Talking About Performance Anxiety

anxietyHaving started the cello much later to most other musicians, I found myself battling the fear of performing at the same time as facing an insecure self-image that often comes with being a 12 year old. I believe this made the issue far greater than it would’ve been, had I been performing at an earlier age. It has, nonetheless, forced me to address the way I deal with my anxiety on and off stage and encouraged me to read much more into the subject.

What is performance anxiety for you?

Performance anxiety for me is waking up on the day of a performance and being so terrified that you are unable to move. It is going over and over in your head all the possible worst-case scenarios and the consequences of performing badly. It’s being desperate to impress people and to receive reassurance that you’re doing OK. It’s trying to calm your breathing but you end up making it more rapid. Then it’s playing as though you have no connection between your mind and your arms and even less connection between your mind and your instrument. Performing feels like a mad free-for-all. Every man is for himself as I push through this Bach suite movement, making a hundred mistakes a minute working to the end. And then there’s after; the beating yourself up for being so anxious and losing security and control, feeling as though it was never all worth it and will never be again. But what is important to remember, though difficult to believe, is that these are all just thoughts.

We are not doomed. We deserve to play the way we dream about and share music with people on the the highest level that we a capable. We can hold ourselves and forget ourselves at the same time and we can find the benefits to this alongside. The philosopher Kierkegaard had an existentialist theory which I think can help us understand the way we perceive music in performance. His idea was that people need a deep satisfaction and relationship with themselves, the energy of the universe (God etc.) and the core of their being. It is only after that that they can enjoy the materials (aesthetic) and relationships on earth without depending on them. We are all guilty about having a huge desire to impress people, but the issue is that we make this the center of our thoughts around a performance and become greedy for praise and recognition. If we think about Kierkegaard’s theory, connect with ourselves through being mindful and agree that whether or not our performance goes well, we will still feel at one with ourselves (and music!), we suddenly see a performance completely differently. It’s purpose isn’t to satisfy our needs as individuals for recognition, it is for us to connect with the power music has and our ability to give this power to our audience as a gift. It is much less diabolical to hold this at the centre of our thinking. Then, be it praise, opportunity or reward, we can enjoy these parts to a performance without relying on them.

This theory is not so difficult to explain or understand, but how can it be applied? Many books have helped me shape a rusty but improving bank of coping strategies alongside experience and talking to different people about their opinions and experiences. The most important way to start is to talk about it. Just like any mental health issue (people dislike the terminology but it is what it is!) performance anxiety can be improved by talking to people. One of many reasons for this is it can make you feel much less alone- almost all musicians experience performance anxiety to some degree and certainly have a lot to say about it. Another reason for this is it can increase awareness of the issue of performance anxiety in the arts industry and encourage more people to talk about it. Certainly raising the issue with your teacher can hold enormous benefits, but anyone you trust can be a worthy listener.

But even once you’ve altered your mindset towards performing and you are happy that everything will be OK, how do you manage the sometimes inevitable symptoms that we experience before a performance? The most important thing to remember here is that we can still perform well when we are nervous. There is nothing stopping us even when feeling sick and shaky- we can concentrate and there is no reason the physical emotions should overpower us. It is easy to develop a ‘fear of the fear’ because we associate the physical sensations with a bad performance, but there’s no reason for us to. We are still in control. People often talk about being prepared as being a very important part of combating anxiety but I contrary this and say that practicing performing when you’re under-prepared is incredibly beneficial. Of course, the anxiety involved in this is great but it is likely that you will emerge feeling much better about the situation. The reason is that your confidence increases as your mind believes ‘well if I did that when I was so unprepared, I can do anything!’

