the anxious musician


The Seeds of Anxiety

The anxious musician is me. I think this has always been the case. I’ve never felt like I was good enough to be in whatever position I’ve found myself. It began in high school, when I was in youth orchestra, and hadn’t really blossomed as a musician. I saw the ‘cool kids’ that were doing well with the best teachers, and who got all the attention. I knew that I loved music as much as they did. But I was invisible, or nearly so. I didn’t know why, but [pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]my brain told me that it was because I wasn’t good enough. Not just as a player, but as a person.[/pullquote] It’s funny, how this early attitude maintains itself. I’ve always felt like some sort of imposter – fearing that someone would unmask me for the pathetic pretender that I felt I actually was.

Environment is Key

What has become clear to me is that it’s all about comfort and support. The best performances I’ve given in my professional career have been in places where I felt a true rapport and sense of camaraderie with my fellow musicians and the audience. [pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The worst have come where I’ve felt like I was being judged at every moment, that every phrase contained a crucial moment where I could ruin everything.[/pullquote]

In moments of clarity, I realize that I am qualified to be doing what I’m doing. I understand that mistakes happen, and they are in the past immediately, and what comes next is what matters. Those moments of clarity are fleeting, however. It doesn’t take much to throw an artistic personality off balance. We are trained from the inception of our studies to be critical of our performance. We are warned that if we don’t practice until it is perfect, someone else will. We are subject to intense peer stratification in music school that makes Predator look like Kindergarten Cop. If you are naturally endowed (or skillfully engendered) with a healthy sense of self, you can make it through these trials with most of your faculties intact. If you’re not (my hand raised over here), then it’s a recipe for, if not a steady downward spiral, then periodic downward spikes with some frantic attempts at self-arrest. In my quest for solutions, I’ve found a couple of helpful sources, which, if you’re like me, you might also find of interest.

Brené Brown

Brené Brown is a YouTube TED Talk phenomenon. She has spent much of her professional life researching the mechanics of shame.

Amy Cuddy & Miranda Wilson

More recently, thanks to a recent Facebook post by David Eby, I discovered this article by cellist Miranda Wilson which talks about physical ways of combatting performance anxiety inspired by Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy.

It is a hard battle, and when you find yourself in an uncertain and possibly hostile performance environment, these tools can make all the difference. I’ll let you know how it goes…

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