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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Larsen Magnacore Cello String Review

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Strings are to a musician like ballet shoes are to a dancer. Just as each dancer is very different and requires different size and softness of shoes, every cello is vastly different and requires different strings to compliment the resonance of the instrument. My cello has an especially bright and powerful quality, especially on the A string, but it also has the tendency to sound brash. It also often has projection difficulties on the low strings, particularly in high positions. I knew more could be done to improve the sound and I started to think about trying new strings in order to address this issue.

With this in mind, I got in contact with Larsen some weeks ago, eager to try new strings on my cello. Having been a devotee to their standard cello strings for quite a while, I was hearing great things about their Magnacore strings and was desperate to give them a try. I’d been reassured how balanced the string sounds were across the cello and, knowing my cello was in desperate need of this balance, was excited to try them. Suffice it so say, I was not disappointed! I changed the A and D strings first and noticed an immediate increase in the sound quality. The strings needed virtually no playing in time and adapted to my cello immediately. A strings on my cello often have the tendency to sound increasingly ‘brash’ on my cello, but the Magnacore A string had a sweetness that I was convinced my cello wasn’t capable of producing. The D string matched the A both in resonance and quality of sound and was so buoyant to play. Finally I have found strings that create equal tones on both A and D, I have struggled for so long with a brash A string and a muted D string, thanks to these strings I feel my strings compliment each other and my playing.

I later replaced my G and C Spirocore strings with the Magnacore C and G and, once again, the effect was immediate. The strings were so much more responsive on my cello and the resonance was electric. I did find the strings to feel quite a bit stiffer and not entirely flexible under the fingers, though they tuned up easily and maintained tuning with no issues. In saying this, it was as I expected that the bottom two strings took a few days to play in and feel totally settled. This created an short period of discomfort, but it quickly subsided and, once settled, my cello produced resonant and expressive sonorities that were unprecedented but certainly welcome!

Proof of the strings’ transformation of my cello came about when I played the Bach Suite no.3 in my cello lesson last week. My Teacher immediately mention how much she thought my sound had improved. I mentioned that I’d recently changed my strings to Magnacore and she was fascinated at how much of a difference they had made to my sound in such a short space of time.

It’s such a joy and a blessing to find strings finally that work with my cello and not against it. I’ll certainly be using Magnacore again and will be intrigued to witness their longevity. They cannot come more highly recommended!

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Hattie Butterworth

Tennis and musical injury- the injustice

  
Following a hectic final term at school, my return home last Friday was greeted with the excitement of both the women and men’s Wimbledon finals. Throughout the whole of the tournament this year, I couldn’t help but compare the lives of tennis players with our lives as musicians, and how tennis may be revealing the darker injustice in the musical industry.

Much of my cello playing career so far has been enormously rewarding, but I did encounter a traumatic tendon injury for 6 months last year. I don’t feel it an exaggeration to admit that I felt very much alone during this time. This was not entirely out of the fault of my school, but largely because I felt injury wasn’t discussed or accepted within the school. Prior to my injury I had received little, if any, education about injuries and prevention, and had no idea who to talk to. So often I was made to feel I was letting people down, the fault being my own. This stemmed from being one of the only injured musicians in my school at the time. 

The isolation I encountered through my injury is far from the experiences of those in the sports world and tennis in particular. If a player has recovered from injury, many of the commentators and treat it as a tremendous act of resilience and bravery for them to be competing. They understand the impact of an injury and don’t ‘expect’ the player to return at full health straight away, because injuries are understood in the sports world. Sports people don’t fear them because they know they will have the support they need to recover. Why are musicians different? As well as physical injury, being unable to play and has a significant mental impact that needs treatment and support. Injury is a big deal because you lose your means of expression. Injured Musicians are left watching rehearsals, excluded from concerts and plagued with the fear of missing opportunities that their fitter fellow students will instead receive. I know my experiences aren’t rare and, although musical injuries are perhaps less common than those encountered by sports players, most musicians will experience an injury at some point in their career. 

It’s also interesting to question why injury happens in musicians and highlight another comparison between the sports and classical music industry. It is without a doubt that success in the classical music industry nowadays is based around perfection. We attend a concert expecting a certain standard. If a musician makes a name for themselves, they are expected to maintain this level throughout their career and at every concert they perform. The classic example of a ‘bad day’ was seen in Djokovic’s devastating 4th round loss in Wimbledon this year. Of course, many fans were disappointed, but the sports world as a whole appears much more understanding of failure. Djokovic has been so successful in his career that this one set back doesn’t fail him in our estimation. I’m not entirely certain whether the same would be true in the classical music industry. This fear of failure and constant search for perfection puts stress on the body for many people, and it is here that injury is likely to occur. It feels more often that our motives in practice are turned towards perfection, rather than the ability we have to communicate the inner soul of the composer. This can’t be healthy or rewarding in the long term.

