Sunday, November 15, 2009

Performance Anxiety or Getting Those Butterflies to Fly in Formation

By Julie Marie Rahm

Yesterday evening the Pamlico Community Band performed its fall concert for a full house. Playing my flute in the band has been one of my greatest joys for the past three years. In September, our director encouraged me to play my piccolo instead.

I had not played the piccolo since high school. The exact amount of time that has elapsed is not important other than to say it could be counted in decades. In a moment of possibility thinking, I agreed.

As you might imagine, after all of that time all of the pads on my piccolo had deteriorated. So, I invested two hundred dollars to have the instrument overhauled and polished. Now there was no turning back. The moment I walked into the house with my revitalized piccolo, I went immediately to the piano bench and opened the case. I carefully lifted the mouthpiece and the body, inserted the mouthpiece into the body, and lifted the instrument to my lips. The noise that emerged as I blew across the mouthpiece was something like a cat in heat. In two months the band would play its fall concert and I would play the solo finishing the final movement of Second Suite in F by Gustav Holst. Panic gripped me. Okay, Mindset Mechanic, I thought to myself. You are so smart. What do you have for me?

Transitioning from second flute to solo piccolo player is a metaphor for life. As a second flute player I was one of many, blending in, not calling attention to myself, and believing that no one would really notice if I missed a practice. Playing the piccolo is like playing the oboe or solo trumpet. Everyone knows when you play and whether you are present. All of the performance values I learned growing up came rushing back to me. Young musicians learn early the true meaning of grades. In most classes students would be happy with an A grade of 95 percent. Musicians know that is not good enough. If five percent of band members play a wrong note, the music sounds atrocious! My fear of making a mistake and being noticed came rushing back as if I were a 14 year old high school freshman again.

What would I tell myself if I were coaching myself? I would say

1. Do not take yourself so doggone seriously! If you make a mistake, smile, mentally throw up your hands and think how remarkable!
2. Step back from the world of competition and judgment. Know that you have a contribution to make to people, musically and personally.
3. Acknowledge your love of performing music. You will find that love is much stronger than your worries. And, your friends and family do not love you because you never make a mistake!
4. Do your best and understand that your best may be better one day than the next.
5. God did not create you to be inconsequential and anonymous. Embrace the joy that comes from knowing your music lifts the spirits of those who hear it.
6. Visualize the theater on performance night. Hear the notes before you play them. Imagine the bliss on the faces of people in the audience. Allow your love of playing to fill your body. Imagine the gypsies dancing as you play your solo, feeling the music from your head to your toes.

For the next two months I practiced every day, taking my own advice. Slowly the notes and my tone returned. Last night as we played for a packed house, I felt only joy. The butterflies in my stomach flew with the precision of the Canadian Snowbirds flight team. Despite playing in numerous concerts since I was ten years old, for the first time I was singled out, recognized by the announcer stating and Julie Rahm on piccolo. I stood and grinned until a smile filled my face. Had I played perfectly? It did not matter. I have made the transition from the safety of anonymity to the joy of contribution.

What is the piccolo equivalent in your life? What metaphorical music are you holding back from the world? You were born to play your unique tune. The world will be a better place when you do!

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