September 2018

It’s the very end of summer and the beginning of autumn here in the UK. I am back from extensive travelling over the summer, namely Australia and Switzerland, and adjusting to being back at home again. It’s a gentle time before the academic term gets going in earnest, and I am enjoying the time and spaciousness of it all.

Eton College

Two trips stand out in the last month. I gave my Managing your Performance Nerves talk for all the 120 music scholars at Eton College early in September. It is easy to have preconceptions about somewhere so well-known and which has a fair dose of negative associations attached, but I have to admit that I was bowled over by how honest, open and in some cases vulnerable those boys were, during the talk and also in the questions they asked afterwards. When I asked them (the audience) how many people suffered from nerves before they performed, 90% put up their hands. Would this have been the same even 10 years ago? I somehow doubt it. It’s encouraging to see how much more this topic is being brought out into the open now.

Leeds International Piano Competition

The highlight of the month for me was giving a new talk Psychology of Performance and Competition at the Leeds International Piano Competition on September 9th. I enjoyed giving the talk as ever but what I particularly enjoyed was seeing the vision of the two new joint artistic directors – Paul Lewis and Adam Gatehouse – come to fruition during the competition. What they wanted was high standards along with collaboration and care. The competition was as much a festival as a competition, with outreach and masterclasses having a prominent place. Pianos were placed on train stations with celebrities playing them, to encourage the importance of amateur music making. And in terms of care, the day after 14 out of 24 pianists had been knocked out of the competition, I saw every member of the jury in small huddles in the Leeds University music department, talking to all of those gifted pianists – the pianists who hadn’t got through. They were supporting them, mentoring them and in some cases, handing out their phone numbers for future support and guidance. I’ll never forget it.

That collaboration and care filtered through into the way I was treated as a speaker. The organisation was meticulous and well thought through, and thought was given to the community side. For example, I was on the same hotel corridor as the jury members which meant we could chat over breakfast and then later for lunch and dinner. These small things make a massive difference to an itinerant speaker and performance coach!

What I am realising more and more, is that for me to do the work I do at a high level in different places around the world, I need to have support in how everything is organised. When the administration works well, when all the details have been thought through, I can then devote my energy to the demanding and exhilarating work in hand. When that doesn’t happen, my energy can dissipate, and I can get easily drained and exhausted. A top-level performer will have an agent or a manager but unfortunately, there is no precedent in the musical world for this, for a travelling speaker/performance coach. Perhaps this is the next stage? Is there such a person out there?

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