The performance anxiety paradox

April 23, 2012 at 05:42 PM · I just posted a vid link of me playing at a wedding - and this thought came up: perfomance anxiety is basically terror of exposing yourself. Then why do people who suffer from it (myself included of course) have such a strong urge to perform?

Replies (56)

April 23, 2012 at 09:26 PM · I just figure all the shaking I do compensates for my poor practiced no one really notices how badly I'm lacking...;)

I think it just comes with have get out there often enough that your nerves don't hold you back.

Try busking...where you're playing solo in public, but no one is actually coming to hear you play...they're just all passing by...

April 23, 2012 at 09:45 PM · I think because we tend to judge ourself as a human being when performing we are so nervous. We want to be perfect somehow but we cant. If you concentrate on what you want to say rather than on technic, faults will become little obstacles in the way of communicating, but will not disturb the message to good listeners. Art is communication and Most compositions are like storys or poetry. They do have a certain contend and form. if you got this form everything else will be polishing.

In fact many of us not full time soloists try to play too difficult pieces on the podium instead of pieces in the comfort zone we play what we are right now working on, that keeps us fresh and on the edge, but I have the experience, that you are way less nervous with pieces you played earlier before. Thats why starting early and getting through some repertoire early is such an huge benefit. You will have many pieces "in the blood" so to say, not just musically but also technically. I like to perform on the edge to, because I try to push myself out of the lazyness sometimes, but the really good performances appear with the more settled repertoire, where you are free to interprete and think about the form and core more than about what comes next.

p.s.: I personally want to play because I have something to say.. sometimes... Everybody has something to say, and in music and art you can express whatever you like without being too specific and on the other hand being very specific with emotions. The public understands quite well if you have something to say or not. Sometimes they even get what you are telling them, thats for me a succesful performance.

April 24, 2012 at 02:05 AM · Basically I think you're facing down your fears. It's normal and natural to want to overcome this. I get real nervous, but I also know the only way to deal with it is to try.

April 24, 2012 at 02:08 AM · The piece I posted was the more successful one of course - the other was barely OK. And the reason is just what you wrote Simon - I played a piece (Offenbach Baracolle) that was, I suppose, at a good enough level to do in the practise studio but with the slightest nervousness kinda fell apart on the podium.

The vid one - the original (and much easier than the better known Heiftz version) Estrellita - was considerably easier in technique but had more opportunities in expression but I had memorized it. I think that is going to be my rule of thumb from now on - tough as it is, if its not in memory, its not ready to play. At least until I'm comfortable out there.

I'm going to perservere with the Offenbach - I have it memorized now so it will be an interesting experiment to see how well it now works on the podium.

Still can't understand why I am driven to perform when performance seems to cause me to fall apart! What weirdness goes on in our heads..

April 24, 2012 at 05:31 AM · Greetings,

I think that is an excellent approach. A few years back I was talking to a wonderful violinist called deAngeli who became the leader of the Milan Opera Orchestra at 18. He sai that if you can't play a piece from memory then it isn't in your heart and you should not perform it's.



April 24, 2012 at 07:35 AM · Thanks Buri. I obviously have a lot to learn about performance itself. Its the litumus test - and really the only test that matters - of whether you know what you are playing. Since one can surely only get a limited number of pieces to the level where they are 'second nature' its obviously very important to be selective as to which ones to add to your personal repertoire. You had better love it when you start else you are going to hate it when its ready - and whats the point of playing something you detest?

April 24, 2012 at 08:43 AM · There are several problems we face when having to perform. (1) We have to like performing (Sylvia Rosenberg said to an Academy student recently in a masterclass "you love performing, don't you" and the young lady - who was very good - admitted that she did. No sin in that!)

(2) Nerves are normal but when they show in our playing it is often (a) because we are not well enough prepared so we lose confidence (b) we are tense so we play carefully and this leads to the bow shakes known here in the UK as the "pearlies." There is a need to take the bull by the horns and have courage and use lots of bow and get a bit more aggressive and take risks. Lose being careful. This is also an ideal opportunity to try out different techniques - like moving a bit more at the hip - using more bow - playing nearer the bridge - and taking those risks we are normally terrified to take. Don't worry about making a "nice" sound. We learn more from one performance than we do from a year of home practise and lessons.

