Stage Fright. Should we even talk about it? After all, when you look at your fellow musicians, it seems like everyone is doing well and having no anxiety on stage or in real life. Really?
According to different statistics, around 50 percent of musicians suffer from stage fright at some point in their careers. And between 20 and 70 percent of musicians admit that their music performance anxiety symptoms are severe enough to have a negative impact on their performance. If that's the case, why don't we talk about it? Why do we act as if there is nothing to talk about? I think I know why this is the case. My theory is that Stage Fright is a taboo among musicians and performers because we believe that if admitted that we were struggling with it, we'd be perceived as unprofessional or not good enough. Am I right? Or is it something different?
My experience is that talking about struggles does not make us weak - on the contrary - it makes us grow. After all, we're in this together and we can learn from each other, unless we think no one really knows how to overcome stage fright and that everybody has to find their own way to deal with it.
Let me tell you my story.
It was a hot June day, and I was getting ready for my college violin exam. I was well prepared. I've been practicing for hours over the last few months. I knew every note of my Prokofiev concerto. Warming up in my practice room. Five more minutes. It's gonna be good. Here I come! And then, standing there on stage, feeling the eyes of the music professors on me, and especially the head of the music department. I just wasn't comfortable. I could feel my hands shaking and my fingers freezing cold. How can I play if I can't control my body? I just wanted this humiliating experience to end as soon as possible so I could run away. Feeling shame and regret afterwards...Why? I love playing violin so much. Why can't I show them what I'm capable of?
After exams like this, I would go to talk about the results with my teacher, but it was always about the technical parts of my performance. Despite my struggles, I would still get very good grades, because on the outside it all sounded good and nice. Really? But why did I feel defeated and not happy? Why didn't anyone notice that something was wrong with me and that I was struggling emotionally?
As a student I wasn't prepared to deal with the fear of being negatively evaluated, I didn't know what was going on with me, I didn't know how to prepare mentally to succeed on stage. And neither my teachers or fellow students, since no one had taught them that either.
Perhaps I would have never known if one day I hadn't met a psychologist who told me, "You struggle with performance anxiety? I'm sorry to hear it but you know that you can change it, right?" "I can?" How? "Well, I can't do it in one day, but if you give me a couple of weeks, I can teach you how to do it."
Meeting this person was a turning point and the beginning of a new chapter in my life. It was then that I learned how to overcome stage fright and be happy and fulfilled on stage. It was during this time when I learned how to deal with negative thoughts or emotions, and be more confident in life and on stage. Over the next few years, I developed the Grow in Flow program to share this knowledge with other musicians and performers so that they also could grow and thrive during their stage performances.
And so I invite you today to join me on our journey to anxiety-free performances. We're in this together and I'm here to help you grow and be fulfilled in all you do.
About the author
Justyna Ponulak M.A. is a passionate and highly skilled music performance coach and the founder of the Grow in Flow Program that help musicians and other performers prevent and manage anxiety, including stage fright, by equipping them with the mental tools necessary for a successful career.
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