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Performance Anxiety: too many stresses

Performance Anxiety: too many stresses

My experience of working in the International Piano Academy in Konz, Germany early in September was fascinating yet again. I love having three full days to work intensively with around 12 student pianists from different parts of the world. They are mostly from South America so we had great fun with languages. Most of the Spanish speakers spoke good English but occasionally one of them would speak to me in French and I would answer in English. And then there was the fun of spotting the difference between Spanish and Portuguese; I am definitely a frustrated linguist!

Charlotte Tomlinson teaching student in Germany

When I arrived, I was alerted to a student who had had a terrible time with performance anxiety. She had played in an assigned concert on the day after she arrived and felt so paralysed with nerves that she stopped in the middle of a piece and walked off the stage. This is something that I know would be many musician’s worst nightmare so I was curious to find out what had triggered her experience. It became evident that it was a combination of too many stress factors piling up all at once without her having the performing experience to manage them. She arrived from Spain to Germany without knowing anyone; her best friend who she was coming with her, pulled out at the last moment; she wasn’t psychologically ready to play in public so soon after arriving; the piece she was playing was difficult and she didn’t feel completely prepared; she didn’t feel confident enough to let the director know how anxious she was before she agreed to perform.

The student responded very positively to learning that she had just had too many stresses all at once and she was very willing to let go of that negative experience. We decided together that she would play an easy, manageable piece in the next concert. She practised it a lot and we worked on making sure she walked on and ‘owned the stage’ with confidence. The concert went well and she was thrilled. She felt that the whole experience, both negative and positive, had been very valuable and that she had a much stronger handle on how to manage performing in an emotionally healthy way as a result.


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