Musicians are communicators, just as sports people are, and both, more importantly, are human. It appears that the sports world are much more in tune with this fact than the musical world and, as a result of this, the failings of the athletes are both respected and expected. Musicians are humans with human needs and functions. Although my injury turned into something positive in the end, it took a lot of pain, darkness and loneliness before I was able to release myself. We shouldn’t go at it alone and don’t deserve to.

 I can only hope we begin to learn from those in the sports world; an industry that is far closer to us than we may invisage. 

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 Elgar?

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For many years now Edward Elgar has been the main inspiration for my music making and growing passion of music. For those who aren’t familiar with Elgar’s life story, he was the son of of a piano tuner and lived in Worcester for his early years. He has become the definition of English music and his cello concerto has inspired and astounded performers for generations.

Elgar is an inspiration for all of us. Self-taught in his younger years, Elgar learnt to take inspiration from his surroundings, most notably the Malvern Hills and the Worcestershire countryside. Elgar spent so much of his time ‘living and ‘being’ in order to ‘fix the sounds’, his music reveals a freshness and ingenuity that can so quickly be related to a scene or emotion. Through his deep relationship with nature, Elgar was as much an artist and painter as composer. He painted the sounds he saw and not the sounds he had learnt were correct and beautiful. Elgar lived his childhood surrounded by his siblings and left composing from the countryside in ‘the reeds’.

Music is an entity which derives not only from your heart, but from the way your heart reacts to the environment you are surrounded in. Elgar learnt what true love was before he learnt about the theory and rules surrounding music. This immersion in nature was a relationship that would remain in Elgar for the rest of his life. Even when in London, Elgar pined for Worcestershire and its beauty. Elgar knew where his inspiration came from and in that environment composing came as naturally to him as talking. As performers of Elgars music, can musicians like me only understand his motivation behind his music if we experience the environment for ourselves? Anyone who has walked on the Malvern Hills can appreciate the huge sense of power and and yet vulnerability you experience being face with a huge expanse of country either side- rather like performing an Elgar symphony!

Elgars’ choral music so often encapsulates a certain natural image, for me at least. Of course, his choice of words to set his music to also has an impact, but the textures of voices instantly create an image in my mind. For example, one of the 4 part-songs,’ There Is Sweet Music’, instantly creates the image of a frosted valley, the different voice parts bouncing from the hills either side. The regular phrasing and slow tempo reveal the calm and unscathed condition of the environment, Elgars’ use of imitation reinforces this echo effect. The music ends very softly, the word ‘sleep’ is repeated between male and female voice parts until it lands silently, perhaps just as the final leaf of the autumn assumes its place on the frosted ground.

My interpretations and musical decisions are of course merely inspired by my experience of  nature and perhaps photography and art of this part of nature. By broadening our knowledge and asking our emotions how it responds to images and experiences, we can relate these emotions to our music making. If we learn about the place that Elgar was most inspired, we can combine this inspiration with our personal interpretations and create beautiful image. Just as Elgars’ countryside was different each time he saw it, as is our interpretation allowed to be as varied and exciting as we please. It is, however, still important that we perform this interpretation in knowledge of the composers intention of inspiration, whether this be a poem, book or artwork.

My love for countryside and exploration of new emotions comes with my love for Elgar. Every note he wrote, though subconscious, was inspired by his experiences and passions. We can connect to our inner selves just as Elgar did simply by experiencing the same level of love and passion he discovered on the Malvern Hills.

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

 

Finding Home 

  

 If the home was just a memory that you touched once upon a dream
And even the stars’ brightness faded the closer to them you passed

Where could you lay the foundations of your heart?
If yet you received the greatest riches and witnessed the sweetest music

If you could part the waves and conjure the snowfall 

Where would the core of your heart cry back to?
If you reach the bottom of the ocean or fly beyond the highest mountains 

You must still make a home for your love and a life for your happiness 

But an armchair for the lost wanderer and a fire for his soul.

Hattie Butterworth

Keep Writing- For The World

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I always write impressive statements

But can never comprehend

Their meaning or significance to me

So I write them for a friend,

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A friend who understands the soul in my thoughts

Who unwinds my tales of love and pain

It matters not if I don’t really understand them

As long as I know them to be true

 

So that one day they may hep you

Just as others’ advice helped me

And I’ll strive towards the ultimate goal,

To teach myself all I truly know and see

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!