(3) Make yourself do more playing to an audience even if it's the cat, or the dog! Recording your practise session can make you nervy so do it often.

(4) Play to the back row in the audience and don't worry if the people in the front get a bit of shrapnel off your fiddle. (Sometimes I ask my wife if I'm making an excruciatingly bad sound when she comes into the room because I'm attempting to break a string, but she says no, it sounds good! She is a very fine musician so I trust her judgement, and she can be extremely critical if I'm producing cr*p as I often do!)

I will just make a comment about your playing which is going to be critical and very rude and depressing, but necessary. You need to work on your intonation and also smoothness and even-ness of bow throughout the bow stroke. Everything else was a plus. I have the same problems so I think I can say that, and I know you are "man" enough to take it on board. (Don't shoot me for a slightly sexist remark - maybe I should have said "woman.")

You certainly have courage and determination and this will get you a long way, so don't let any of this depress you. Playing the fiddle is an extremely long and steep learning curve and even the greats have their own problems too. I'm still at the bottom of that curve and time is running out ...

April 24, 2012 at 10:07 AM · Good post Peter......!!

April 24, 2012 at 10:49 AM · I'm glad to be agreeing with Buri, in that I think the idea of playing it from memory is very good. That helped me learn to give scientific talks. In graduate school, I hated it. The first talk I gave at the Society for Neuroscience meeting, I was terrified. It almost made me sick. I wasn't really doing it because I enjoyed public speaking, I was doing it because that's "what you did" as a PhD student.

But by my thesis defense several years later, I had found that the main reason I got so much performance anxiety was that I wasn't well enough prepared when I gave talks. It didn't really have anything to do with the other stuff people were always talking about--especially "tension" or "inability to relax" or the other pseudo-Buddhist mind games that other people were always encouraging me to play with myself. Some of the absolute worst advice I ever got was "put the notes away and just speak naturally." The advice giver was well-intentioned, and it might have even worked for him, but it just made me an anxious babbling mess.

The only thing that helped with the anxiety was to make sure I knew my talk forwards and backwards. I started memorizing my slides. It became a sort of comforting routine that I would go through before a talk, to just go through my slides one by one, and their transitions, in my head. Then if I started to panic on the podium, I would just go back to that mental list of slides and I could get back on track.

That definitely carried over for me into music. I don't think it's a coincidence that I started playing violin again and stopped fleeing from performing on the violin once I had had this insight in public speaking. If I have a piece memorized, if my brain panics or freezes, my fingers still know where to go and what to do, and the audience may not even notice.

I was really surprised all over again by how much advice about public speaking and performing just assumed that you were well enough prepared, and that you knew your stuff, and that the main problem most people had with with public speaking was "tension" and "getting your butterflies to fly in formation." In most cases, unless you're explicitly supposed to be improvising, no one would say to a violinist who was struggling with nerves, oh, just put away the music and play naturally whatever comes off the top of your head.

April 24, 2012 at 11:50 AM · Thanks Henry! I know what it is like to take the terrifying step of playing public, and I do it now quite often, but I'm pretty thick skinned these days so I don't get too uptight. But some good advice from a young violinist after I played in a piano trio and I moaned about playing like a drain was "don't beat yourself up over it." And my wife pointed out that even if the performance generally was felt by me to be not very good, if the audience enjoyed it then don't dissilusion them, because it was probably better than I thought it was.

I heard a wonderful live broadcast performance of the three last great piano sonatas of Schubert played by Mitzico Ushida last night at our Royal Festival Hall with an audience of over three and a half thousand people in the hall. It certainly was not perfect but the tiniest blemishes were of no significance against the overwhelmingly great interpretation of particularly the last two sonatas. She managed to illuminate corners of this work that have possibly never seen the light before, and it was monumental. I've never been a great fan of hers in the past, but this was something quite extraordinary and placed great musicianship on an even higher plane than her superb pianism. Some of the greatest Schubert playing I've ever witnessed.

April 24, 2012 at 05:55 PM · Performing is terrifying, but it's also so exhilarating that it's worth the anxiety. Listen to The Band's song Stage Fright - it describes the situation perfectly.

April 25, 2012 at 02:10 PM · What I usually say is that you have to be willing to make a fool of yourself in public. Perfection is nice, but it doesn't happen; something will go wrong, and you have to expect it and be willing to accomodate it. Then you can start to relax.

