Has anybody else had a recital go wrong?

August 22, 2010 at 03:08 AM ·

 Well, I just had my first violin recital last Monday and to say that it was a disaster would be an understatement.

I have a horrible time with nerves, which I suppose is pretty normal, but I just fell apart while playing my pieces. I've lost all motivation to practice ever since then: I'm finding it extremely hard to concentrate without having that recital play through my mind. It's also rather frustrating, having practiced so much for so long only to have it blow up in my face. 

Has anyone else ever had a bad recital or performance? Any suggestions on preventing nerves from really getting to you?


August 22, 2010 at 09:05 AM ·

 Yes. Keep trying.

August 22, 2010 at 10:10 AM ·

I think you will have a much shorter topic if you ask: 'Has anyone had a recital go totally right'. 

One of the keys to performance anxiety (and I'm an expert in this now :-\ ) is recognizing that things ALWAYS go wrong.  Thats not the issue, the real one - and the one that differentiates the accomplished from the tyros is how you deal with it.  Listen carefully to any recital (no, not on a recording - most of those are doctored) and you will hear errors but the pros often dress them in such a way that unless you are anexpert of intimately familiar with the piece you don't even notice. 

Sometimes everything falls apart - for example I relaized two lines into my solo two weeks ago  that I had not tightened my bow hairs.  In situations like that you have to assess whether its possible to go on and if not just stop and start again.  [I think I handled it pretty well, as I started again I said 'and now the second movement' - the audience (which by the way is looking for you to succeed not fail) took the opportunity to laugh loudly and give me an encouraging ovation. 

I suspect the recital will be rembered more for the quip than the music - but rather that than for sloppy playing anyday...

Its so important to lighten up.  And go make up with your violin, its missing you.

August 22, 2010 at 10:34 AM ·

It's really tough when things don't go well, but try not to be too hard on yourself.  The more you perform the easier it gets.   I don't know if you play often in front of people, but I think it helps to play for friends, family, street performance, nursing homes, anywhere, anytime.  Don't give up just because of one bad experience.

August 22, 2010 at 11:46 AM ·

Hi Daniel. 

It appears to me that you learned a great deal from this recital. Perhaps you didn't accomplish what you initially set out to do, but something else of great importance was accomplished. That is, you discovered things about yourself as a performer and you now realize that you need additional preparation to be secure on stage.

Personally, I wouldn't classify your performance as 'ruinous' no matter what may have transpired. As a developing violinist playing his first recital, no one expects you to sound like a pro. Rather, your listeners understand that you're a student whose role it is to learn from your experience. 

I understand how unsettling this must feel to you right now, but you can transform what seems like a bitter disappointment into something that motivates you to gather up the skills you need to perform joyfully.

For starters, I invite you to read my posts on The Musician's Way Blog under the category 'Performance Anxiety.' Then, if my approach resonates with you, check out my book The Musician's Way: A Guide to Practice, Performance, and Wellness, which provides an inclusive method for acquiring the skills of a performing artist (the book is in libraries near you and sells for less than $20 at many online booksellers).

This was your first recital, Daniel - it's reasonable to expect that surprises would occur, especially if you hadn't completed many practice performances and didn't receive thorough coaching in performance preparation. 

So I encourage you to renew your love of music and commit to gathering the know-how you need to express your musical voice. 

Best wishes, Gerald

August 22, 2010 at 12:35 PM ·

Yes!!! At my first school, I did peices way to hard for the technical level I was.  (They were assign to me with very good intentions and I am not at all telling this to bash this school. None of us realized this back then)  At that time, I was a 14 year old teen and the hall was quite big.  It was a disaster each time.  (Although the one who was the most hurt was me knowing that I played bad.  The audience didn't really know the difference and was happy with all performances.)  I was shaken for a long long time by these. Especially considering that teen years are where we are the most vulnerable and emotionnally unstable.  My first recital at my second school also went bad.  But after this one, the others always went better from time to time.  I think a lot of this was related by playing some peices I was technically able to handle + much training with the pianist before the concerts. Value very much the relationship you have with your acompagnist.  A good accompagnist is a way better musician than you with tons of experience, can tell your faults without even seeing you and will learn you to understand what he or she does at the piano just with your ears.  They will also explain you in detail what to do musically in the peice when you do it wrong and have many tricks to make you feel confident.  A good pianist is as essential as a teacher!!! 

Don't get too desperate, it will come one day even if you absoluntly think it's impossible! 

Just get a good context (teacher, pianist, friends to play for before the recital to practice yourself etc.  Don't engage in suicidairy plans... as in playing something that you are hardly able to play good out of stage and imagine that it will work on front on people.)  Of course, find strategies to reduce your stress!  Some breath slowly and calmly, think of their favorite player, tell themselves that they can't get out of it so mind as well enjoy it.  I do all this + need to feel exhausted physically.  When your muscles are really tired, they can't go that stiff even under adrenaline.  (Do you feel stress after a late Christmas meal???  Probably not because you are exhausted of your day and probably feel very relaxed.)  I used this principle with great succeess.  I get up super early to practice hours before a gig, eat well and do a few wall push ups or take a big walk.   Everyone has their "routine".  Hope you find something that works!

