Updated: Nov 22, 2020
I could place bets that you have experienced some type of nervousness around a performance or an audition if you are a performer. The nerves can show up before or during lessons, in rehearsal, and maybe most familiarly, before or during important performances. Feeling nervous before a performance can sometimes be debilitating. It could have us questioning our paths, wishing we could be better prepared (even when we have done all that we can), OR the nerves could energize us to give a great performance if they are handled well. The best thing we can do as performers is to get to know ourselves and how we respond to high pressure stimuli and then learn to train our minds to handle performance nerves by having a plan.
I have found that keeping a journal of everything surrounding my performances and auditions – the preparation, the event itself, and the many feelings throughout the experience to be beneficial. When it comes to performing, making note on how I feel leading up to show time and after helps create better performances in the future. In this journal, I note how I felt during each stage of the performance: Were my palms sweating? Heart rate elevated? Did I have low energy levels? High energy levels? Were my thoughts scattered? Or was I in the zone?
Once you recognize your patterns through journaling, you can devise a performance plan in anticipation of a high-pressure scenario. For example, if you notice that you get scatter brained right before you walk onto stage, device a plan, or a pre- performance ritual that you do every single time before a performance. Scatter brain is one-way my nerves show up for me and there are three ways I combat this: having pre- performance breathing exercises, visualization, and mock performances.
I love to do a simple breathing exercise before performances and between pieces if I find myself nervous during the concert. What I do is: breathe in for four counts, hold for four counts, and exhale for four counts. I do this as many times as needed to feel centered and present. Focus on the counting and breathing. If your mind wanders (heads up, it probably will), it is okay! Just gently bring your attention back to the breathing and counting.
After I do my breathing exercise, I visualize myself walking onto stage. I then see myself sitting down in my chair or walking up to the music stand in an audition. I sense myself putting the flute to my face. I imagine myself going through my pre-excerpt routine or imagine colleagues in the orchestra sitting around me. I then imagine how it will feel and sound playing the given piece. This visualization helps calm my nerves prior to stepping on stage because in doing so, I have already created a successful performance in my mind.
To take it a step further, practice the breathing exercise and visualization each time you give a mock performance or audition. The more you do this, the more confident you will feel on performance day. When it is time for you to take the stage for the real performance, you will have already performed your piece(s) for different audiences (family members, friends, colleagues, recording device, even pets). You will already know exactly what it feels like; you will know how your body reacts to the performance stimuli and you will have already created your rituals. You know exactly what to do when it is showtime!
My most successful performances and auditions were preceded with successful pre-performance rituals to combat nerves. Performance is a practice, and we must practice performing. We will constantly be tweaking our approaches in hopes of delivering peak performances. Keeping a journal and having a plan each time you perform will help you get past those nerves.
About the Author
Flutist Shantanique Moore is the eighth recipient of a fellowship from the Pittsburgh Symphony's EQT Orchestra Training Program for African American Musicians (OTPAAM). Ms. Moore is an accomplished freelance musician and flute instructor. She has performed with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Toledo Symphony, and the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, among others.
Shantanique won First Prize in the 2016 Ervin Monroe Young Artist Competition. In 2012, Shantanique won the Wayne State Concerto Competition and in 2013, the Southern Great Lakes Concerto Competition. She has had the privilege of being invited as guest soloist on numerous occasions with ensembles such as the Birmingham Concert Band and Thurston High School's Honors Band, to name a few. During her studies at Wayne State University, she was awarded several musicianship and academic awards.
An advocate for promoting musicianship and flute playing, Shantanique has served on the board of directors of the Southeast Michigan Flute Association as secretary and as the Flute Choir director.
Her primary teachers are Sharon Sparrow, Laura Larson, and Carrie Wiesinger. She has played in Masterclasses for Mark Sparks, Robert Aitken, William Bennett, and Amy Porter.
When not practicing and performing, Shantanique enjoys kayaking and catching up on her favorite television shows.
More information about Ms. Moore can be found at https://www.smooreflute.com/