Tag Archives: stage fright

Facing the Fear: ‘Composed’ – a film about Performance Anxiety

‘Composed’ received its London premiere on 2 May 2017. The director is looking for futher London and UK screening opportunities – if you are interesting in hosting a screening, please get in touch via the contact page of this site

Performance Anxiety – for many musicians and performers it’s the fear which cannot, must not, speak its name, and together with injury and illness, it’s a major taboo. We don’t discuss anxiety because we’re not supposed to feel it. As highly trained individuals, musicians are supposed to sweep onto any stage, large or small, and perform with confidence, poise, and musical imagination, never betraying the slightest hint of nerves. As with injury, anxiety is often kept hidden and not discussed because sufferers fear (that word again) that admitting to it is a sign of weakness, technical or artistic, which may lead to loss of work and status, and the disapproval of colleagues, teachers, more senior musicians, critics and even audiences.

One of the crucial steps in coping with Performance Anxiety (and sufferers should not necessarily seek a “cure”) is accepting that it is something that happens to most performers, that it is normal, and that the physical symptoms are common to us all, driven by the body’s “flight or fight” response. ‘Composed’, an insightful new film by percussionist and film-maker John Beder, goes a long way in supporting this view, while opening up the discussion about performance anxiety in a sympathetic way.

Originally intended as a study of musicians’ use of beta blockers to subdue the symptoms of anxiety and how such drugs are perceived within the classical music community, ‘Composed’ takes a broad view, exploring the passion and motivation which drives people to become professional musicians, the root causes and symptoms of performance anxiety, the difference between practising and performing, music education, deep learning and proper preparation for auditions and performance, the fight or flight response, perfectionism and how hard musicians are on themselves. With contributions from musicians (soloists and orchestral players) and experts in the field of peak performance and performance anxiety, including Dr Noa Kageyama (creator of The Bulleproof Musician), Mike Cunningham (mind training coach), Gerald Klickstein (author of The Musician’s Way) and Professor Aaron Williamon (Professor of Performance Science at the Royal College of Music), the film offers a sensitive and honest account of the exigencies of the profession.

symptoms
(source: ‘Composed’ website)

Rather than present dry advice and one-size-fits-all coping strategies, the first-hand accounts of musicians, teachers and practitioners offer insightful personal anecdotes and solutions. The film also touches on the competitive nature of the conservatoire system, the ruthlessness of the professional career and how musicians, who tend to forge friendships and communities with others in the profession, find themselves competing with friends and respected colleagues at auditions for orchestral positions or concert bookings which can set up feelings of “inner turmoil of wanting to encourage your friends while secretly hoping the panel will favor your performance”(John Beder, film-maker). Such feelings can lead to self-doubt and anxiety.

The responsibility of teachers, mentors and institutions in supporting musicians is also explored. Until fairly recently, support for students suffering from performance anxiety was virtually non-existent in the conservatoire and music college system, except from a few enlightened tutors. Today, students have more resources at their disposal, including mindfulness and mind training, biofeedback, Alexander Technique, yoga and relaxation techniques, counsellors and hardware such as the Royal College of Music’s innovative performance simulator which allows students to perform before a virtual audience or audition panel.

There is also practical information about the physiological effects of beta blockers and commentaries by users, including a painfully honest account by a British cellist who also resorted to alcohol while still at music college to help her deal with debilitating performance anxiety.

It took John Beder two years to produce ‘Composed’. Originally, 61 musicians gave interviews for the documentary, though not all of them made the final cut, and Beder’s approaches to musicians were generally met with gratitude – “I wish we talked about this more” was a common response, proof that this is a subject musicians want to discuss in a more open forum. To hear musicians talk openly about their personal struggles, emotional limitations and coping mechanisms reminds us that we are very much not alone with our anxieties. The film is an empathetic and humane examination of the musician’s life and work, providing a greater understanding of the pressures, and pleasures, of the musical life, and is a potent reminder that musicians should “know themselves”, to appreciate their strengths and abilities, rather than continually comparing themselves to others. As such it makes an important and timely contribution to the study and understanding of performance anxiety.

“The film explores what without exception all of us, performers, have experienced and known well – first, love for our craft and stage, and then performance anxiety at the other end of this beautiful and exciting spectrum. Congratulations to the director John Beder and his team for completing this project and for inviting all of us to a meaningful and necessary conversation.”