Good luck!!!


August 22, 2010 at 12:49 PM ·

 The one that still sticks in my head is when I was playing Beethoven's 5th cello sonata in D (obviously back in my cello days).  Halfway through the first movement the piano started to sound a little odd, there was a frantic rustling of pages, and then it stopped.  What had happened was that the pianist inadvertently turned over two pages, realised her mistake, and turned back three, thereby getting hopelessly lost.  We just restarted and everything went fine. No problem.

The next one didn't happen to me, but I was in the orchestra when it happened to the soloist in the Elgar cello concerto.  The lady had a memory lapse half way into the last movement.  The conductor was right on the ball, took the score in his left hand and held it in front of her for a couple of seconds.  This was enough for her to recover and the movement concluded without further incident.  She had played this concerto probably dozens of times in her career, but these little things can still happen.  The interesting thing about the incident was how few people noticed what had happened.  During the interval I mentioned it to friends who were sitting in the front row of the stalls - they were completely unaware of what had happened.  In the orchestra the only players who noticed were the first desk of the violins and the first desk of the cellos (good sight line to the soloist).

The moral of this is, provided it isn't a complete stoppage as in the Beethoven, you can rest assured that 99% of the audience won't notice minor glitches, and the 1% who do will have been there before and will understand.  

August 22, 2010 at 03:51 PM ·

Thank you everybody for your kind words and advice--I'll take them all to heart. I suppose there's no point in moping around anymore. Time to start practicing again, ha ha. I'll just have to better prepare myself for the Spring recital in a couple of months.

In retrospect, I suppose it really was a learning experience, however blunt a lesson it may have been. Here's hoping the next one is a bit of an improvement!

Thank you all again.

August 22, 2010 at 08:37 PM ·

Daniel, you'll probably get a lot more feedback still.  This is a popular discussion topic.

One precaution sometimes overlooked: Whatever your choice of outfit for performance, casual or formal, wear it at least once in rehearsal near performance time so that you can simulate, as nearly as possible, the actual performance conditions.

You asked, "Has anyone else's nerves ever ruined a performance?"

For me, they didn't ruin it -- although I definitely felt the nerves in that first recital and thought that they cramped my style somewhat.  I faintly remember doing something like dividing long bows to make the nerves show less in the opening legato passages.  To echo Trevor's input, most of the audience probably didn't notice.

Soon I just tried again and out-bullied the nerves.  I couldn't wait to do more recitals.

One strategy that I found especially useful -- and this really made a big difference in auditions -- was to start, not with a cantabile selection, but with an aggressive one.  This helped me to burn off the pent-up adrenaline fast.  Then, when I got to the cantabile passages, I could give full range and freedom to my individual musical voice.

August 22, 2010 at 08:45 PM ·

 RE: One precaution sometimes overlooked: Whatever your choice of outfit for performance, casual or formal, wear it at least once in rehearsal near performance time so that you can simulate, as nearly as possible, the actual performance conditions.

Wow! I can't believe I didn't think of this before my recital. I'm not normally one for formal attire, and I had only thrown together something to wear a day or so before the performance, so the outfit had something to do with the nerves, too.
And I'll definitely take into consideration that last piece of advice. My first piece was an extremely slow one and I think that too may have had something to do with it. Maybe a piece with more gusto and energy will help dissolve away all of that adrenaline.
Thanks! Definitely two things to consider before my next recital.

August 23, 2010 at 09:41 PM ·

If you think it will help at all, do not hesitate to perform some small ritual to mark your 'graduation' from this lesson and your renewed effort as you move forward.  I stopped moping three or four days after my first recital and marked the occasion by using the program twisted into a burning taper to set off fireworks.  A small thing, but it put a definite end to the period of mourning.

August 23, 2010 at 09:49 PM ·

Wow, excellent idea!

August 23, 2010 at 09:56 PM ·

Another thing I do if I miss my shot in a gig is to play it again directly after at home for my family just to proove to myself that I am able to take another try and have it well and also to show a nice performance (since I practiced like mad and don't want it to be "waste")  to my family who don't hear me play often except before and, if it went wrong, after gigs.  Though this is risky.  If it goes well, fantastic, it erases my bad memories. But if this second chance is bad... then I know it was ME the problem and the better option is to take a few days off and do like Marianne told!


August 24, 2010 at 07:15 PM ·

 Hi Daniel

Last time I played a recital it went awfully! My bow was out of control because of nerves - that I didn't even know I had. The second I put my bow to the string, it just started trembling like crazy, and it didn't stop until I was out the door again. I went home and did some thinking, after being disappointed an all that, I thought I better learn something from this. 

