Performance Space

Over the last three semesters, my students have been reporting even more performance anxiety than usual. We have all had to become much more skilled at using various formats for remote teaching and learning. Students have had to record themselves more than in the past.  Many of us were told by teachers to record ourselves often and we did. Sometimes …. OK, not as often as we should have. Students are now responsible for sending video and/or audio recordings for grad school pre-screens and various competitions, as well as recording etudes or other pieces for their weekly lessons. Sometimes the lessons are happening over Zoom and other platforms. Studio class and recitals have happened in empty halls or in living rooms around the country. All of these options are better than nothing, but we can all agree that there’s nothing quite like playing in person for a live audience. Many of my students reported being even more nervous playing for their laptop screen, phone or video camera! I must admit, this was a new one for me and it took me a while to come up with some suggestions for them to try to help with this. 

What we found was that it still comes down to our relationship with the space around us as we’re performing. Too often, our attention goes from our face to the music stand and nowhere else. We aren’t including the audience or the space in our awareness. Musicians who struggle with performance anxiety often report that they are stuck in their own heads, listening to a that critical voice commenting negatively on every aspect of our performance. They are not even in their bodies, let alone the space around that body!

What can we do?

Show up early to the performance space, whether it’s a concert hall, your family’s living room, or your dorm room. Look at the space in front of you, behind you, to both sides. Turn around and look at the space behind you and look at the space above you, as these directions are often overlooked. Familiarize yourself with the dimensions of the space that you are using for your performance.  

Eyes

Visually, can your eyes claim more space? In stressful situations, many people report that they start to get tunnel vision. For musicians, this is seeing the music on the stand and nothing else.  Can you include the white or cream color of the paper behind the black notation? Can you include the black space of the music stand around the page? Can you then include the audience and the hall behind the music stand? Can you widen your peripheral vision, just a little bit? The visual information in your periphery will not be focused, it will be fuzzy, but can you expand that a little bit? There is research out now by Dr. Andrew Huberman at Stanford showing that increasing peripheral vision actually works to engage the parasympathetic nervous system, and thereby help get us out of sympathetic nervous system activation. {See Tis the Season (https://thefluteexaminer.com/tis-the-season/)  to read more about the nervous system}

Camera, Eyes and Space

Back to problem of being more nervous for the camera…. ask yourself what space you’re including? Are you fully in the room as a performance space? Granted, your dorm room cannot compare to Carnegie Hall, but we all have to make the best of the options that are available.  Have you looked above, behind, forward and both sides? Are you looking at your laptop camera? Can you include the space behind your camera? Can you include the audience that is or will be watching your performance around the world?

Inviting

The final thing I’d like to share was actually something that I heard someone say, and I cannot remember who it was. We often think that we’re walking onto the stage, entering into the audience’s space. What if we take the stage and we own the space? Then we are are inviting the audience into our space, rather than the other way around. This change of context can be very powerful and it works in venues of all types. The audience is there to listen to what you are offering.

Practice

Like everything else in music, these skills have to be practiced regularly if you want them to work for you in performance situation. Devote a few minutes a day to practice getting yourself into a performance space. Work on including more material in your visual fields. A few minutes a day can make a big difference over time.

  1. […] The Flute Examiner (Kelly Wilson): Performance Space […]

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