This particular journey is nearly over for me. I want to thank each and every one of you who has read and/or commented on what I have been exploring here over the past ten months.
Now the book of poems, The Beautiful Unnamed, is available in a format I would never have foreseen. Ten months ago I had never heard of Jazale’s Art Studio, which now will reap whatever royalties the book yields.
My fourth recital in the past ten years will take place day after tomorrow, 2 pm, at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, 1584 N. Prospect, in Milwaukee. If you have not yet received an invitation, this is it! I owe great thanks to my teacher, Stefanie Jacob, for being by my side as I have prepared this music. Do I get stage fright? Well, yes, but less so than I did years ago when I returned to taking lessons. It is true, as I tell my own students who must make speeches, that the more you do it the easier it gets. It will never get TOO easy, however. There seems to be some cosmic rule of performance about that.
Sara Solovitch shared some of her forthcoming book Playing Scared: A History and Memoir of Stage Fright, in last Sunday’s New York Times (another source for which I am thankful). In the article, she talks about how she battled her recurrent stage fright as a pianist returning to the piano at the age of 59 (which was about my age when I returned to lessons). She had a history of terrible anxiety around performance (so did I). She says, “In the year devoted to the conquest of stage fright, I explored every tool I could find—from deep breathing techniques to biofeedback and cognitive behavior therapy.” She worked with a performance coach and consulted psychologists. She developed talismans. She took lessons in the “Alexander Technique, a system of body awareness and movement that helps relieve old patterns of stress and is favored by musicians.” She took beta blockers, which cut adrenaline and thus minimize some of the more troublesome aspects of stage fright such as shaking. (Stefanie recommends a banana before performing—their potassium and magnesium are said to have much the same effect.)
For me? The only two methods that have consistently worked for me are 1) taking every opportunity that comes my way to play before people—it DOES get easier—and 2) preparing the music to the extent that I no longer dread particular passages. This latter method never works completely because there are rarely–if ever–passages that become completely unproblematic.
What also helps is the reminder that live performance is very different from the perfection of recordings to which we have become accustomed, and that such lack of perfection is what makes performance most human.
These reassurances I will carry with me into the recital hall on Saturday afternoon, but that does not mean that I will not be nervous. Hopefully I can channel whatever nerves there may be into excitement.
Solovitch concludes her article by saying that, finally, she “cared less about the mistakes and more about communication, about creating a connection with people. That’s what any good performance does; it connects with its audience on an emotional level. I’d spent so many hours behind closed doors, practicing and practicing, and now I wanted to share.”
And that shared exploration has also been the impetus behind my book of poetry and behind this blog.
An audience’s appreciation (in the original meaning of the word, which is to increase) enlarges what is offered.
And for this, my deepest gratitude.