First of all, I had to step a few steps back and look on it with a wider perspective. It really didn't matter with that performance - it's one in a row of hundreds, right ;) I took lightly on it, and it helps A LOT! Then I wrote down every good concert/performance/exam whatever I had done, things I had accomplished (also in my life, besides the violin) and closed my eyes to try and recreate the time, place and feeling. It helps a lot looking on the positive and not the negative experiences. It will be a circle of positive reactions and selfesteem-boosting, that is really helpful when dealing with a bad performance. 

Then I went to the library to loan some litturature about stagefright - mostly to figure out WHY we humans have such a thing, and why it is all in our heads :) 

And I don't think that a bad performance, it the same as a waste. I know what you mean, that you weren't "allowed" to show your real skills to the audience, but the fact is, that only you can "grade" yourself, and you do that every day in the solitude of your own practise room. And if you did prepare well, well, then nothing is lost, because of a bad performance. The only thing that can damage you, is if you hold on the negativity and it may be a hinder to you in your next recital. So my advise (the above, of course) but just to deal with it right away, and push it away as soon as you realise that it doesn't matter. The next good experience is right around the corner - if you will let it be that way ;)

I am struggeling with nerves myself, so I am not one to talk, but dealing intensly with the psychological aspect of it has already helped me tons. I hope this will help ou as well. 

Good luck!


September 4, 2010 at 04:39 AM ·

At my last recital, I realized as I played the first measure that my bow had not been tightened sufficiently.  I only had one opportunity in the piece to stop and tighten and did so.  My accompanist looked a little shocked when I said "STOP".  I tighted my bow and continued feeling much more confident with both violin and bow ready to play.  My accompanist picked right up where we left off and all went well to the end of the piece.

September 4, 2010 at 06:39 AM ·

Not that I do recitals (yet) but my bow does seem to slacken itself off at odd moments - I think it wants me to replace it.

September 6, 2010 at 12:45 AM ·

 Yes, horrible nerves.  My bow arm shook so badly that I started playing even worse, and then I shook even worse.


Since then, in rehearsal for recitals, I've blanked out on a piece I knew well due to nerves.  If that happened to you, try shadow practicing (something I read about on a thread or link from a thread somewhere in v.com)  You play the air violin up to the point in your piece where you forget a note.  Then go back and play the real violin to that point several times.  Then go back to the air violin, going to the next point, and so on.  It really forces you to ingrain the piece in your mind.


Best of luck,


September 8, 2010 at 06:12 AM · It happened to me. When I get nervous, I tell myself I am lucky not to be a brain surgeon. If I mess up, it won´t kill anyone ;-)

April 10, 2011 at 04:04 AM ·

I know this is a very old topic, but I found it when I was looking for something that could give my daughter some confidence as she prepares for her first piano recital next month.  Problem is, I'm doing a duet with her and I've never played the violin for a group!  I can just see ME falling apart and giving her no moral support.  The idea of playing for others first is a good one--at least there will be two practice recitals first.

April 10, 2011 at 06:54 AM ·


there are two essential things which it seems newbies don@t fully get their heads around until it is in the realm of hindsight.

First,   do the recital many times before you do it.   It doesn`t have to be the whole thing, but play your pieces again and again to friends , relatives,  the dog or whatever.

Second,  be able to play through the recital three times without stopping.  A surprising amount of nerves and error s actually caused by fatigue because one simple has not built up the necessary stamina.



April 12, 2011 at 03:35 AM ·

Thanks, Buri!  I had never heard your 3-times rule.  One interesting thing that I realized is that my daughter has no fear of playing for her friends' families.  I'm thinking of inviting some of them to the recital and emphasize to my daughter that we're playing for them.  (Unlike the typical recital, where one person plays a set of pieces, this is several performers, one piece each.)

April 12, 2011 at 08:22 PM ·

 I didn't bother reading ALL the responses, and I don't know if the issue is resolved for you, but I felt it's relevant to share my experience.

I've made minor mistakes in recitals before, and I always covered it up with charismatic playing. However, last February, I totally lost it. I went for my college auditions and just gave a horrible performance (no euphemisms for this one).

I can absolutely relate to how upset you are, especially because of the time and effort you put into it. Since June I was practicing my concerto for 6 hours straight through and performing for my teacher often. Then, come audition day, I played through the first page while ignoring all the rhythms and making the worst intonation mistakes. Needless to say, they cut me off even before I could finish the first page.

I was pretty depressed, and I still haven't fully coped. I thought about giving up violin and thinking, "if it was meant to  be, it was meant to be." But after some grieving, I decided to play for fun with a couple of friends (some light chamber music). Ever since, I've found my "center" with music again and have been practicing ardently.

It's inevitable that you will mess up. Some people (like me) had the misfortune of having it happen during an important audition. Like some of the people here said, it's not about regretting the mistakes, but about how to cope with it afterwards. If you need to, take a break (like I did), but once things get fun again, you'll realize why you practiced so much in the first place and how much you love music.

