I have been in a battle with fear most of my life. Those who know me would be surprised to hear that, as -for the most part- I am outwardly a confident and calm person. Inside, however, is a different story.
As a musician, fear can be a crippling- there’s nothing like practicing for months in preparation for a performance only to have fear steal your thunder- so I have worked long and hard at understanding and dealing with my fears. Performing with orchestras and playing solo recitals on a regular basis for almost thirty years has taught me a lot about myself, and I was thrilled to see huge progress at my recital in Assisi this summer. I have always appeared calm in performance….it’s what goes on inside my head that’s the problem. By the way, performing for your colleagues is possibly more terrifying than jumping out of a plane at 10,000 feet…not that I would know from personal experience or ever will, I hope (oh lord, not something else to worry about…).
I had the recital built up in my head in a way that made it a terrifying event looming over me, instead of feeling joy and excitement about performing in Italy. The fear monster was tapping on my shoulder in the middle of the night, spreading doubt, and I knew I had to do something to change my thinking, fast. I began to visualize a positive outcome. Instead of focusing on what could go wrong, I focused on what could go right. I reminded myself that I was invited to perform at this international conference through a blind audition of recordings. I had earned my place, alongside my wonderful colleagues. I didn’t have to be perfect, I just needed to be my best, and the world wasn’t going to end- nor would my career-if I made a mistake. Perfection is the bane of artistry, I think, as we worry so much about technical perfection that we lose the important spontaneity of the music.
I also took a different route physically. I started doing a lot of yoga, I meditated, took long walks with the dogs, focused on breathing- I mean really breathing, long and deep, I wrote about my feelings…and I practiced. A lot. My mentor always said, “Practice and hope, but never hope more than you practice.” If you do the work, you don’t need to worry. As a perfectionist, it is difficult to let go of the fear of failure, but you really have to. It was time for me to embrace life with all of its scary parts and go for it with everything I had.
The conditions at the recital hall in Assisi were abysmal….low light and no air conditioning, cramped. I looked out into the audience and saw the smiling faces of my sweet husband and dear friends. I took my time, wiping the sweat that was pouring off of my face between movements, breathed deeply and really focused on the music- not me- before I began to play. That’s something I always need to remind myself of- it should always be about the music, not my ego. For the first time, I felt relaxed, confident….I felt wonderful. On stage. In front of a large audience. Me!
When the recital ended, I felt such gratitude for the experience, for the lessons I had learned. I had played my best, and under very challenging circumstances. This was a huge indicator of growth for me, and I plan to keep building those skills. I’ll need to, as I have the busiest performance schedule this fall that I’ve ever had. That’s okay, though, because I’ve kicked fear to the curb. I’m going to stop rehearsing fear and rehearse success instead. Lions and tigers, and bears? Bring ’em on.