Christoph Eschenbach, conductor

John Beder is currently looking for UK venues for future screenings of ‘Composed’. If you would like to host a screening or suggest a venue please contact John via this site or via the Composed website

‘Composed’ trailer

‘Composed’ – a film by John Beder. World premiere screening in New York

Documentary ‘Composed’ announces world premiere with special guests on October 19th 2016 in New York City

A feature film exploring performance anxiety, ‘Composed’ will premiere at the SVA Theater, New York, with special guests Dr. Noa Kageyama, Gerald Klickstein, and Jennifer Montone

‘Composed’ is a documentary film which features musicians and mental health experts from the US and UK, including members of major US orchestras like the New York Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic and many more. The film utilizes these musicians and experts to discuss the issue of performance anxiety; what it is, why it happens, and what we can do to address it. Musicians in the film share candid stories and perspective on what causes these fears and doubts, as well as what’s worked for them to address such issues.

“Like no film before it, Composed illuminates the attractions and challenges of music making. Its portrayal of musicians overcoming performance anxiety opens doors for all performers to surmount obstacles and rise to their potential.”

Gerald Kilckstein, author of The Musician’s Way

Following the screening, Beder will be joined by three of the film’s cast for an audience Q&A. Dr. Noa Kageyama is a performance psychologist, a violinist, and a staff member at The Juilliard School. Gerald Klickstein is the author of The Musician’s Way and founder of the Music Entrepreneurship and Career Center at Peabody Conservatory. Jennifer Montone is the principal horn of the Philadelphia Orchestra and faculty member of the Curtis Institute and The Juilliard School.

Tickets are available now for the premiere and can be purchased through the Composed website or through SVA Theater’s events page.

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John Beder is a percussionist, classical musician, and filmmaker based out of his hometown of Boston, MA. ‘Composed’ is a documentary about understanding and addressing performance anxiety through the lens of classical musicians. Learn more at www.composeddocumentary.com.

Contact

John Beder, Bed Productions LLC
617 383 4407; info@bedrocklab.com facebook.com/composedkickstarter; twitter @composedfilm

(Source: Composed press release)

Composed: a documentary

Originally Composed was an exposé about the use of beta-blockers by classical musicians. A heart medication drug that helps stop your body’s fight or flight response when faced with stage fright. For years musicians, surgeons, actors, dancers, and lawyers have used beta-blockers as an unspoken solution to the problems of stage fright. Some would call them performance enhancing and others performance enabling. We’re going to ask those questions of course, but it’s more about all of the ways musicians have overcome performance anxiety. You might feel it too when you’re giving a presentation or when you’re put on the spot in a meeting, but understanding whats happening internally and having a strategy to overcome that fear is what musicians have been practicing for years. Painting a broader picture of what the real problems might be we’ll hear about how some amazing and dedicated musicians have found answers in a world where a few minutes on stage can close or open the gates of success.

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From the press release

John Beder, director and producer of Composed, has spent the past 9 months traveling the US and UK interviewing classical musicians and health care professionals, building a comprehensive story about the ways musicians have overcome performance anxiety.Initially, Beder was interested in the debate surrounding a prescription drug called propranolol, a heart and blood pressure medication that some musicians use to calm the physical symptoms of stage fright. After many months of interviews and conversations, Beder has learned of a plethora of additional remedies which musicians have explored and embraced in their quest for the highest quality performances.

In exploring these anxieties and remedies, Composed explores themes that are relevant to everyone, not just musicians: on how people deal with fear and pressure; how to understand and address moments of fear and doubt; how to move past these obstacles and achieve high-­‐pressure, high-­‐performance goals.

In the research phase of Composed’s pre-­production, Beder focused on a key question about what methods of addressing performance anxiety are most popular amongst classical musicians. A 1987 study with the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) has stood for the past 28 years as the closest indicator of what’s happening within American orchestras; it is long overdue for an update. The original survey was also the first publication made about the percentage of musicians who used propranolol, or beta-­blockers, and is often quoted when mentioning the drug.

With the support of ICSOM Beder sought out health professionals from the US, UK, and Australia, and has worked with them to develop a new survey to learn what has changed among musicians over almost 30 years, where performance fears come from, and what can be done to address them.

As a guest presenter of the 53rd annual ICSOM conference in Philadelphia, Beder encouraged the delegates of all 52 orchestras represented to participate in this new survey. ICSOM is the only organization of its kind in the US, representing 52 orchestras and over 4,000 classical musicians.

About the film-maker

John Beder is a percussionist, classical musician, and filmmaker based out of his hometown of Boston, MA. Composed is a forthcoming documentary about overcoming performance anxiety, and the lengths to which professional classical musicians are willing to go to deal with the stress of performance. Beder is anticipating a Spring/Summer 2016 release of the final feature. Learn more at www.composeddocumentary.com.

