I recently presented a webinar for the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) in London. What was interesting to me about this webinar was the topic, and the response that topic has from musicians in general. I give two talks: one is Manage your Performance Nerves and the other is Preventing and overcoming Performance-related Injury.
The first is always infinitely more popular than the second. In the case of the ISM, there were two or three times the participants for my nerves webinar a year before than there were for the injury webinar. What I have discovered is that musicians tend not to resonate with the word ‘injury’ even with the word ‘prevent’ in the title, and don’t feel it applies to themselves; whereas the word ‘nerves’ or ‘performance anxiety’ is something that every musician knows and feels. To me, there are way more connections between the two topics than one might think.
The similarities between performance-related injury and performance anxiety
In my experience, performance-related injury can develop as an extension of chronic physical tension over a long period of time. Some of the biggest contributing factors to this tension are the same as they are for performance anxiety – a fear of being judged, a fear of getting it wrong or an overdose of perfectionism. It’s an unconscious way of protecting oneself from the fears that loom large when performing or preparing to perform. Sometimes these physical protective mechanisms develop, over time, into aches and pains, which can then become injury; sometimes they don’t develop into aches and pains, and are instead interpreted as performance anxiety, perhaps because the musician is more open to the emotional and psychological aspects of these protective mechanisms. So physical tensing, which might then lead to injury, is just one means of expressing the very real fears musicians have.
When I work with students either in the master class after my Manage your Performance Nerves talk, or in individual sessions, I work with them physically just as much as I do emotionally, psychologically or musically. Helping them free up physically can support them in freeing up emotionally which immediately impacts their musical expression. But I could just as easily say, helping them free them up emotionally can support them in freeing them up physically, which immediately impacts their musical expression. They’re all connected; everything impacts everything else. I think it’s all holistic – nothing can really be separated.