April 14, 2011 at 02:17 PM ·

Don't catastrophize.  You had a bad performance.  It happens.  No big deal.  Get on with the next one.  Quitting sure isn't the answer.

I've seen some bad performances and can't even remember who by...they've just all blended together under the heading "Yes, I've seen some bad performances".

BTW...I actually prefer amatuer performances to 'perfect' flawless professional ones...the mistakes made during a live performance enhance the experience for me...vs. distract.  If I go to see a live performance I neither expect, nor want, a CD perfect sound.



September 19, 2013 at 07:16 AM · I remember attending the performance of the Tchaikovsky Concerto by a prominent and very talented soloist (out of respect for the soloist I prefer not to mention names, I'll just say she belongs to the current batch of young and glamorous female soloists). Anyways, during the 3rd movement right in the middle of playing a particular fast passage, the soloist gets a memory lapse and immediately stopped playing--much to my amazement and shock. The orchestra was quick to notice what had just happened and also stopped playing. During the odd silence all the conductor did was to announce to the orchestra from what section to resume playing (not unlike during a typical orchestra rehearsal when a conductor says "ok, let's take it from Section B" or "let's try from measure 41", etc.), and that was that for her. After restarting at the announced place all went well to the end.

But it certainly got me thinking. She must have felt humiliated or at the very least quite unhappy with herself afterwards. How did I feel as an audience member? I, at least as a fellow musician, completely sympathized with her. Her memory lapse certainly didn't make me lose respect for her musicianship, and I appreciated how this actually made her more human. Memory lapse aside, she was playing an otherwise outstanding performance (and I could only dream of playing at such a virtuosic level as her). I made sure to compliment her on this after it was all over, as I figured she was probably not happy with herself (which was indeed true).

September 19, 2013 at 08:21 AM · i watched a symphony orchestra fall apart once and it was educational - you bet.

it's happened to me while singing. embarrassing? - yes - and it takes a while to stop shuddering with the thought of it.

but ...

September 19, 2013 at 09:58 AM · Love that - thanks, Bill.

September 19, 2013 at 10:46 AM · Daniel,

I'm another chronic nerves sufferer. I had to conquer them to give public talks (science; I had to write out every word); compete in ballroom dance (forgetting your steps when you are traveling at 20 miles per hour in open quickstep has, er, consequences!) and now playing the violin. By giving a lot of talks I am now totally at ease infront of an audience of a thousand. By falling over, screwing up - and a few personal cures - I can now happily dance and express as I choose. And the violin? Its still a work in progress.

The point is don't give up. Once you get it into your head that the audience is actually supportive and is not there to judge you (most of them don't really know the difference between B and Bflat)- indeed that they are enjoying your performance, things change.

What I did with the dancing was this. Before competing I would walk around the dance floor and look at the audience. Everytime I saw someone that looked at me and smiled I memorized where they were. When I danced I danced for them and often I would get a glimpse of them encouraging me. That allowed me to relax - and problem over.

I'm trying the same thing for violin - if I know that people are supportive, positive and just enjoying my music I stop worrying about screwing up (the bane of performance anxiety) and start to let myself go and play from the heart.

I'm guessing that you are just the same...


September 19, 2013 at 11:31 AM · Kató Havas has published on the subject. My father thought quite highly of her. Her daughter (I think she played the piano) was one of the nicest and most level-headed young ladies that I knew in my undergraduate days. I can't comment further, except to point out that according to Wikipedia she has been honoured both by ASTA and Queen Elizabeth II.

September 19, 2013 at 09:13 PM · I had an experience similar to Elise... but maybe a bit different.

Once I was playing in a recital. One of my first ones and I was really stressed while playing.

From the corner of my eye, I saw that they were many little children in the first row and they were moving their head and seemed to like or enjoy somehow my playing.

Then I said to myself, it should feel like playing for your family. The kids do not know that you're not at your best, they probably are no better themselves unless they are prodigies of some sort. They just want to be happy with the music. Why should I "the growned up" be afraid of them??? I should be happy to "present the violin" the best I can as an instrument to them. And many adults are kids in the sense that they do not know voiolin (lol) and are still able to enjoy it...

As for the few good violinists in the audience, I tell myself that they all made mistakes at some point of their life and they would not tease me for a few of my own... I mean, it would be really poor musicianship if they did.

We should only be happy to play for PEOPLE because how often do we play for our bedroom walls only!

And playing for our walls is probably not the purpose of music and you do not pay many $ lessons to play for walls (usually) :)

Especially if its our parents paying our lessons (or if they paid them at some point), we all have something to give back (even if very modest compare to x and y superstar) and I think we should just be happy have an opportunity at it...


September 19, 2013 at 09:22 PM · On a side note, if one doubts that they can make anything enjoyable, I highly suggest to find a musical interested baby and see its reaction as you play...