The final part to thinking and discovering more about performance anxiety is forgiving yourself for failure. You are on an incredible road, learning at every part of it and finding ways to manage anxiety is just a part of the bigger picture. It cannot be solved overnight, but you  will find that you become more and more aware of yourself and your purpose as a musician. These ideas I have shared are not an exhaustive list and I will collect many resources below for you to explore. What works for me may not work for you and I am a long way from an answer. I still can get cripplingly nervous but I try to distance myself from my thoughts and turn the focus for the music. I think to take any of this on board you must first ask yourself why. Why music and why love and why faith? The answer is purpose and if music gives you an enormous sense of purpose, you are not destined to sabotage your communication and expression and you will, in time, find a solution.

“There is nothing with which every man is so afraid as getting to know how enormously much he is capable of doing and becoming” Soren Kierkegaard

Resources:

This is an amazing, short book complied by many famous classical musicians- great short term relief!  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Keeping-Your-Nerve-Confidence-Strategies/dp/0571519229/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1490095038&sr=8-1&keywords=keeping+your+nerve

For changing your perception:Life Is Not A Journey  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSSzYIqQsdw

A classic, but it really helped me to start thinking: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Inner-Game-Music-Timothy-Gallwey/dp/1447291727/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1490095345&sr=8-1&keywords=the+inner+game+of+music

How do we feel inspired in the world at the moment? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9tSBkT9AFWA

Fantastic book for liberally exploring faith https://www.amazon.co.uk/Simple-Faith-Margaret-Silf/dp/0232527946/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1490095497&sr=8-1&keywords=faith+margaret+silf

 

21/03/2017 Hattie Butterworth

 

 

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REVIVAL

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Etched emotion opened

A basic can opener

some tainted past

Revealed, oppressed depressed

Stark compression released, deceased

Speaking to break the silence, altered

Alive not alone

Far from the floor

But escaping the lifeless lies through a stiffening door

B L E A K 

  
I kept a years silence though my mind was a fairground

On a circular path headed uphill 

Struggling through a blackout, tunnelling, working

Breaking bones of restless waiting, always onward headed,

Faster, always deeper, further- further helpless wonder

Passed the stand still, pushing, barging past the helpless crying

Running and flying, then falling, dying

Stuck fast in mind with a bleakness headed south-

“Play it like something you hear down by the river”

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I believe it is now widely accepted, or at least should be, that the soul of great music and a great artist is not solely created in the practice room. We use the practice room as a place to learn how to interpret a composers emotions though our instruments. The practice room is used to iron out any technical faults that may come between ourselves and the composers music. It allows us to perform with as little of ourselves and technical issues and with as much of the composers emotions. Practice is a guidance tool to our music making and by no means the heart of it.

It is important to remember that these entities go hand in hand. In order to translate an emotion, or at least interpret it, we need to access a part of ourselves that has experienced life outside of the practice room. Our audience connect to the soul of our performance. If we are to encourage non-musicians into classical music, we need to ensure our music connects to them. Observing the way we go about our day-to-day life may be the first step. Observing and relating to what ‘ordinary’ people do could be the key to communicating classical music to them. This being said, it can also remind us not to lose touch of ourselves and of the real world. The practice room holds no value unless we enter with an intention of how we want to communicate and are prepared to experiment. Once the technical barriers are gone, or at least diminished, the world of expression is your oyster.

I suppose what I’m trying to puzzle out here is how we as young musicians can connect to real people outside the music bubble when we’re bombarded with the ‘practice’ mantra? The answer is that I don’t believe we can. Our inspiration is what creates great music. Translating what we see, hear and experience outside our practice is a life long exploration, but it is vital if we want our music to be universal.

Perhaps ‘fine artists’ are the lucky ones. They have a direct line between the images they see and the image they produce on paper, so are used to interpreting nature and ‘real life’. Musicians also need to connect this line. Although it may not be as direct and tangible, it is the most necessary part of our music making.

Why Is Silence So Loud In Music?

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I have always hated the sound of nothing. I grind my teeth in silences and put music on as soon as I am by myself. I am scared about what might happen if I am left alone with myself. Inside my mind, what might be waiting for me? I think I’d rather avoid it than face the consequences.

