Facing Fears and Performance Anxiety

[From October 8, 2001]


The recital is Sunday. You are going to get up and sing one or two songs in front of at least 23 people (the number of people who have signed up to sing) and, assuming they each bring two people, the total swells to 69. Maybe more. You have been working on your song(s) for the appropriate amount of time to learn the text, the melody, the rhythm, how it fits with the accompaniment, and to be able to find some nuances and subtleties with the text and music so that you are really giving a performance and not just spouting notes. In a word, you are prepared.

Yet you’re nervous and you’re afraid something will go terribly wrong. What are you afraid of?

  1. I’ll crack.
  2. I’ll forget the words.
  3. I’ll miss a note/make a musical error.
  4. People won’t like my voice.
  5. I’ll trip.
  6. I’ll wet my pants.
Let’s answer each of these in turn.
  1. Often a crack is only heard by yourself and those really close to you. It rarely travels into the audience. Keep yourself hydrated the day before and morning of, and eat an apple or chew something (your tongue?) right before you go on. If you crack, keep going!
  2. Put the words on an index card and speak them to yourself in the days before the performance. If you still miss a word, say something else. No one will have the words in front of them.
  3. You miss a note, you make a mistake, you go on. Just have the “I meant that” look on your face and beat yourself up later. Nine times out of ten, no one will know unless you tell them.
  4. Not everyone will like your voice. You aren’t going to like other people’s voices, either. (After all, Britney Spears has had a career for over 10 years now, despite what I think.) I’m sure there are people who don’t like my voice. (Those people are called morons.) As the late Rick Nelson said, “You can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself.”
  5. In 1989, I sang my first Messiah. My dress was too long and I had to climb steps to get onstage, while holding music. I dropped my hem just a fraction of a second too soon, walked UP my skirt and fell face first into the first violinist, knocking over his music stand. This was not a subtle “oops.” I was sprawled on the stage. I had to fight the temptation to cry, to run off the stage, and even, for a split second, to say, “Live from New York, it’s SATURDAY NIGHT!” Instead, I had to get up, compose myself, look at the audience, and nod to the conductor to let him know I could go on. The music began and I sang, “Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened.” (Not kidding. I thought the tenor was going to wet himself laughing by the time I got to the line, “Then shall the lame man leap as an hart.”) If anything would have stopped me from performing for the rest of my life, it would have been this moment. It didn’t.
  6. Remember what I said about staying hydrated in #1? Stop in the bathroom before you sing, please.
So now I’ve addressed your fears. If you need any other coping devices, talk to me in your lesson (or read Shirlee Emmons’/Alma Thomas’ Power Performance for Singers or any other wonderful books on performance anxiety).
Toi toi toi.

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