Sometimes, when I think my practices are awful, my mom knocks at the door with my 7-8 months old neice and the look in her baby face is sooooo cute and amazing. She really is attentive for so long and likes it! (and even at 3-4 months old she was the same) How can you find yourself useless after this... you just have to try your best because it makes someone happy!

It's really a great experience to try for both, the musician and baby, if you can...

September 19, 2013 at 10:54 PM · Daniel,

You didn't say what kind of recital it was (high school? college? grad school?).

At the college level and beyond, people very rarely just get up an play a recital--there are a good deal of pre-performanance performances in masterclasses, weekly studio classes, retirement homes, or before a high school class. People also play for other faculty.

My question is, did you pursue these performance practice opportunities, or just get up and play it cold? Because that is often a guarantee for disaster until you are a really seasoned player.

September 19, 2013 at 11:39 PM · Consistent with almost all of the above advice, the famous multi-millionaire, W. Clement Stone, who is credited with practically creating the modern insurance industry, had a standard way of dealing with terrible problems.

Instead of focusing on what's wrong, he'd ask (himself and others), "OK, what's good about it?" In the rubble of the problem, he'd go looking for what was good about it - what he learned that he might not have otherwise learned, what new positives were hiding behind the problem, etc.

Which reminds me of a violinist "disaster" I witnessed (as an audience member) decades ago when I was in high school. It was a youth orchestra, and a good one, playing its annual concert in Orchestra Hall in Chicago.

In the middle of the 1st Movement of the Tchaikovsky 5th Symphony (and it helps to hear the music in your mind as you read this), one of the first violinists on the outside of about the 4th stand, in the middle of a furious downbow, lost his grip on the bow.

The bow went sailing out into about the 5th row of audience. The music didn't stop. The young violinist put down his violin and jumped off the stage (which was a high one in those days). He waded through a couple of rows of audience, and someone handed him the errant bow.

He then scrambled back over the same people he just climbed over, bow in hand, and then found that the stage was too high for him to climb up on. So his partner put down his own violin and bow, and stooped over and help pull his colleague back up on the stage.

The two sat down as Tchaikovsky's 5th continued. Nobody laughed, applauded, or made any other apparent sounds or gestures, but the background of that particular symphony seemed perfect.

Now THAT'S a musical disaster.



September 20, 2013 at 05:59 AM · Would have been even more appropriate at the climax of the last movement of the 4th (You know, that bit where the chandelier falls down in that pre-Lloyd Webber film of Phantom, when, in order to get first class opera singers to take part in the making the soundtrack, they morphed the 4th into an opera with words in Russian - earlier in the film, music by Chopin had been used for the same purpose)!

September 20, 2013 at 07:36 PM · I can laugh now--but at my first college-level recital, playing the first Minuet from Bach's first Cello Suite (on viola) I couldn't remember how to get to the end, so I just kept playing it over and over--probably 3 or 4 times. Then I just stopped dead and went on to the second Minuet. When I came back to the first, I had no problem, it went from beginning to end smoothly. Go figure. I was SO embarrassed I wanted to skip the rest of the program, but most of the audience found it funny...I do, too, now...

September 20, 2013 at 08:41 PM · Marjory, I don't DARE to perform from memory. Whilst I can generally remember what notes come next, I have difficulty remembering where I am in a piece, so if there's a choice I'll probably choose the wrong alternative. I have been told most people see the music or (in the case of actors and those reciting poems) the words in front of their eyes - They remember visually; it may not be photographic, but it's good enough. Me, I'm almost entirely dependent on aural and mechanical memory, which is why I broke down so often when trying to recite poetry in class and why I could get lost when playing music. My language learning has been reasonably good, but learning vocabulary is a real sweat.

I wonder just how many people having problems in this discussion are like me?

September 20, 2013 at 09:18 PM · By the way, the Steiner in Bill Kilpatrick's clip above did not compose the viola concerto in D which Patricia McCarty lists in the discussion on viola concertos, just in case anyone else was wondering. But this still doesn't leave Korngold as the only film music composer to have written a concerto for a bowed instrument. There's also Rawsthorne.

September 21, 2013 at 07:55 AM · I've been fortunate enough to solo with orchestras and all that jazz, but even so, my first masters recital sounded like I suddenly developed apraxia. It was awful. I feel for you!

BUT!! it was always worse in my head. The recordings were much more revealing. Odds are it wasn't that bad, people have tremors and memory stuff, but I guarantee many many people enjoyed it! Take it in stride. That being said, I'll post a clip of some serious recital fails I've done if a laugh would brighten your mood:) you aren't alone!

Take beta blockers.


September 21, 2013 at 07:56 AM · Honestly, the crash 'n burn stuff stopped happening when I stopped trying to impress, and rather tried to share and communicate with the audience. Good luck!

September 21, 2013 at 08:17 AM · Dmitri Shostakovich was a film music composer (The Gadfly and many others) who also wrote two violin concerto.