It has now been accepted that silence is the pathway to the soul and to the truest form of yourself, and therefore your music making. In this busy world, many of us cannot even go to sleep at night without a reassuring murmur of sound in the background. As our lives get busier, there becomes less and less time for silence. To be silent becomes a weakness. As the louder of us get heard and the others of us are forgotten, it is easy to devalue silence and inner peace and focus on conquering the ‘confident’ and ‘outgoing’ sides of ourselves in order to be respected. We have associated silence with weakness and a voice as the strength. Is it that through silence we stay more and more connected with the love and passion surrounding us? Could it be that those who respect silence and practice it are in touch with an inner voice much more powerful than arrogant confidence? It is from these people that we can learn how to grow from the silence and play music in the most selfless way possible.

On the surface of the classical music industry is a huge hustle and bustle of judgment, criticism, comparison and self-improvement. From a young age, musicians are taught to strive to better themselves, fight against each other and focus on the virtuosity of the music and the impression of the audience. Very little time is given to space and awareness, true musical understanding and, most importantly, the study of silence. Music is created from the nuances of the deafening silence. The talented performer is he who listens to the end of the note, focuses on the effectiveness of pauses and connects with a similar peace of mind that the composer once felt. This focus is unattainable if we have a mind flooded with fear of failure, voices of criticism and a disconnect with ourselves.

Without realizing, I too entered into the music industry from the noisy end. Performances were a huge gamble and my thoughts were so loud that I was never content with the sound I created, mainly because I wasn’t really listening. How can we be expected to listen if criticism is 3X louder than the music? This was until I got RSI for 6 months and was forced to step away from the 4 hours of mindless, self centered practice I was doing. I was suddenly faced with silence. Nothing to cling to or listen to and this was deafening. I didn’t know how to react so at first I cried to hide the silence and entered into a state of hatred of myself. The silence scared me but what I found most terrifying was my inability to know when the sound, and my ability to play, would return. I was blessed with half an hour a day of practice, which I usually avoided and took to shopping and crying! As I began to realize that it would take more than a few months to reverse the pain, I made the most of the little time a day I had to practice. Suddenly I knew I had to listen.

Having the noise removed was the most terrifying, yet liberating thing that has ever happened to me. I began to write and read and enjoyed spending time walking and doing yoga. I began to understand the links between the nature and music, and through that, the beauty of silence.

I still find silence difficult at first. It is never easy to face the vast expanse of your mind but I think it is completely necessary if we want to perform as the truest versions of ourselves. Being exposed to the expanse of your mind is similar to being in front of a large audience in a concert hall. It takes a lot of time to get used to and is not always comfortable or pleasant. People who are comfortable with the silence are likely to understand the noise and pressures of our culture. People who are comfortable with the silence don’t have themselves getting in the way. Their music and lives are the most musical to our ears because they are able to play from the inner most part of their being. They respect the silence and from it, they weave the music that connects with us most strongly.

Practicing silence is, therefore, even more important than practicing your instrument or art form, yet is the thing we seem to leave the least amount of time for. Perhaps we need to start making it a top priority in our own musical development and begin to open up our inner most self. If performance anxiety is one of the most feared emotion of artists today, why is its powerful counteract, silence, not more valued in the path to inner calm and artistry?

Music, Philosophy and Jeanette Winterson

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For Christamas this year, I bought Jeanette Winterson’s semi-autobiography, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, for my pianist friend, Jasmin. I thought I would interest Jasmin because of Jeanette’s inspirational story and her connections with Oxford, (Jasmin is awaiting a response from her Hartford interview!) and so it did. So much so in fact that Jasmin forced me down and said, “Hattie, read the introduction to this book, it will change you”. I read the introduction and it was certainly enough to feed inspiration for a blog post!

