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Performance Anxiety: some common responses

Tour round universities and colleges in Yorkshire

I have just come back from an 8-day trip to colleges and universities in Yorkshire, giving my talk on Manage your Performance Nerves with subsequent masterclass. It was a magical, inspiring and transformational trip in so many ways

York Minster

Each university/college had a different bunch of students with their own unique way of relating and responding, and yet fundamentally the issues they were presenting were similar. One of the common themes was bullying: when a student had been bullied and not valued as a musician, they were physically and emotionally armoured. Their musical expression was not just flat, but frightened. On some level they weren’t sure where the next blow was coming from and they needed a safe space from which to even consider expressing themselves musically. I felt that it was my responsibility to offer this safe space both through the content of the talk I gave along with how I presented it. I have to add here that the source of the bullying was in each case not these particular institutions, which had some incredibly supportive and caring staff members.

Another theme I noticed was ‘not feeling good enough’ particularly with the female students. I found myself doing physical work with them, getting them to stretch their arms out wide and encouraging them that they had every right to take up space on that stage. One young singer was timid and vulnerable, not sure whether she dared even open her mouth to sing. As she grew in confidence through our work, she managed to keep the vulnerability in her musical expression and gave us all lumps in our throats listening to her.

Students were regularly disarmingly open and courageous when they performed in front of their peers. Some were white and shaking with anxiety. What seemed important at this time was to bring in the audience and ask them to give feedback to the musician on the stage. Always those students in the audience were positive, as if by being given permission they could support their peers because they really understood what it felt like. They would then leap in to say how much that particular musician had changed in that short space of time and how much better and more expressive their music making was. It was heart warming – a far cry from what I experienced as a student.


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