September 21, 2013 at 08:22 AM · Ryan - your last post: "Honestly, the crash 'n burn stuff stopped happening when I stopped trying to impress, and rather tried to share and communicate with the audience." nails it.

I think that's exactly my problem and why I have these recurring performance anxieties - and why they eventually solve themselves. I set out to impress (out of insecurity) and then get into a spiral of error and self-castigation and doubt and then more error until it all falls apart. However, once I'm confident that people will enjoy my output (talking/dancing/and I hope playing) I have no problem at all.

Oh, and I'm in my early sixties and am memorizing music - entire violin-orchestra ones - for the first time (I could not as a child, go figure)....

September 21, 2013 at 11:57 AM · Whether or not OP is still reading this …

Re: Ryan's suggestion -- I hope it was tongue in cheek, but …?


No! Don't do it -- unless they are medically necessary. In many cases, the "cure" is worse than the "disease."

We've been through this discussion before, so I won't even consider trying to rehash all the points I've made on that subject in the last few years.

If you've had a rough experience with nerves in performing, one of the best things you can do is get back on your feet, get back out there and perform -- and NOT have a rough experience with nerves. Perform often. With some people, the nerves-problem decreases faster than it does in others. Finally, though, I'd rather be just a tad on edge, not too relaxed. I'm at my best when I'm keyed up just enough to put up a good fight.

September 21, 2013 at 12:41 PM · This past spring I played in my teacher's annual studio recital. I was the only adult student, and I was probably older than most of the parents! I'd been battling nerves during the weeks leading up to the recital, but by the day of the performance I'd pretty much resigned myself to "que sera, sera." Or so I thought. I got up to play and the moment I put the bow to string, my right arm started shaking. A lot. I thought "this is odd, whose arm is this? It's the arm of a nervous person." There was nothing I could do but go on with the first piece; since it was unaccompanied (a movement from the first cello suite), you can probably imagine the mayhem...The second piece had accompaniment and was my strongest piece, but it was all a blur to me by then.

I was so disappointed in myself - I'd prepped so hard and it went so wrong. The worst part was I didn't know anyone at the recital, so I got no feedback at all on how it sounded. All I had was my own perception, which turned it into the Biggest Viola Recital Disaster Ever :-). I had a very rough few days afterward mulling it all over, and considered quitting altogether. But in the end I decided to stick with it, so I guess I'll have another chance to amuse the parents next year :-)

September 21, 2013 at 12:48 PM · Karen, I'm so sorry! I know the feeling and it's awful. Like throws your world upside down.

But the fact that you have so much sensitivity that you have such intense physiological reactions means you have something special to share in your playing and interpretation I bet!

September 21, 2013 at 01:04 PM · Jim!

Of course beta-blockers aren't the be all end all, but if someone has such debilitating performance anxiety that they can't play remotely close to the level they usually can, it is silly not too at least try them and see if they help.

I played in a quartet with Josef spacek (former perlman student and concertmaster of the Czech Phil currently) and he said perlman always uses them. And that when he once didn't have them for a concert in Israel, Josef's friend had (got) to carry itzahk's strad onstage, but was worried he would drop it because perlmans hands were shaking so violently. Everyone is different!

Don't be ashamed or feel bad at all for at least trying them!

I do understand why people are against them, but it is absolutely necessary for some of us.

September 21, 2013 at 01:14 PM · Oh Karen, I know this feeling too...

All I can say is that is you are serious about it, in a few years (2-3) of doing some recitals each year, you'll become much more confident and have much better experiences.

It's never like at home but it can come close...

Even the professionals do some mistakes and can be nervous. Heck, I even heard once a video where David Oistrakh starts with a shake in his bow arm and an intonation mistake in addition, I'm sure he knew it but he continues and it was a heck of a performance!

Often on recordings of various artists, I noticed that when they do a mistake, soon after they make another one of some sort and in no time, everything comes back awsome. These two or theree mistakes in a row possibly indicates that they know it and become nervous. But they are so well trained that they can get back into it really quickly. I don't know if I'm the only one who noticed this or not?

Anyway, just to tell that in a few recitals, things usually go much better and one is happy to have survived the initial humiliation... so to speak! I was a late starter and lives exactly the same thing as you, Karen, when I started. I was a tall teen with the "talented" small kids... Now, I play as well as them and I do no longer feel awkward... It has become such a pleasure compare to before!

I suggest to anyone who doesn't have the chance to play often in recital (like adults who perform 1-2 times per year) to practice often their peices unfront of a recording machine at home.

It simulates so well the stage fright and one can see all his/her mistakes and analyse what's the problem... what has to be fixed etc. And if you are lucky, in the numerous times, you'll have a nice shot to keep as a souvenir for yoy and your family!

Professionals are good because they perform like hundred times a year... So the recording machine trick and to play for relatives is really important for amateurs who do not have as much stage exposure. That and a good technical knowledge is a very winning combination I find.

