Monday, September 16, 2013

Tales of fear

What's the next note?!
You've probably already read some of my lapse anecdotes. Those are scary stories in their own right, but this post is more about the fear that precedes a performance. Even though this blog is about memorization, there really aren't any differences between the fearful feeling of a memorized performance and that of a non-memorized performance. 

I think we all know the fear feelings of upset stomachs, restless colons, pounding heart, clammy palms, sweaty pits, and shaky hands. To some extent, all of this goes away when one becomes a more seasoned performer. As a memorizing musician, you probably have a greater degree of fear than one who doesn't memorize--or, at least in my humble opinion, your fear is much more greatly justified. 

The most fear-inducing thing that happens to me is when, just before a performance, I'm playing through a piece and I have a lapse. This is quite common! For this reason, I always carry my scores with me. I know that I'm very well-prepared before a performance, but this is such an irrational occurrence that I, at times, have a very hard time visualizing or hearing the correct notes. One solution is to look at the score; another is to start at the previous landmark, after which I have no trouble getting back on track. Ultimately, these aren't true lapses (even though they are lapses) in that they're based in a degree of anxiety that, fortunately, doesn't really produce itself in the focused moments of a performance. My analysis is that, in playing just before a recital, one opens oneself up to a certain amount of nervous distraction, and the results are these irrational lapses. 

I noticed these types of lapses early on in my return-to-memory performances, so I got into the habit of a backstage ritual. Because backstage time can build anxiety, I would review all of my landmarks in reverse order, just as I do in my practice. The reviewing had the effect of calming my anxiety, and it put me into a good mental state.

However...one time I had a very long wait backstage before a concerto appearance. I had done all of my mental reviewing, and I was pacing a bit backstage. A stage hand came up to me and asked why I had a score in my hand. I said that I was reviewing the music. He, a theater guy, said, "Don't you know the rule about theater?" Of course I didn't: I'm a musician. "You never go over your lines before going on stage. That's a sure way to have a mishap."

Since then, I try not to review my music just before a performance. If I do any playing on stage before a concert, it's minimal, and I try not to play entire pieces. Backstage, I might review my tempi, especially as an accelerated heart rate can make for some hair-raising virtuosity. But now I rest in the confidence of what I knew when I left the house the morning of the performance: I can do this!