but the heartrate. It is a blood pressure medication. Regulates the beat, so also for tachachardia.

Valium, on the other hand, is a controlled substance that DOES affect your performance. Inderal can affect your performance I suppose in one way or another if you want to get specific about it. But so does how much you have slept etc. etc.

Some people would like to experience the good and exciting and rewarding things in life, but come on. If you are shaking so badly that you can't hold your bow, then what kind of performance are you going to be able to give. And how good are you going to feel about it.
And the rejection notice that comes in the mail a week later. It isn't fair to work just as hard as the person next to youand then to have this happen. Especially when it is totally avoidable.

I have never heard of anyone becoming dependant on Inderal. And you work with a doctor, like I said in my first post, and the doctor can give you better advice than anyone on this website who thinks they understand nerves and then say to just live through it or do pre-performance mental work. That is helpful for some. But not helpful for others.

There was a recent article in the New York Times about a disorder that causes tremors and trembling hands which is exacerbated by being conscious of it and nervous about it and then trying to overcome it. It just gets worse. It is a neurological thing. It is hereditary. It is real. Some people can't eat in public because they shake, or eat sandwhiches. Spill their coffee or drinks because they can't make it connect with their lips. Treatment?
One of them is Inderal. THere are varying levels of degree with this medical problem just like any other. If you have trouble signing checks in public... just think what trying to do a recital would be like.

Don't knock a medication or the person that takes it until you know all the facts. Which you can't. Because you are you, not the other person.

I am greatful for my career and ability to do what I have done and am doing in music on the violin and viola. I couldn't have done it without Inderal. My first semester in college was disasterous until I went to the doctor and discovered this. It is cheap,too. 10 dollars for a bottle that lasts forever.

I also take valium. I have NEVER taken a valium before performing. Or even within 5 hours of a performance on that day of performing. No matter how nervous I am. So I don't think I am "weak". Nor do I think any of these other folks writing on this topic are, either.

K. No more getting upset about this.
:) smiling and eating dinner and getting ready to watch a mindless television series.


From Sarah Hao
Posted on September 17, 2007 at 4:40 AM
James and Savage "Beneficial effect of nadolol on anxiety-induced disturbances of performance in musicians: a comparison with diazepam and placebo" (nadalol is a beta-blocker and diazepam is valium). (published 1984 , Am Heart J). Found it on PubMed.

And seeing as several beta-blockers don't even enter the brain, I still don't see what dependency has to do with the fact that it works for many people. In this situation, taking a beta-blocker makes you no more dependent than choosing to treat tendonitis with ibuprofen.

From Anne Horvath
Posted on September 17, 2007 at 12:54 PM
Jennifer, if you are looking for mindless TV, try "Law & Order, CI"...I think that guy that always bends sideways needs some Alexander Technique lessons!

Also, Jennifer, I don't understand all of this stigma attached to beta blockers. No professional musician I know decries the use of these pills. (Come to think of it, the amateurs don't have an issue either.) But professional musicians tend to be pragmatic...

I had a nice "Girls Night Out" on Saturday, and one of the gals was recovering from her BRAIN TUMOR surgery. Her hair hid the four inch incision on her skull very well. We took her shopping with her child, and had a marvelous time watching her try on makeup at the cosmetics store. I had beta blockers on my mind this weekend, trying to understand the rationale of people that disapprove of taking them, and trying to respect their views. But hanging out with BRAIN TUMOR gal put it all in perspective for me...if you are sick, hope that your MD is good, your health insurance is adequate, and take it from there. I don't think BRAIN TUMOR gal has to listen to finger-pointing people telling her that her brain surgery was a big mistake.

Excuse the rambling. Everybody have a healthy week! Or a healthy life, for that matter!

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on September 17, 2007 at 3:24 PM
I take ADD meds and the same sorts of issues come up sometimes with those--is it a "crutch," is it "fair," etc. If inderal had been effective for me, I would certainly be open to it again. I think Yixi had an interesting point that dealing with nerves can be an instructive part of situations *that you seek out voluntarily.*

But my experience as a student was that there were a lot of performance-type of situations that I was put in that weren't voluntary. I had to do them if I wanted to participate at all: I had to audition for the orchestra, for the teacher, etc. If I didn't audition I couldn't play. There really wasn't much voluntary about it. And those were the situations where the performance anxiety was the worst and most debilitating. I saw my daughter going through it too a couple of years ago: her teacher wanted her to perform and she got really anxious about practicing and her attitude about playing went downhill.

In adulthood, I seem to have grown out of some of the worst of the performance anxiety I experienced as a youth, and don't find myself feeling the need to revisit inderal (to see if the dosage I tried before wasn't right or whatever). I've finally had the experience of learning something constructive from my anxiety. But here in adulthood I'm also choosing when and where and what to perform. I'm playing for fun, for known friendly audiences. It's voluntary, and it's a blast.

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