In the worst of scenarios, if one becomes really nervous, this method at least allows the fingers to go in a very secure automatic pilot.

And while the automatic pilot works, one can concentrate to "change" his mental attitude of anxiety and come back in psychological control" of the situation, and apply all the other things that are needed for musicality.

If one does not change his mental anxious state while playing, one will be taken for a ride by its violin for the whole duration of the performance and musicality and quality will suffer from it...

Anyway, just tricks and my 2 cents :)


September 21, 2013 at 10:41 PM · Ryan, I know where you're coming from on this. But a statement like the one in your earlier post -- "Take beta-blockers" -- raises some red flags. First determine whether the player has tried and failed to deal with the problem itself, not just the symptoms. Something like --

"If you just can't deal with nerves by the usual means, then, as a last resort, try …"

-- would probably gain a more sympathetic audience. Still, here in the USA, beta-blockers require a physician's prescription. From the reading I've done, they can interfere with breathing -- an obvious danger for asthmatic patients. For brevity, I'll leave out the other adverse side effects -- there's plenty of documented, peer-reviewed research.

V.com member Gerald Klickstein has posted some excellent blogs on dealing with stage fright. At my first recital as a kid, although the nerves didn't derail me, I did make a few on-the-spot bowing adjustments to compensate for the nerves. But when I was done, I looked forward to going back and performing again. Little swashbuckler that I was, I made up my mind to out-bully the nerves -- and I did out-bully them. I'm not saying everyone, at this point, can get past the nerves so fast, the way I did. But there are a lot of us here who could -- and did -- some sooner, some later, without chemical assistance.

September 23, 2013 at 09:14 AM · There are doubtless some side effects to beta-blockers, but if they were really dangerous, I think Elise would have piped up by now - If anyone on this site knows anything about them, I should think she does.

September 23, 2013 at 10:19 AM · As said, I'm a chronic performance anxiety sufferer. However, as a neuroscientist who has worked in medical neuroscience I would never take any drug unless it was really necessary (note I am not against drugs per se). I prefer to work through my limits myself - indeed IMO struggling with our personal limits is the one thing that makes us grow. In this case once you use them it is not unlikely that you will become a slave to them too - the (additional) anxiety that 'I can't perform without my beta-blocker'.

From all accounts Beta blockers are a pretty safe drug - but they are evaluated relative to the disorder they are treating - which in this case is heart disease. Thus, since the alternative is death, any side effects have to be pretty extreme before they would be regarded as 'important'.

There is a good discussion of their benefits and side effects here:

beta blockers pros and cons

"Every drug comes with its side effects. When taking a beta blocker, syncope, often referred to as dizziness or lightheadedness, is a side effect that may be strongest when you change position, such as from laying to sitting or standing. Fatigue, headaches, and insomnia can also accompany this class of drugs. Weight gain is more common as your doctor increases the dose of the medication you receive. Dyspnea, bradycardia, and arrhythmias have also been reported with patients using beta blockers. Another side effect that only affects men is impotence. A study in the October 20, 2008 issue of Health Day News showed that the death rate for people given beta blockers before a non-cardiac surgery was ten times higher and the rate of post-operative acute myocardial infarctions was four times higher in the thirty days following an operation than those not getting the drugs. Beta blockers may also cause hyperglycemia; therefore, diabetic patients prescribed beta blockers must be closely monitored. If you are not a diabetic, beta-blockers may also increase your chances of developing diabetes."

Of course these are for chronic use, not intermittent ones. But if you have to take a drug to perform perhaps its time to ask yourself if you maybe in the wrong occupation?

Oh, did you spot "Another side effect that only affects men is impotence." But at least you will be calm about it....

September 23, 2013 at 12:36 PM · On behalf of the above, Elise, thank you.

Just found out the Perlmans have five children. However, someone might consider it their business to contact Itzhak for an update on his potency ...

Laurie, YOU'RE a journalist!

September 23, 2013 at 01:44 PM · Herewith a couple of ancient anecdotes, the first of which I heard for myself and the second I was told about by a reliable source (my cello teacher):

Back in the 50s when, as a teenager, I would try to listen to anything and everything orchestral, I was listening on BBC Radio's Third Programme to a performance of a fairly impenetrable large orchestral work by one of the madder modern mid-European composers. After about ten minutes the music stopped - "the end of the first movement", I thought. But not so; I then heard the conductor's voice saying "We'll start this again", which they did, this time continuing on well past the ten minutes. Apart from the extra minutes I couldn't for the life of me tell the difference between the two playings. I can only guess that some person or persons in the orchestra (perhaps even the conductor?) had got hopelessly lost during the first play through.