Consider clowns, which is where I got this theory. Clowning is all about failure - it's funny because things don't work. And we love the clown because he remains full of confidence, an optimist in spite of everything, always ready to try something new and improbable.

Consider that as with the clown, your audience is basically sympathetic. They didn't come to the show to see you agonize over errors, they came to hear you play, and they want you to be successful. They respond to you - if you enjoy what you're doing, then they will; if you relax, so will they. Remember, if you're playing solo their attention is focused on you, and you can take advantage of that empathy. They're there to enjoy themselves; help them.

April 25, 2012 at 04:18 PM · David - I think you're onto something. Perhaps if I wore a big red nose next time :D Actually, I'm half serious(only half as .... ), if I could somehow make it a fun rather than serious event I might overcome PA as the expectations would be much less....

Make note to remember for my first performance at Carnegie hall...

April 25, 2012 at 04:27 PM · Karen - I went through the same evolution in talking. My first talks were written out, word for word. [I got into trouble with the (British) Physiological Society for that, against the rules, don't cha'know.] Now I can (and have) talk to a thousand listeners and you are right its simply because I am confident in my work - not because I know it all, far from it, but because I know I can handle just about any question that comes up.

Whats weird is that each time I try something new I seem to run the same gauntlet line before I become confident - did it dancing and now I'm going through the process again.

I think the point about being totally in command of hte piece is key - not necessarily for seasoned performers, but certainly for ones that are starting out. Thus, from now on I'm only performing the ones that I do not really have to work much on any more - which means, I have a real repertoire of about 6 pieces, make that 5 since Twinkle is probably not a good idea.

But its also going to change how I work. Right now I have a bed full (my spare room is my studio ;) ) of pieces that I love to pick up and work on. New strategy will be to stratify - pieces destined for performance which will be memorized, pieces for experience, which will be worked on and pieces for fun and also sight reading which will be played when I just HAVE to have a change!

The top piece right now is Simon Fischer's Scale book :D

April 25, 2012 at 05:05 PM · Peter wrote: "I will just make a comment about your playing which is going to be critical and very rude and depressing, but necessary. You need to work on your intonation and also smoothness and even-ness of bow throughout the bow stroke. Everything else was a plus. I have the same problems so I think I can say that, and I know you are "man" enough to take it on board. (Don't shoot me for a slightly sexist remark - maybe I should have said "woman.")"

Thank you for the critique - I invited it and appreciate it. Intonation was one of the hardest things to recover when I returned to playing - and it seems to be the one most vulnerable to stress. I suppose that means its far from second nature yet. The version I play (which I fingered myself) is the vocal one as written by Ponce (the guy is lucky he wasn't born in England I guess) but to get the best sound it has a lot of shifting ranging from 1st to 6th. I think I mostly have to be more relaxed in the shifts.

I was quite pleased with sound - but that church is just about perfect - good accoustics without any real echo. Could be a recording studio! Indeed, right arm seemed more relaxed than my left, even if there was some uneveness (but no pearlies though?).

I'm going to keep working on this - maybe even have a go at the Heifetz version (I have his book somewhere) as a challenge...

[I actually don't like the 'man enough' phrase used for women because then there is then an implication that women are weak and should be graded on a superior, male scale. As a married man you have probably found out that is not the case; women are just as strong, just in a different way. If the phrase is used just between men its not an issue because it then means 'masculine enough' and thats a particular type of strength. Think about it: how would you react if I asked you if you were woman enough to take care of a child?]

April 25, 2012 at 09:38 PM · I really like the clown analogy....thanks David.

April 26, 2012 at 11:20 AM · It wouldn't worry me Elise, although it might raise a smile.Call me what you like - I'm pretty thick skinned. But you girls are much more sensitive - I know.

By the way - the intonation thing - if you were as depressed as I am about that subject then you would be in as bad a way as me.

It's not totally under my control - the quartet are playing with poor intonation, and not noticing it. And we have a masterclass in three days. I have to record myself to check I'm not totally insane, and practise scales two hours a day ... (If only I did ...)

