Here is a quick little piece of advice some of you may find useful.  (Those of you with nerves of steel can disregard.)  I have been implementing it the last few times I’ve performed and this morning it really came in helpful.  Please read on.

Perhaps this has happened to you; you’re all warmed up and ready to go onstage for your recital or solo performance, you’ve tried to quell the nerves by trying to remain relaxed, taking deep breaths backstage and just generally trying to focus and calm down before walking out onstage.  Things feel good, you’re ready and walk out only to have your heart start racing about 10 seconds into your performance.  You feel light-headed and panic is knocking trying to enter your thoughts.  Meanwhile you’re playing along saying to yourself, “wtf? I know this piece cold and I was just calm about it a minute ago.”

Perhaps I’m the only one who has this kind of inner dialog, complete with texting abbreviations, going on while performing but moments like this can get pretty distracting.  However, I think I’ve stumbled on to something that helps me.  First off, what I think is happening is not entirely a “nerves” issue.  I think it’s a body energy/heart rate issue.  When we perform our heart rate naturally goes up due to the heightened concentration, breathing, activity, etc.  Backstage we were trying to calm everything down to feel relaxed and when we stand up, walk on stage and start playing that naturally changes the heart rate – rather quickly.  This change in pulse might confuse you for getting nervous which triggers the inner dialog and it’s downhill from there.  The idea is to gradually get your heart rate up prior to standing and taking a solo or walking on stage.  When you are backstage waiting to go on, do some gentle stretches or yoga poses rather that sit quietly in a corner trying to focus.  This will begin to engage your body physically and prep it for the physical activity of playing.

Here is my personal example from this morning.  I got to play two services of the Easter portion of the Messiah.  I come onstage, tune with the orchestra then sit for 55 minutes completely still and then stand up and play “The Trumpet Shall Sound”.  This is one of those situations that was no problem during rehearsals because our very gracious conductor rehearsed the solo movements first then let us go.  This was a relatively early service after a relatively late night so when I stood up to play after sitting for an hour I started feeling a little light headed and started “brain texting” myself.  The next service instead of just relaxing and listening for the hour, I engaged physically even though I was sitting still.  I did different things like sitting very straight and taking long slow metered breaths (8 measures in – 8 measures out…).  I pressed my feet squarely into the floor and engaged my leg muscles.  I also sat straight and moved my back VERY slowly away from the back of the chair so I was engaging my torso muscles isometrically.  (It must be said that I was doing all these things VERY slowly so as to appear to not be doing anything.) Doing this for 20 minutes actually got tiring!  Who would have thought playing the Messiah would have been such a workout!  Anyhow, when I eventually stood my heart rate was up and I felt physically ready to go and had much more fun playing and not wondering if this was going to be the concert that I pass out onstage.  … Come on, we’ve all thought that… haven’t we?