, or audition anxiety
, as Phyllis Stein
calls it, or
sometimes just performance anxiety
, is a problem I've had to work with, in both my students
My youngest students, five to about, say, ten, seem to have no anxiety. It's as if they
don’t even see to the edge of the stage, let alone into the audience. Several, each year at
our annual recital, will come without their books. We do not
encourage this, wanting the event to have a low threshold , so everyone can
When puberty is on the horizon, anxiety begins for many, especially for those who
have made mistakes--which most of us do at some time. (I tell my students, it's not the
error that is the error, it's what we do with it that can be the error.)
There have been music performed on organ, and harpsichord for religious days,
and civic occasions, and, since the invention of the first piano-like instrument in 1710, on
it as well, but not performances as we now understand them. What we think of as piano
concerts date from the Romantic era, and artists like Franz Liszt. (Thank you,
I'm confident the advice for performers for more than a century has always been the
If you can’t do a lot, do a little. When you can do a little, do a little more.
Like exercise, build up endurance until you can do a lot.
I encourage my child students to take advantage of performing opportunities
throughout the year: a junior music club before Christmas, a music competition in
April, and an examination through the Royal Conservatory of Music of Toronto in June.
Before each, I hold a Sunday afternoon piano class. I get a turn out of about 10 for each
class the last several years. In the most informal atmosphere (I strive for this), my students
perform their pieces--since playing piano is a solitary activity, this will be the only way for
them to meet others who feel the way they do.
From the youngest to the oldest, I encourage them to discuss, constructively,
the performances. With the experience of their lessons, the discussion in previous classes,
and listening to older students who have worked on the same pieces, every student begins
to appreciate all the stylistic, and technical points of the work we do.
And we have a great time!
I remember as a student being very nervous. One of my teachers said to me, once, that
I was nervous because I was more concerned about myself than my music. It may sound a
bit callous, but she was a seasoned performer, and great teacher; I profited from working
with her--and so have my students. But I have rarely shared that bit of wisdom with my
students--though she is correct.
But I did get to the point, at the end of high school, when I could perform, compete,
and even do exams without being overly anxious. (Without some anxiety,
however, I don’t believe a performance will be exciting.)
As an adult, I have performed almost no classical work; it's hard for none
professionals to find venues. I did a duet with one of my senior students at the year end
recital--and was very nervous; I was out of practice.
More often, as a member of the Missing Neutrinos, and as a singer, I have used my
synthesizer keyboard to do blues, pop, rock, and folk. In so many ways this is
so much easier. In the group, the attention of the audience is diffused over several
performers, each one of which do not always have the solo.
But it is the sort of music that is important. In classical music, or non-popular, there
is far less emphasis on the exact repetition of each note--and any "error" can
legitimately be passed off as improvisation.
In fact, that is how I designed, or maybe discovered, “my” pop music: scales in which
errors cannot be made, changes that are simple to memorize, and conducive to
many interesting variations. Nevertheless, it was never very easy to get out to my local
coffeehouse's open stage night--but I did it, and generally enjoyed the
For my adult students, I am talking up the possibility of a recital for them next June.
This has always been problematic, but I think I might get ten to fifteen out; the first in
recent years at my school.
And I might, myself, play as well.