April 26, 2012 at 12:07 PM · I'm not depressed about it yet - I'm still in the glorious state of blissfully unaware :D But gradually my ear is improving - I really feel as you can't play in tune until you have learned each note on the violin individually - its not enough to be able to hear intonation you have to 'project' it. Kinda links to the other topic of anticipating the note.

In a few months or maybe a year I will probably delete the Estrallita recording out of disgust for the player's poor ear (which is no doubt where you are already) :-\

April 26, 2012 at 01:53 PM · Something I don't really understand. When I was in my first two or so years of playing I could always spot dodgy intonation in other people, even famous soloists. It's harder with ones own intonation - but even then on a recording I would hear when I was out. It then gets to the point that one hears it when playing live in real time.

What I don't get is that quartet players hearing a recording we had just made did not have a big shock when hearing the playback. It was only me that felt the pain.

So, do you hear your intonation when you listen to your youtube clip?

April 26, 2012 at 02:16 PM · I think it's better to develop a more neutral awareness of intonation and leave the value judgments--especially shock and disgust--out of it.

It's kind of like learning to meditate: the first thing you do is be aware of your thoughts. You just observe them neutrally, and when your mind wanders you don't get bent out of shape about how or where your mind is wandering to, you just gently nudge it back to your breathing, or your mantra, or wherever it is that you want it. Gradually over time, as you repeat this process, you get better at being mindful of and in control of your own thoughts. But being shocked or disgusted about them when they don't go where you want just gets in the way and is actually harmful to the process.

April 26, 2012 at 02:23 PM · In fact we should never get shocked, disgusted or depressed but just view it as a wonderful chance to develop and be pleased that we are maybe becoming more aware.

EDIT: (I have to admit that I don't live up to what I have just written as I do get shocked, disgusted and depressed about playing ... but maybe I'm learning to deal with it.)

But on a more practical note I would encourage you to play scales slowly and making sure that you sustain each note at the same volume right to the end of the bow and at the heel when you change to a down bow. As old Yehudi used to say, notes should not be pear shaped - unless for a musical reason. And definitely not like the HIPP lot!! (I must give myself 100 lines "do not take the **** out of the HIPP lot ...")

April 26, 2012 at 02:44 PM · Peter - I hear some but now I fear I may not hear it as much as you. Its not all out of tune is it??? In which case into the trash bin it goes..

April 26, 2012 at 03:39 PM · One thing that Drew Lecher said to me once that has really rung true is whenever one plays, try to keep your mind as active and agile as possible and focused on the music. What you don't want to do is zone out when you're playing. It's not really going to help you play most efficiently. If the meditative state comes out of having an active mind while you're playing, OK, but don't try to do it the other way around.

April 26, 2012 at 03:58 PM · Elise - no, its not all out of tune - but some notes are, and often after a shift. Don't get too hung up on this, it will get better with time and awareness.

April 26, 2012 at 08:02 PM · Terry, just to be clear, I wasn't talking about "zoning out" or not caring. I was talking about being neutral in your thinking about intonation. That can be an aid in learning to focus. Rather than beating yourself up about it, or getting upset/disgusted/shocked about it, just notice it and take steps to correct it.

April 27, 2012 at 01:46 AM · That seems reasonable Karen. I guess I'm more speaking about my own reaction to nerves. I've had times where I was performing where I was really nervous getting up to perform and was focusing on how to get more relaxed. It seems that's the wrong focus. One should instead focus on how to play the piece that one is playing and how to do as much as possible to make the piece the best. It's subtle, but I've had better success trying to focus my mind on what needs to be done, than on what does not need to be done. It was not really in reaction to what you wrote, but it's a trap that I've fallen into before.

April 27, 2012 at 03:35 AM · Many experienced professionals get butterflies before a performance. It has to do with wanting to give a good performance and not failing miserably or even messing-up a little. The not failing part is easy. Know the piece so well that you can perform it with feeling under any condition; even if you don’t want to perform it at all. The confidence of knowing that you will not fail to hit every note, because you put in the practice time, is the door open to knowing you will give a good performance. Some good performances will be better than others. It depends on if you have the heart and desire to bring your A game to the podium that particular performance. It’s just an observation but it seems like the inner game (not the muscles or nerves or fingers) is where the “no flaws, no mistakes” performance is controlled, and the heart and soul is where the magic comes from. No worries; it’s for fun right? You persevere because you love making the music. Is there any other reason?