I’m not going to provide a very in depth discussion around one of Jeanette’s many philosophy’s, only talk about one thing she said that has stayed with me. Jeanette talked about how she doesn’t want to call Oranges an autobiography because she used her own life only as the base for a story. A story, she said, which she hopes can turn her own life into something which has meaning for other people whose experience is ‘Nothing like your own’. What struck me the most was the idea that ‘Memory is not a reconstruction or a filing system, memory is a recreation’. She talks about how we remember the same things differently each time and how the past is not fixed and as we develop and change, so do our memories.

It suddenly stuck me that this idea is vital in understanding and performing a piece of music. Our ultimate goal in performance is to perform as we can imagine the composer would have designed it. Every cellist who puts their heart into the Elgar concerto will get very different responses back. We need to remember that these great works are memories. For example, many people see the cello concerto as a memory of the war or tribute to his wife, Alice. So often musicians get tied down in looking for an ultimate perfection in performance. We need to remember that each and every one of us has something to give back and every musician has the beautiful chance to retell and sell a memory. Perhaps the more successful performers aren’t necessarily the ones who have the natural talent, but the ones who have imagined a memory and found the most exciting, expressive way to communicate it. Just as we cannot remember a memory perfectly and constantly unchanged, why should we be expected to perform a memory in this way?

Jeanette, we love you and thank you dearly for bringing us back to life!

Keep on creating everyone, never shy away!

Oh, and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

Hattie

 

Does Art Have To Be Understood?

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I often wander cautiously around art galleries, often in the shadow of sincere tourists with their hands behind their back, face poised in a wonderfully intellectual and pensive expression. I feel inclined to understand the vast collections before me as they seemingly are, and marvel at the sense of x throughout the complexity of y. But now the time has come for me to admit it- I really don’t know very much at all about art.

From my experience and understanding, any emotion or expression of the heart and soul can exhibit itself in the form of art, be that a painting, sculpture, pop song or Shakespeare play. Art has been created from deep in the soul of an individual and is a highly personal expression of emotions. Artists are sensitive and aware, the most popular work they create can often be the pieces that took comparatively no conscious thought or time at all. Whilst we poor A Level students pour over a Dickinson poem or Shakespeare play, annotating it as best we can, the truth often remains; perhaps the artist has less of an idea than you.

Thought and Art are two very different concepts, and although intertwined and linked in some ways, they are worlds apart in others. Your talents are not created by a thought process necessarily. Talents are a gift of expression, a method of escape or way of life. It is also often the case that we cannot articulate our thoughts out loud. If someone asks you to explain your thoughts, I doubt many of us would be able to explain the exact workings of your mind. The fact remains, why are we so hard on ourselves (and our A Level students!). If art wasn’t created from a conscious thought, then why must we use conscious thought to explain it? By employing this form of explanation, it is in a sense a form of blasphemy towards the ‘meaning’ of art. Has anyone ever asked you what love is? Or what faith is? Or why you like the colour blue? These are phenomenons that are not explained. They are the great rhetoric of our world and existence. The artists use this absence of judgment to explore they very core of their being. Why then are we so set on judgment, criticism and intellect in this world of love, imagination and wonder?

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Allow yourself to spend time being with the art. Think about how the art affects you naturally and how you respond to it. Of course it is inevitable that we will have to explain art now and again in an attempt to please people or even to lure them in to our vibrant world, but don’t allow the academic side control your opinions and emotions- only you decide whether you like Schoenberg or not. If, on the other hand, you simply want to skip through a gallery and get to the shop, that’s also fine because the space in itself is to be experienced in as many different ways as possible and in experiencing rather that studying you are perhaps closer to the art than you imagine.

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Accept the little you will ever know about art and be humble. Allow faith or energy or love to come to you and accept it if it isn’t immediate. Remember too that no one decided what ‘good art’ was in the beginning. Good art is true love, true faith, an open heart and a thirst for life!