Contact:

John Beder, Bed Productions LLC
617 383 4407; johnbeder@me.com

facebook.com/composedkickstarter

twitter @JanBoder

Beyond Stage Fright

Stage fright remains a largely taboo and highly sensitive subject amongst musicians, yet the anxiety of performance is a common feeling experienced by many, including some of the world’s top-flight artists. Learning how to manage performance anxiety is a crucial part of the performing artist’s craft, and musicians of all levels and ages can learn from the professionals who have developed effective strategies to manage the stress associated with performing.

The Beyond Stage Fright online summit is a series of video interviews given by top international soloists and principal orchestral players, along with leading writers and teachers who all share their unique take on managing performance stress. Host Charlotte Tomlinson, pianist and author of Music from the Inside Out, uncovers the whole topic, giving you a rare chance to look into the inner world of the professional musician. The interviews are fascinating, insightful and inspiring!

To get access to the summit, you need to sign up to the website: www.beyondstagefright

The summit goes live on Friday May 29th and once you register, you will receive access to two video interviews a day for 11 days in your inbox.

Musicians, writers and teachers taking part: • Hilary Hahn (violinist) • John Lill (pianist) • Martin Roscoe (pianist) • Tracy Silverman (US electric violinist) • Claire Jones (harpist) • Amy Dickson (classical saxophonist) • Zuill Bailey (US cellist) • Paul Harris (educator/composer) • Janice Chapman (singing teacher) • David Krakauer (US clarinettist) • Swingle Singers • Maya Beiser (US cellist) • Martin Owen (principal horn BBCSO) • Louisa Tuck (principal cello RNS) • James Rhodes (pianist) • Louise Lansdown (Head of Strings, Birmingham Conservatoire) • Michael Whight (clarinettist) • Roderick Williams (opera/concert singer) • Elise Batnes (leader Oslo Philharmonic) • Eric Maisel (US writer on Performance Anxiety) • Diane Widdison (Musician’s Union)

Performance Anxiety Anonymous

Last week, I hosted a workshop on performance anxiety for the London Piano Meetup Group. We used a small room with a grand piano at The Music Studios on London’s Marylebone Lane, just around the corner from the Wigmore Hall, appropriately. The aim of the workshop was to offer strategies for coping with anxiety for a small group of mostly novice performers, of varying levels, from near-beginner to diploma. Seated in a rough semi-circle around the piano, one of the participants admitted that it was rather like an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting – hence the title of this post.

In fact the AA analogy is not inappropriate, for there is a great deal of taboo and shame surrounding performance anxiety, with many people feeling they should not admit to feeling nervous ahead of and/or during a performance. So, to kick off the workshop, I stressed the fact that performance anxiety is normal and that even top professional musicians suffer from the unpleasant effects of nerves and stage fright. We then talked about individual symptoms from headache and cold hands to nausea and shaking, palpitations and sweating. People described particular instances where they felt nerves had got the better of them and spoiled or harmed a performance or exam. The overriding theme of this discussion was “fear” – fear of making mistakes, of looking stupid in front of one’s peers or the audience, or the fear of receiving negative feedback from colleagues, peers and others.

The unpleasant physical symptoms of performance anxiety are due to the effect of the release of adrenaline, the “fight or flight hormone”. It’s the hormone that, when we lived in caves, made us decide whether to run away from the sabre-toothed tiger, or stay and fight it. Now, performing it nothing like fighting a sabre-toothed tiger, though for some it can feel as momentous, frightening and difficult. Adrenaline can be used in a positive way too and it can actually raise our performance, making us “play up” and play with more expression, emotional depth and communication.

For me, the most significant and useful process in conquering my performance anxiety (which had developed over many years of hardly playing the piano, and limited performance experience when at school) was reaching a state of acceptance: accepting that the state of mind and body is normal and that one is “allowed” to feel nervous. Giving ourselves this permission can help us let go of some of the negative psychological effects and messages we give ourselves when we are nervous.

A couple of members of the group then admitted that when they had said to themselves “oh I don’t care, I’ve probably failed this exam anyway!” their playing improved. This is another aspect of ‘acceptance’.

We then discussed pre-empting one’s performance with negative messages such as “I know I’m going to play badly”, “I played this better at home”, “I’ll probably make a mistake”. Instead, one should replace such harmful messages with positive affirmation such as “I know my pieces” (to quote Vladimir Horowitz), “I feel nervous but I am also excited about performing these pieces”, and “I can do it!”.

We also talked about performance rituals and drugs, including the use of products such as Rescue Remedy and beta blockers (which should be used under the guidance of a doctor), and “good luck charms”, including favourite shoes, clothing or jewellery, which can help create positive feelings. Finally, we all did some deep breathing exercises, which can be wonderfully useful in helping one feel calmer and centred, both before and during a performance.