April 27, 2012 at 03:47 AM · Sorry Terry, yes, I actually agree with you completely about focusing on the music and what needs to be done. I think what I mean is something a bit separate, and of course I'm also talking about issues that I personally struggle with.

I tend to get distracted by thoughts that bring up negative emotions. An example would be, I'd hear myself, it would be slightly out of tune, and I'd cringe, and then I'd get more nervous and play more out of tune and there'd be this downward spiral. Some people might call this "beating yourself up."

Rather than cringing and attaching a good/bad value judgement to what I hear, it's much better if I can just say to myself, "oh, that is a bit too sharp compared to what is written in the music, I should play it flatter" and adjust, both in the moment and later on. If something is consistently sharp, the cause is often how I put my fingers down a few notes before the offending note. I have to adjust, slightly, how I'm holding my hand. Emotions like disgust and shock don't help me with any of this. They make it worse, and make me not want to practice at all.

April 27, 2012 at 04:06 AM · Elise,

I know the feeling! The intonation issues during a performance can be partially attributed to tension/stress. You get nervous, the arm tenses up, and the notes fall just a tad bit flat (esp. on shifts).

Perception is an interesting thing. Like the performance I did at Interlochen. Listening back on it I thought it was horrible, but the hoots and hollars from the audience said otherwise.

Go figure.

April 27, 2012 at 01:22 PM · Karen,

I understand those types of feelings about one's own playing and know it very well. I quit playing for five years at one point because of them.

I've since come around to listening to any performance (mine included!) and trying not to feel shock or disgust at any of them. I listen to any performance and assess the level of the player. We all start somewhere and our levels are not all Heifetz or Hilary Hahn.

I try to listen to a performance and think about what things they're doing right, and in which ways they could be improving. And is there something that they're doing right that I could be doing.

If they're doing so many things right that I forget that they're playing a violin and I can just listen to the sounds that they are creating - that's when I know that I'm in heaven.

And if you know the person, then you also have something positive, genuine, and meaningful to say to them afterwards.

I then try to judge my own playing by the same standard. How many right things can I do in my own performance!?

It might be a bit "pie in the sky idealistic" but so far it seems to be working for me. Perhaps it helps that I'm not a professional musician.


April 27, 2012 at 03:59 PM · Terry--yes! I think we're very much on the same page. This site is generally very helpful and supportive, but occasionally it does veer off into people saying things that sound pretty judgmental, especially about intonation.

And I think quitting for a few (or more than a few) years is actually quite helpful in getting out of that judgmental mindset!

April 27, 2012 at 04:49 PM · Elise and Karen (others, too, I'm sure) have an added wrinkle here. Both have gotten comfortable with public speaking, in large part because they really, truly, know what they are talking about and are usually trying to present a talk to people who know less than they do. When this same level of attainment is not the same- to use an example, how about an amateur violinist?- the nerves are back. Part of the reason we amateurs keep at it is to knock ourselves out of our comfort zones. Then it comes time to perform and we find ourselves . . . uncomfortable.

Several people have talked about recordings, Mendy recently. I've had the experience of attending a concert and later hearing a recording of it. Little glitches that pass live are more obvious on a recording, I think because we are so used to post-production sanitizing.

April 27, 2012 at 05:22 PM · Lisa, I agree only up to a point. What made me more comfortable with public speaking wasn't primarily the increased general knowledge of the field that I gained over time, although that did enable me to be more comfortable with Q&A sessions.

But I was always pretty comfortable with Q&A sessions, even early on. I took a public speaking class at one point during grad school, and the instructor told me that answering questions from the audience was the part where I really did well. He said I was funny and natural and connected well with the audience--during that part. I still think that, at scientific meetings, poster sessions are really the way to go rather than having to sit in the dark through endless boring slide shows.

Where I had the most problems was with the formal presentation part, during which I had to provide the structure and organization and content of the talk from out of my own head, and had to remember what came next when mostly what was going through my mind was how terrified I was and how I didn't want to be there at all, and wanted to sit down (that's how I felt while performing solo on the violin, too--that I just didn't want to be there.)

So when I say, "I had to know my talk forwards and backwards," I mean that specifically and literally. I had to know what slide came after what slide and what transition I was going to use to get from one to the next. I had to know what content was on each slide. I would just keep going through my slides in my head and focus on that process of how I would get from one slide to the next and what I would do once I got there. I started out using that process as a kind of life raft to cling to amidst the ocean of fear and desire to be somewhere else that I was generally floating in.

Later I found that idea could apply to music. Even though there aren't power point slides for me to go over in music, I do go over how I'm going to get from one musical idea or section to another, and what I'm going to do when I get there. Sometimes I visualize what the music looks like on the page for different sections of a piece. I find it very helpful to practice transitions. I'd much rather do that to warm up before a concert that practice scales or something more general like that.

I don't (usually) feel lost in an ocean of fear any more. A better metaphor now might be the "bamboo stick for the mind." It's what a mahout gives an elephant to hold in its trunk to keep the elephant from knocking things around and eating mangos as it walks by people's houses and shops and stalls in a village. I read about that in a book on meditation by Eknath Easwaran:

"The human mind is rather like the trunk of an elephant. It never rests . . . it goes here, there, ceaselessly moving through sensations, images, thoughts, hopes, regrets, impulses. Occasionally it does solve a problem or make necessary plans, but most of the time it wanders at large, simply because we do not know how to keep it quiet or profitably engaged."

April 27, 2012 at 05:33 PM · Karen wrote: "Later I found that idea could apply to music....I do go over how I'm going to get from one musical idea or section to another, and what I'm going to do when I get there. Sometimes I visualize what the music looks like on the page for different sections of a piece. I find it very helpful to practice transitions. I'd much rather do that to warm up before a concert that practice scales or something more general like that."

I think that is very interesting and useful. I tend to focus too much on details, maybe if I got into the overview and the transisions I would feel more in charge.

And BTW I think I am now a master at powerpoint - one idea per slide and each slide leads directly into the next one. That way there is no way to get lost and, more important, no reason to be anxious because all you do is click 'next'. :)

April 27, 2012 at 06:03 PM · Perhaps all of this relates to the the huge divide between professional and amateur standards.

April 27, 2012 at 09:51 PM · I don't think so Peter. As I read it, there are two main differences when comparing pros to amateurs: they gradually become more technically able from all that study and then work. And, at the same time they gradually have their thusiasm beaten/worn out of them.

We need pros to make the highest level of music. But amateurs are also necessary to keep the spirit going.... else, who really is going to appreciate the pros?

April 28, 2012 at 07:05 AM · I'm afraid I have to laugh at that generalisation Elise! And coming from someone with a scientific background!

There may be some pros who have lost their enthusiasm and plenty of amateurs too. But there are many pros who are just as passionate about playing music as they were in earlier days.

I know amateurs don't practise much and don't like it much when they do. They express surprise if I mention I spent an hour or more on scales and then maybe three hours on a quartet part.

But I suppose you are just repeating the many myths that surround the musical world and that do not bear any resemblance to reality.

Consider yourself justly reprimanded.

April 28, 2012 at 07:36 AM · I deserve that. I wasn't very pleased with how that post came out - it went through several evolutions - but I fear to a dodo end.

Yet there is still a glimmer of truth in it because an amateur that looses enthusiasm frequently quits whereas a pro often has to carry on.

April 28, 2012 at 07:48 AM · Hey,

I was in the same boat until a few days ago. There's always something I hate about my performance. I missed that A, I couldn't bring up the forte loud enough. And I got stage fright so badly my knees and my hands shook (not a good sign when you're about to embark on a presto vivace repertoire!).

The reason I perform isn't a desire, to be honest. It's an urge, a need, to release all the pent-up emotions that I keep in my head. I need an outlet. And if I could become a good vocalist for a rock band, maybe that would be better. But I can't sing :P

So here's my suggestion, which works for me. Don't try to nail every note. You aren't doing a masterclass and this isn't a competition. You aren't getting graded. What you are expected to do is to leave something behind in the audience, an emotional impression. And if that's done, who cares if you missed a beat? (Have you ever listened to live performances of rock bands? They generally miss a lot of notes. But people still go crazy!)

This is music. It's not an acrobat. It's supposed to move people, make them laugh, cry, feel anger, feel the gentle spring breeze. So enjoy yourself... drown yourself in music, that powerful emotion that gripped you. Technique is just a tool to let the emotion flow.

