In the UK at the moment, we’re in the middle of a political crisis and a crisis in society in general. It’s been brought about by a referendum nearly three years ago in which we had a binary choice: to leave or remain in the EU. What has happened as a result of that vote has been extraordinary. Friendships have been lost, couples have come to blows, racist and violent attacks have increased exponentially and some politicians have even had death threats. And then there’s the ‘new’ form of abuse: cyber-bullying. It’s fear that is at the bottom of a person wanting to lash out with vitriol and it covers up a very human need to be heard and understood, to my mind at least. Attacking the ‘other’ and then being attacked back, makes a person vulnerable and even more fearful. What is so desperately needed is listening and cooperation.
But this newsletter is not a political commentary and I’m not even going to state my political views here. What the Brexit craziness has done for me, once I can step back from it and gain some much-needed perspective, is to give me insights into what we all need as human beings. I want to then translate this into what we need as musicians in order to be creative and expressive in performance.
Fear and anxiety in performance
Fear can cripple musicians when they perform. It might be the fear of being judged by the audience, audition panel or colleagues; it may be the fear of being seen to be ‘less than’ in some way; it might be the memory of an overly critical teacher or conductor that can’t be shaken off. Whatever the cause, fear gets in the way of the musician performing at their peak: it disables rather than enables.
Emotional safety on stage
What we need as musicians is to feel emotionally safe on stage. In all my travels nationally and internationally, this has been my predominant finding. It doesn’t matter what stage of ability or experience the musician is, whether they are students, amateurs or professionals, everyone has the same need to feel emotionally safe when they are performing in order to be free enough to be creative and expressive.
To feel emotionally safe on stage, certain things need to be in place:
Good preparation: without good preparation (and that applies to the background preparation that enables improvisation too) a musician can feel exposed and vulnerable. Adrenalin can only enhance performing if the building blocks are in place, otherwise it can be destructive and potentially nerve wracking.
In the many masterclasses I’ve given, a musician will be on stage performing and the fear may show through physical tension and anxiety. The simplest ways of helping them move through this is to encourage breathing, calming and relaxing tense muscles and emotional reassurance. Doing this in the performing space can be incredibly powerful. It is always so inspiring to hear from the audience how much more expressive a performer is when s/he is feeling more comfortable, more emotionally safe on stage.
Sveriges Radios Symfoniorkeste
I am off to Sweden later today to work with players from the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. I am giving my two talks-masterclasses plus fourteen hours of individual sessions over three days! It’s a total delight and privilege to be working with all these professional orchestral players, in public masterclasses and privately, and I’m looking forward to it immensely. I will write about it more next time,