Musician's Performance Anxiety and Coping Strategies: "In Recent Years, Researchers and Pedagogues Have Recognized Performance Anxiety as a Normal Phenomenon That Happens to Most Performing Artists at Some Time, and That It Can Be Dealt with during the Preparation Phase of the Performance"
Lee, Sang-Hie, American Music Teacher
Problems dealing with musician's performance anxiety have been neglected ill traditional music curricula. The reality is music students and professionals alike experience performance anxiety that can affect the outcome, resulting in less than satisfactory performance. Consequences may be feelings of guilt and shame. In recent years, researchers and pedagogues have recognized performance anxiety as a normal phenomenon that happens to most performing artists at some time, and that it can be dealt with during the preparation phase of the performance. The last three decades saw an influx of research reports and publications on this subject. Empirical research, scholarly writings, instructional materials and more open discussion about the subject have illuminated sources of performance anxiety and coping strategies.
Music as a Social Art Form
K. D. Pruett, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the Yale Child Study Center, theorizes that musicians initially try to ignore the painful dilemma of performance anxiety, then realize the fear, and eventually learn to accept it as an opportunity to embrace the audience. (1) He wrote about an intriguing case scenario of a gifted twelve-year-old musician: This young man played piano for a music school children's string ensemble at age 6. He was fearless during those years and reveled in the attention. At age 8, he joined a boy choir and became the head chorister within three years. His clean tone and stable pitch gained him a reputation and put him in high demand. Things began to change: Approaching adolescent years, perhaps triggered by his parents' divorce, which might have forced him to grow up sooner than he would have otherwise, he began developing sensitivity to nervousness and fear. He now worried about making mistakes, missing entrances and cracking his voice on important notes. He was envious of other kids playing outside seemingly without a worry. Fortunately, further conversation with this young man revealed that he had already begun employing some complex coping strategies, such as giving himself pep talks and imitating a model who seemed to have control over nervousness on stage.
This scenario is an example of a fearless, gifted young child who goes through a narcissistic stage when he is confident, self-absorbed and even grandiose. Public exhibition is natural to a child at this phase. As he or she approaches adolescent years, peer acceptance and criticism become more important than self-acceptance. Thus, the conflict between the self and the other, one of the core sources of stage fright, begins as a developmental process. We ask, "Is the other, for example, audience, enemy or friend?" Perhaps separation between "me and the other" was the cause of Narcissus's self-love and the eventual drowning of self in admiration of the mirror image of himself in the water. The antidote to this problem might be that as the young performer begins to grasp the notion that the audience is not necessarily the other, but I, and the other, are all a part of "us," a different perspective can emerge. Gradually, developing an attitude of appreciating and embracing the audience, instead of ignoring or fearing it, becomes a realistic goal.
James Allen points out that while most young performers take up their art for emotional pleasure and deeper self-satisfaction, the performing arts, in essence, is the most social of all art forms. (2) It is quite contradictory to the usual lifestyle of the musician who practices many hours in a lone practice room and who, for the most part, struggles to compete for self-improvement with the self. It is true that performers, more often than not, perform together, and most performances involve an audience. This social aspect of musical life is not addressed enough in our music training programs. Further, because musicians jealously have to guard their time and energy for practice, this social side of music making is often left unattended by individuals. …