I think this is why Oistrakh, despite his quite frequent booboos in his performances, is still one of the greatest violinists in history. I'm certain a score of non-professionals can play Tchaikovsky far more accurately than Oistrakh, but with his performances you see the opulent Romanov era, feel the Russian air. He enjoyed playing, and he enjoyed sharing the emotions and experiences with others through music.

Enjoy playing first. Technique is dreadfully important, but it shouldn't be the goal. And when you reach the point where you've given out so much that you feel empty and dazed, you probably won't care that you missed the ricochet in the 3rd movement; you'll be so drained that you can hardly remember where you are. But those are the performances when the audience goes crazy and gives you standing ovations.

April 28, 2012 at 09:00 AM · Great attitude Momoko - wish I could hear you play.

Interesting how you phrase the reason you perform - as a release. Why I'm intrigued is because obviously playing your heart out in a studio does not cut it - in which case your violin and playing is a means to a message and not an end in itself.

I suppose thats what defines a soloist from another musician - a message in your spirit that you have to communicate. Although I am nowhere near your technical accomplishment I can REALLY relate to that. That is exactly the answer to my question above - why perform if performance is a terror. And the answer is that its the only way to get the demon OUT.

Holy cow.

April 28, 2012 at 03:57 PM · Music as exorcist, hmmm?

April 28, 2012 at 05:49 PM · LOL.

Well, turns out its a nice demon, as demons go. Think of it more as a catharsis and mental cleansing than an exorcism :)

April 29, 2012 at 12:46 PM · I have a concert later today, and so was thinking about this thread.

It's an orchestra concert, and while I often think of myself as not enjoying performing, I do enjoy orchestra performances and don't get that much anxiety beforehand. Or rather, I get a little bit, but just enough to have an edge and be motivated but not enough for it to be debilitating.

I realized I hadn't read or thought about your original question in a while. And when I did, it occurred to me again that it assumes a certain paradox that is not particularly alive in my musical life at all: the real desire to perform coupled with terror. My terror (which has been very real over the years) is in almost direct proportion to my lack of desire to perform. I get the worst anxiety when I don't want to be there, when I'm doing it because someone else thinks I should, when I'm being evaluated. (As an adult, I've been able to minimize such situations, but as a child/teen, they were a matter of course.)

Whereas if I'm doing a performance I want to do, then the anxiety is a lot more manageable. I guess I'm just surprised that this phenomenon of really *wanting* to perform but still being hugely anxious about it is so common. If you're that anxious, how are you so sure you really want to?

April 29, 2012 at 01:33 PM · I think you hit the paradox on its proverbial head! Sitting here now I am devilishly planning to go to an open mike at a local bar and play them some classical music. The performer equivalent of the shock-jock :) The thought of doing it is exciting and enticing and I really do want to present my interpretations.

So thats one end. However, come-the-moment I know that PA will kick in - the fear of failure I guess - its purely about the actual standing up and playing. Thats the terrors and when I question why the heck I am doing this. During the performance I start with PA (and stiff playing) but then gradually relax until I am truly enjoying it. And after, as long as I didn't screw up totally, I usually get a real high (same pattern in dancing).

I also know (from past experience) that these PA bounts are something I just have to deal with. It will take a long time before they go away completely but gradually they should get shorter until (again using dance as my example) they actually stop before I play. I've just reached that point with my teacher (yes same process - but now after about 6 months of working with her I am finally no longer nervous).

So there's the long answer. I just wish I didn't have to go through this at all...

April 29, 2012 at 01:36 PM · I should add that what I truly love most is solo - the less instruments with me the better, well two is good (love sonatas) ;) I've started working on the Bach S&Ps so there should be my perfect outlet....

May 1, 2012 at 12:43 PM · Elise,

Psychologists (where are they when you need them?) call this an approach-avoidance conflict, so probably many people have it.

Playing for other people is a joy, but it's scary, too: everybody's attention is fixed on you, and it's now or never. And of course, if you are like me, the litany never stops: "If only I'd practiced more, I would have no technical difficulties". Not true, I'd guess.

By the way, you can find Momoko's playing on the Internet, just by searching for her name. Enjoy.


May 1, 2012 at 01:51 PM · Bart - thats exactly it. But do you mean to say it never goes away?

