Pre-Concert Nerves

At a recent event I was asked some very interesting questions:

  • How do you prepare for a performance?
  • Do you hype yourself up, are you nervous, do you have ‘butterflies’?
  • How do you handle the anxiety, if you experience any?

Here are some more thoughtful, but concise, responses:

How do you prepare for a performance?

It takes MONTHS to get ready for a single performance.

Even before connecting with an instrument or ensemble, there is the programming, composition context, history surrounding the  theme, composer intentions, actual structure and flow of the event and each piece within, world history as relevant, and so on. For a 30-minute orchestral score that preparation can take three months or more.

Then there is the score study itself – learning the structure of the piece, identifying themes and quotes, understanding its harmonic progression, colors of instrumental combinations, recognizing passages that may be difficult for individual performers or the group as a whole, etc. For a 30-minute orchestral score that preparation can take two to six months or more.

Then there are the rehearsals, and all the logistics that go with that. Listening and adjusting/ reactig to what is going on while simultaneously thinking about what is coming up next.

Finally, performance day: I don’t like to eat too much, I rarely sleep well the night before, I like to stay busy all day but sit still for 10mins when I’m dressed. And then I like to go from my dressing room and walk straight on stage without stopping along the way. Sometimes that’s not possible and I have to wait in the wings for a few minutes, but that’s not ideal for me. Let’s get on with it!

Do you hype yourself up, are you nervous, do you have ‘butterflies’?

No. Yes. Yes.

I do like to get in the mood, but it is not an energetic, bouncy, jump-up-and-down-like-Tony-Robbins kind of thing. It’s more intellectual and getting my mindset in the right place for the music. My intention is to give the audience an experience they will feel and remember for a while – I’ve got to be in the right state of mind for that to happen, so 10 minutes or so of quiet time is all I need.

If I’m not nervous or have butterflies, then something is wrong! It’s always nerve-wrecking when you make yourself vulnerable – and as the language of emotions that is exactly what music does to us all. It’s actually easier in a large hall with a big crowd, and the more I think about what could go right, would might go wrong, and the fact that these people’s lives are about to change forever can get overwhelming if I’m not careful. So I tell myself “it’s just part of the job – you’re as prepared as you could be under the circumstances (whatever that means – we could always be more prepared when you think about it!), so go give ’em a walloping good time!”

How do you handle the anxiety?

I need my 10 minutes of quiet time before a concert. Just to calm my head more than anything. Sometimes I’ll take myself through a concentration meditation – a blue ball of light pulsing through my veins, or floating on wispy clouds.

My hands usually get very sweaty, too, so I’m constantly wiping them on towels.

It takes quite an effort to avoid eating too much, especially chocolate, but I make the effort and resist.

What usually works best for me is when I think of the little kid in the audience (whether or not there is actually one there!) who has never attended an event like this before. That was me when I was little. It’s what got me into music. So I think of that child and all the possibilities that are about to be opened up in their world. Focusing on that audience member helps calm me down. No matter what I do, what is “good” and what doesn’t go so well really doesn’t matter anymore – every single movement, every moment, will have an impact on that child. The wonder alone is enough to make me smile and feel grateful for the opportunity.

And it’s not until I have to meet the decision-makers, funders and industry experts after the concert that I remember to be anxious again!

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