“Live in the Now:” A Brief Addendum to My Thoughts on Performance Anxiety

In my essay posted two weeks ago I addressed the topic of performance anxiety, and judging by the statistics regarding that post a number of people found it useful, or at least worth reading and discussing. In thinking and talking about this topic with a few students over the course of the past week I have thought of an additional item that I would like to bring to my readers’ consideration. Stated briefly, one might entitle these thoughts “Live in the Now.”

Quality performance recordings are of great importance to musicians. The application process for graduate programs often includes the submission of audio or video recordings of live performances. After graduation, a quality “demo” CD or DVD is even more important for those seeking employment as performers or teachers of performance. Professional performers and college/university teachers alike use live recordings to market themselves to contractors and prospective students. Indeed, in every solo performance one hopes not only to make a good impression upon the live audience, but also to obtain a (near-)perfect recording for future use.

This desire for a great recording is normal, understandable, and perhaps even laudable, but it can be poisonous to the performance anxiety sufferer. Already fearing the opinion that the audience present in the room might have if any part of the performance is subpar, the nervous musician sinks even further into his anxiety when he considers that he is not only playing for that audience but is also seeking to produce a recording worthy of being heard by prospective employers, contractors, and students. There is only “one take,” and pondering that reality makes a nerve-racking situation even more so.

I know this because I have experienced it. As I said in my earlier post, I am writing this as a “pilgrim on the way,” not as one who has overcome, at least not entirely. Still, I have a suggestion for addressing this cause of performance anxiety: learn to enjoy the moment. “Live in the now.”

In several of my past writings, including that of two weeks ago, I have emphasized the need for the performer to entertain and serve the audience. Focusing upon “what they think of me” is not a healthy attitude, particularly during the performance itself. Likewise, thinking of “how I can use this performance for future self-promotion” is unhealthy, and can beget additional anxiety. Let go of all of that, and remember that you are there to entertain, to edify, and to serve the audience there in the room with you. Remember that playing music should be fun, and allow yourself to enjoy the moment. Remember even that the audience wants you to enjoy yourself and play well, and is unlikely to notice minor errors if you do not draw attention to them.

And if there are imperfections in the performance, learn what you can from them, but don’t dwell on them. Use the best parts for your “demo” recording and discard (or archive) the rest.

Compiling a great “demo” recording of live performances is extremely important, but this should not be in the forefront of the performer’s mind while on stage. To do so only increases anxiety and robs the present audience of the attention it deserves. Enjoy the moment, serve the audience, make great music, and repeat. Perform well and often and you’ll have no difficulty putting together a fine recording.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34)

About Micah Everett

Micah Everett is Associate Professor of Music (Trombone/Low Brass) at the University of Mississippi, Principal Trombonist of the North Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, Interim Music Director at College Hill Presbyterian Church, Assistant Editor (Audio/Video Reviews) for the International Trombone Association Journal, and an S.E. Shires trombone artist. He is the author of THE LOW BRASS PLAYER'S GUIDE TO DOUBLING, published by Mountain Peak Music, and released two solo recordings, STEPPING STONES FOR BASS TROMBONE, VOLS. 1 and 2, on the Potenza Music label in 2015 and 2022, respectively. In addition to his professional work, he maintains an avid interest in the study of the Bible and of Reformed theology. He holds doctoral and master's degrees in music from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, a bachelor's degree in music education from Delta State University, and a certificate in systematic theology from Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary.
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