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Performance anxiety, part two...

A few nights ago I gave a concert in quite a challenging situation. The venue, a private home, provided a small and intimate space with the audience consisting of a mixture of friends, classical guitar enthusiasts, music professionals and a visiting student guitarist from Argentina. The first row of the audience sat just a few inches away from me so that every single detail of my playing was noticeable. In such a situation, you immediately feel under great pressure to produce a musical performance of sheer perfection.

Knowing specific names or details of people in an audience can, if you allow it, be a great distraction and adversely affect your ability to play. Of course, it depends on your sensitivity to and how you view different people but, whatever your view, it would be helpful to know or believe that every single person in the audience is your best friend, a great admirer of your playing and completely relaxed about how well the performance goes.

The other night I found it helpful to remind myself that the audience members all came to my concert because they wanted to be there. Also that I wanted to enjoy the performance, in a relaxed way, as I would sitting at home playing to my family. Most of all I had the feeling that there was nothing more I could possibly do to be better prepared. That is probably the most helpful thing to get me through any concert.

I am one of those people who can’t help worrying about what different people are thinking while I play. While it is important to care about giving a good performance, when it comes to actually sitting down in front of the audience, I know I must forget about such concerns and instead focus my mind completely on the music. I liken it to meditation where the aim is to clear the mind of distracting thoughts to reach a state of complete calm. Stage meditation for me is about focussing intently on everything I love about playing the guitar, the beauty of sounds and the expressiveness of the music.

If you can walk on stage believing in your abilities, your concert preparation and that the audience is there in a positive way, then you are a long way towards giving everyone, including yourself, a satisfying concert experience.

You have to be careful to avoid the trap of allowing annoying thoughts to enter your head. Classic ones include the realisation of difficult sections of a piece of music soon to be encountered and doubts about ‘getting through them’. The really important thing to remember here is that in giving a performance, you can only really allow yourself to focus on the moment. You can’t afford to wish the performance away, worry about what’s ahead or try to get to the end as soon as possible. Enjoy every moment and only think about what you are dealing with at the time. Allow yourself time and don’t rush.

Another thing to consider is that if you are aiming for speed to impress your audience then you are most likely doomed to failure. Always keep the music above thoughts of attaining an amazing technical feat that has little or any musical value. Of course, speed does have a place in music but there has to be good reason for it and it must be in support of musical aims and expression.

These days having people attend your concerts is a real privilege and I’m ever grateful to those who come to hear me. However, as a performer I want to ‘switch off’ as much as possible to who is in the audience, as ultimately it doesn’t and shouldn’t matter who is there. The main aim is to produce music which requires complete focus and does not allow space for fear or ego.