A new composition for wind ensemble was being recorded on LP, the composer conducting. At the end of the day-long recording session the clarinetist was putting away his instrument when he realised to his horror that he had been playing his B-flat instead of the A. Nobody had noticed during the session, least of all the composer. The LP was duly issued and the clarinetist wisely decided to keep mum about his faux pas. Years later, when he had safely retired and the recording had been mercifully forgotten, he revealed the truth to a few friends.

September 23, 2013 at 02:38 PM · Some "modern" composers I might be surprised to hear this about (e.g., Shostakovich, Walton, Tippett, I hate to say it but even Britten, etc.). Others (e.g., Dallapiccola, Nono, and if Paul Beard's opinion is anything to go by, Fricker), perhaps not. Have you any idea who the composer was?

September 23, 2013 at 02:47 PM · I wonder if the composer felt he had never heard his piece better since that night Trevor!

Here is a neat article on stage fright I just came across:

MichaelColgrass -stage fright

By the way, I think any serious claims about an individual on a forum should be backed up by a reliable source (in this case preferably to Perlman himself with respect to his relationship to beta blockers). This is only fair to avoid spreading gossip or worse.

September 23, 2013 at 07:53 PM · John, after all that lapsed time I don't remember who the composer was, other than that it was a mid-European name (I've amended my previous post accordingly), and I'm pretty sure it wasn't anyone mentioned in your first sentence - they're all fairly accessible composers, unlike the one I heard.

I don't remember the name of the orchestra, but I have a strong feeling, based on the voice I heard, that the conductor may have been Sir Malcolm Sargent (I may be wrong, of course).

September 23, 2013 at 09:53 PM · Sorry Trevor, crossed line. I was referring to your SECOND story.

As for the first story, you're sure the conductor's voice was completely different from Sir Adrian's? He's the one particularly known for championing new music (not that he wasn't a master of older music - I thought his recording of Brahms 4 was better than any others available in the early 1960s; but this could be because he was virtually the only great conductor whom the record companies could trust to stick to previously agreed speeds so that the performance didn't overrun the recording capacity, when the whole thing would have to be re-recorded at massive cost. Other great conductors weren't allowed anywhere near the set: Their interpretation would be studied and reproduced by an understudy the record company could trust and the resultant recording would be marketed under the name of the great conductor thus abused).

September 26, 2013 at 07:49 AM · Having been on beta blockers for medical purposes (but never performed with them), I can tell you that it feels like they block the adrenaline response -- you still have a general sense of your anxiety, but none of the bodily response that goes with it. It feels a little bit like your emotions are being muted as a result, in addition to suppressing the usual physical signs of anxiety. As someone with significant performance anxiety and cold, shaking hands when I perform, I am certain that they'd be very useful. (I have a physician friend who does prescribe them to musicians for performance anxiety, but the dose is tiny compared to what you'd normally take them for medically.)

My two big disaster performances were both in relatively early childhood (I was eight or nine years old, I think). I dropped my bow once, playing solo in front of a huge audience at a charity concert. And I had a memory lapse that I was unable to recover from easily, in the midst of a recital. Both in the same year. I don't think I've ever really felt confident something wouldn't go drastically wrong, ever since.

Although I also did have one horrible incident playing concertmaster in a pit orchestra -- my bridge, which was warping slightly, simply flew off, in a gigantic SPANG. I was superbly lucky that the soundpost didn't fall and there was no other damage (and fortunately the bridge hadn't actually snapped); I was able to retrieve my bridge from across the pit, get it into place, and re-tune. But that was scary.

You can really hear the difference when I'm nervous. About a decade ago, for instance, I recorded myself playing a concerto with orchestra, two days in a row -- the dress rehearsal and the performance. The rehearsal run-through is staggeringly better than the performance. The performance has a bunch of stupid, how-the-hell-did-that-happen tiny mistakes -- and they're in the easy parts, not the hard parts.

September 29, 2013 at 06:10 PM · The culprit is the scholarly system where we practice like crazy for half a year and have one single performance to show off our hard work.

Couple that with our false sense of entitlement: I've practiced for half a year, so I am entitled to success.

Both can be combated by busking.

1. When you preform every evening in sub optimal environment (unfavorable weather, noise, policemen chasing you...), you have a pool of performances to "draw" your self esteem from. Trust me after a couple dozen, only the good ones stay memorable.

2. You learn to play over your mistakes and recover from them while on stage. Blankouts become less of a problem and you learn to fudge the hard bits in order to save the performance.

3. You realize deep inside, that music is a process rather than event. Only amateurs go to events. Professionals take entire series of performances as procedures. Singular bad ones do not count as much, but singular good ones do :)

4. (The best one) You get paid to practice. How cool is that.

Last week alone was extremely varied for me. My Monday performance was nothing short of a stinker. I simply couldn't get my act together in two hours on stage. It was one error after an other, plus the audience was dead as a door nail.

On the other hand I had two gigs on Saurday (2 x 6 hours) with 200km driving in between. Both audiences were awesome. People clapped and bobbed to my performances, I got standing ovations...

Point is. Preform more, stink less.

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