 

Waiting For Love- Poems for presents

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I didn’t mind

But Waiting for love

Was like waiting for a dream to come

To fly by and take me to a world afar

Where love was the waterfall and I was the reflection

I was shown the life from my dreams in the river

A life where the moon kissed the stars

And the colours and smells of dreams

Were like the palette of watercolours

I chose from the art shop

Open to all who buy into them

But fashioned only by the couriers of the soul and the holders of a curious heart.

This love I touched in the dreams of the artists

The love I longed to hold forever.

But this passionless love preferred by the inhabitants of our Earth

I could not fully comprehend

I am myself an ariitst forced to confront the elements of an acceptable love

I must then wait for a fashioned love

A love that words describe in song and not in thought

I am not suited to the earthly love type of the Earth’s wanderers

My love is of a different place

It has further to travel but I have my lifetime to seek

 

 

Always choose the better life- mental health and musicians

  Sometimes our thoughts can be far more destructive than the events surrounding us. Of course these two things are often interlinked, but not exclusively. If we have a specific worry plaguing our minds, no matter how laid back our life may seem, often the internal anguish can be far more warring and destructive. On the other hand, we may look back on a seemingly stressful week and feel calm, balanced and relaxed.

The way we choose to react to the events in our lives can determine the amount of stress they infer. This is far easier said than done. Often we are forced to enter a different mindset in order to get through the day, sacrificing the calm, balance and joy in our lives. We are forced to become self obsessed and one-track minded towards our goals and work and choose to sacrifice the relationships with our friends and the inner calm. Although this mindset may do the job, it forces us to crash out, emotionally drained and find ourselves running on sugar, caffeine and very little sleep. What if there were a way to get everything done and maintain a love and peace?

It all begins with simplifying our lives. This often requires erasing guilt, pressure, stress and other negative emotions that take over and over complicate our lives. This may include thinking completely rationally about what it is you, personally, are able to sustain as simply and joyfully as possible. If something is causing you immense stress and guilt, such as a subject or commitment, it may require you to either leave it for a while or lose it altogether in order for complex, eating emotions to diminish. It is at this balanced, freed state that our mind and body functions at its best and we begin to excel at what we love.

It is always necessary to take time to care for yourself. It is important to remember that it is not a weakness to respond to stressful situations negatively. Different people have differing stress thresholds and this shouldn’t cause comparison or guilt. It is a strength to know what you find difficult and learn to cope with it.

In order to discover how much you can cope with it is necessary to confront yourself by taking time for reflection, meditation or prayer. These states often leave you vulnerable and more responsive to factors that cause strain on your body.

Perhaps what I’m suggesting sounds time consuming and impossible at the moment. If this is the case, it is a tell tale fact that your life is very complicated. It may be that you only need 10 minutes when you wake up to be aware of the space around you and practice allowing emotions and sensations to come to you, but this time is invaluable to your mental health and sound is paramount you attempt to find space for it.

I value nothing more highly than time spent with yourself in any situation, shifting the strain to the side and breaking down your negative thoughts into breathing and trust in the world. It is at this point that your body will tell you just how much it is prepared to deal with.

I am searching to find this center of awareness in my practice but until I feel I’m able to sustain this, I know I need time with my thoughts, however scary or difficult it may be in order to cope with the pressure of being a musician and 17 year old.

One factor I find beautifully reassuring is my art form. Music is love and community, space and prayer. When we breakthrough the inevitable stress of auditions and pressured performance, we will discover the true beauty of what we love and associate it with the emotions that we thrive on, and not those that restrain us.

We have such a beautiful life to live, why not start now?

Love Hattie x

The Flaw of Supremacy


If you only played the dream
And sang nothing but the love,

The spirit and the depths of the soul
If nothing mattered but the pleasure

And all you wrote rang in perfect harmony

What would you do in order to forget?
Plagued with the boundary of infinite joy

Would you live here with me as a human,

Or inhabit a parallel world as a distant star