I think I should try playing a REALLY simple piece and see if thats true. I think I would get lost in the music and forget the audience. Thats the real reason I persevere - I do think that under it all I am a natural performer. Or at least, I have a need to do this....

May 1, 2012 at 01:55 PM · Dealing with performance anxiety is such a personal issue. My experience (I'm 78) may amuse you: As a kid, I was of course fearless (age 17 I gave a full memorized concert (Mozart Concerto Nr 5 in A; 1st Mvmt Bach unacompanied sonata, etc.) without a shaking knee or missed note. But after not playing for years, I so choked in church playing the simplest tune--with a small group!--I had to lower my shaking bow to the string with my left hand! Much too self-concious; hubris (wanting to show what I could do at home). Continuing to play with local college groups, I dared not touch the string for that first breathless note (after once sending a terrible screech throughout the hall!). Fear that my bow would shake caused it to shake! Same causes. Frequent performances gradually restored my confidence, along with unceasing practice. Now, performing only a few times a year, I consciously will my bow arm to relax (but still don't quite touch the string!) And after an orchestra performance and a brief solo passage Sunday,I am still berating myself for being too self conscious and not concentrating purely on the music as though in rehearsal. Violinists and hubris--inseparable?

May 1, 2012 at 03:13 PM · OK, so you need a psychologist? Here I are.

Actually, I had terrible stage fright when I was young. While I'm still an amateur, I've certainly played in enough concerts (and a couple of recitals) to sympathize with everyone in this discussion.

Eventually, I outgrew the stage fright, but it was gradual, and I'm not sure to this day how I did it. I do think I have a different attitude than I used to have, when I was worried about making mistakes and being perfect.

It seems to me that what is helpful here is a little bit of common sense self-talk. What I still say to myself is something like this:

"Heifetz and Oistrakh and Milstein and Stern are gone. Perlman and Mutter and all the rest are playing somewhere else. Right now, at this moment, here in this place, I'm it!! I'm all that stands between this great music and an audience waiting to experience it. It's about the music; not about me. The mistakes don't matter; what matters is the music."

And, if it's any consolation, I found a wonderful quote by Heifetz, who once said, "You think you've got problems? I've got to be Heifetz every day."



May 2, 2012 at 01:10 PM · Right on, Sandy. I love your Heiftz quote! And that's exactly it! On an infinitely lower scale: while performing I must be ME! I want to play like I know I CAN! Don't we all? We ALL suffer from the Heiftz syndrome! Hey--what an honor.

May 2, 2012 at 01:23 PM · Sander - you have the right attitude! I just hope I can attain that mind set.

And on Heifetz I'll paraphrase his quote:

"You think you've got problems? I've got to be Elise every day."

Hmmm. Somehow it comes out with exactly the opposite meaning :-\ I suppose that is the real enemy....

May 3, 2012 at 12:25 PM · Excuse me but where can I find the video links with Elise playing that she and others are discussing? I've always wanted to hear you play Elise, since I think I am more or less comparable to you (learned as a child, started fanatically again a few years ago).

May 3, 2012 at 01:07 PM · There is a separate topic on this that you must have missed; but here is a direct link:

May 3, 2012 at 01:34 PM · SAGE !!!

Sage is really good for relaxing you. I tried an experiment recently were I was having two leaves of sage every second day for a month. I purchased a sage tree so that I new the sage was fresh, fresh is best. I am not nervous playing the violin in public, but I am nervous singing in public. This weekend I went to an open mic night and I wasn't nervous at all before and during the show. I really didn't give it any thought and just went up and played. After it what done I thought to myself, "hey, I wasn't nervous". In my experience it really worked well, but you just can't take it before a show you need to put it into your regular diet.

May 3, 2012 at 01:55 PM · Got it Elise, indeed I had somehow missed that topic. Thanks for posting! You don't sound that nervous to me, perhaps your left hand more than your right hand, mostly in the vibrato which is not very relaxed, a problem I have myself tensing the vibrato when I perform something solo. But mostly this is a video of a musician wanting to perform a piece she loves, and I thank you very much for that.

May 3, 2012 at 08:03 PM · Thank you jean :) Interesting new concept that one hand can be more nervous than the other! :D Well, at least it isn't MY fault then...

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