Finally, each participant gave a short performance, with the rest of the group offering supportive comments and enthusiastic applause. We talked about how we felt after we had performed, and I hope everyone who took part in the exercise found the workshop useful and positive. You can download my notes from the meeting here.

Remember, don’t feel embarrassed about admitting that you suffer from performance anxiety: it is perfectly normal!

Pieces played at the workshop:

Beatrice – Little Prelude in C minor BWV 999/JS Bach

Phillipa – Minuet in A/Krieger

Tina – Etude op.10 no. 3 ‘Tristesse’/Chopin

Steven – The Power of Love

Rick – Sonata in G/Scarlatti

Alison – Ivan Sings/Khachaturian

Fran – A Sad Song/Kabalevsky

 

The Music Studios, Marylebone Lane

The Inner Game of Music – a blog post by pianist Alisdair Hogarth on performance anxiety

Stage fright #3: how to manage your emotional response

The final guest post by Charlotte Tomlinson

In my last two blogs on this topic, I wrote about some practical tips for managing stage fright and the deep shame that many performers have as a result of having stage fright. Stage fright is a taboo area and professional musicians, rarely admit to it, even to their closest colleagues, which causes immense distress and can impact the quality of their performance.

Stage fright comes from fear. It comes when the mild dose of adrenalin that you need to help you perform well, gets out of hand. Your body overreacts and goes into fight or flight from a perceived threat. You are ‘only’ performing but that performing in its most extreme form, can feel as if you are in extreme physical danger.

The perceived threat can come from a number of different sources but the biggest is from your own negative self-talk. It can run something like this: “If I don’t do this concert well, I might not be booked for the next one” or “they’re going to think I’m useless if I mess this up.” Just from those two examples, you can see the pressure we put on ourselves, and our anxiety about what other people might think of us. That negative self-talk can be our downfall. It is easy to slide into a barrage of negative emotions, which then give enormous power to what we don’t want to happen.

The first step is to acknowledge the stress and pressure of the situation and let go of beating yourself up – it never helps! Then start to notice when that negative self-talk kicks in:

“Wow! I am being really hard on myself….is this really what I want? Is it helping me by feeling like this? What do I want to feel? What do I want to see happen?”

The next step is to find a way of getting in to a good feeling place. Negative emotions that stem from fear are very powerful and can feel overwhelming at times, but there is a choice here. You are not at the mercy of your negative feelings. You can choose to feel good. Remember your love for the music you are playing and why you are playing music in the first place.

You may say: “But I don’t love that music – how can I feel good about playing it if I don’t love it?” Sometimes it is more challenging than at other times. If you find that you dislike the music you are playing, find something, anything, that will help you feel good. Feeling good comes from the simplest things: remembering the feeling of sun on your skin, the feeling of your child’s hug, the colours of a stunning sunset – whatever lifts you. And then bring those feelings into your present situation.

Now explore choosing some more encouraging and supportive thoughts for yourself:

“I’m about to get up and perform…I do feel nervous…but, I choose to do this and I really want to do it well….I would love to enjoy this whole experience…I would love to feel a connection with the audience…it would be great if all these people liked it as well….they are here to hear me…I’d love to inspire them and leave them feeling good…wow, just thinking like that is starting to make me feel better….oh, I’m actually looking forward to going onto the stage…”

It would be tempting to think “Oh, that’s all nice and fluffy…I’ll give it a go and if nothing changes, well, clearly it doesn’t work…nice idea, but not very effective.”  Start by taking it seriously and give it your attention. Then it is a case of building it into your neurology and this takes practice. It can take as much practice, if not more so, than preparing for the performance itself.

Be aware of the performance, whatever it is, in advance and then, just as you prepare for it physically and mentally, prepare for it emotionally. See yourself giving a wonderful performance; see it going well every time you think of it. Feel the good feelings in advance so that it becomes normal and habitual to enjoy performing. It may take time and commitment, but if it helps you enjoy your performance and let go of your fear, then it is surely worth it!

Charlotte Tomlinson is a pianist, educator and a published author who specialises in helping musicians overcome issues that stop them from performing. Her book Music from the Inside Out deals with the thorny issues that can profoundly affect you as a musician, and which you may not want to face. You are encouraged to look at what lies beneath the surface and you are guided to unlock what’s holding you back.

  • Learn how to transform your own Inner Critic
  • Get to grips with your performance nerves
  • Discover how to play with complete physical freedom
  • Perform to the peak of your expressive power

Music from the Inside Out gives you tools that can transform your whole approach to performing music.

For more information about Charlotte, and to order a copy of her book, please visit her website: