Yesterday was the Flying Flutistas debut flute recital in Newton, MA. The recital was a blast! It’s been a long while since I last performed on a recital, as I’ve spent a good chunk of my time post grad school taking orchestral auditions; playing for people from behind a screen instead of to their faces. This recital was a great opportunity to reflect upon where I had started when I made my first trip to the rig with Vanessa. I was remembering how after my first couple of runs at the rig I was noticing how I was having a reaction much like I would in a musical performance. The nerves would build as I was waiting to perform, the most intense moment was just before I jumped to start the trick (like playing the very first note of a recital), I would be energized and focused during the ‘performance’, and after coming down from the net I would have a huge surge of adrenaline (much like my post recital receiving line). The more times I fly, the smaller the adrenaline surges become, I become appropriately focused, and time seems to slow down.
I am thrilled to report that much of this transferred directly to my musical performance. Yesterday I still had performance nerves, but they were controlled to a much greater degree than they had been in the past. It feels like having had an opportunity to be exposed to something over an over again, afforded me an opportunity to really assess what was happening (the process of my emotional reaction), try out different approaches in an effort to avoid or better control the emotional reaction, and then repeatedly practice those strategies to develop new neuro-pathways. Music performances happen relatively infrequently for many (unless you’re a very active gigging musician), so being able to go through the emotional cycle many times in one day was a tremendous tool.
So how do I deal with performance nerves? For me, it’s all about having a clear game plan for my brain. I am great at coming up with worst case scenarios and perseverating over them, so I need to have a clearly mapped out thought process. For me, this started even before my flute came out of the case the day of the performance.
- First, I gave myself time (before I warmed up my flute) to warm up my body. I’ve collected together over the years different movements and stretches from yoga, Gyrotonics, and other practices, to help me literally warm up my body and wake up those areas that might otherwise be difficult for me to connect to the whole of me. This process isn’t just a body activity, it’s a mind activity. All the while I am noticing how my body feels in that moment and taking note of all the the different connections I’m feeling.
- Next, I take a moment to connect with my surroundings. I notice the different sounds happening in my environment (birds chirping), I take note of the different colors and textures of my environment (the sun reflecting off the leaves of the bush outside), and the amount of space between my body and the objects I am surrounded by.
- Then, I finally begin to very slowly warm up my flute. I had a planned out warm up for that day: my regular flute warmup routine (tone, technique, articulation), and then a few select spots in my performance music that I wanted to review before the performance.
- When it’s time to get showered and get dressed, it’s important for me to stay present and not perseverate about all of the things that could go wrong in a few hours. I become actively involved in the creative process of doing my hair and make up, and putting on my clothes and accessories.
- Writing down everything you need to remember is an invaluable tool. Writing things down doesn’t just help keep you organized the day of the performance, it prevents the panic of wondering if you’ve forgotten something–again helping to keep my thoughts where I wanted them. I wrote down my schedule for the day, a packing list, and performance notes (more on this later).
The one thing I didn’t write down for the performance was talking points (or not very many of them anyway). This was an area where I began to feel scatter brained–I left it to chance and my nerves got the best of me! A valuable lesson for next time.
- We had a very specific set of things we needed to do for sound check that day, once again keeping my thoughts on a very specific track. Then it was time for the actual performance to begin.
- To keep my mind on a very deliberate path throughout the performance, instead of leaving it to chance, I wrote notes/reminders to myself. At the top of each movement/piece, I had a small, brightly colored post-it note with one or two things that I wanted to remember. I read it once and then it’s go time! HEP!
There were two moments throughout the day that I did start to physically exhibit symptoms of nervousness. The first time was during the sound check; I began to have an elevated heart rate. The most important part of combating this was noticing it! Once I noticed it, I used my yoga breathing (exhaling for long than inhalation) to slow it down. My tendency is to want to grip when I notice this happening, so instead I thought about ‘softening the heart space’ (again from yoga) to retain my poised mind-body connection.
The second incident of nerves was during my solo piece when I started to have some of the worst dry mouth I’ve every had for a performance. I had water on stage, which helped, but for this situation prevention would have been most effective (hindsight is 20/20, right?). The night before the performance I went out for dinner with my husband and unfortunately ate something bad. I had a mild case of food poisoning that night. It never occurred to me until I woke up this morning with abdominal cramping that I might be dehydrated!! When I think back to the amount of water I was drinking throughout the performance (two bottles!!) it seems pretty obvious that I was parched and suffering from dehydration. Some electrolytes probably would have served me well.
I had a lot of fun during the performance! I felt present in the moment and in the space, and was enjoying the company of Vanessa, Doug and the audience. I was continually aware of my body and am happy to report that I left the stage at the end with no aches or pains!!! It wasn’t a flawless performance, but there were so many small successes for me personally