Going Through My Files, Part 1: Golden Rules for Conquering Performance Anxiety

Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I found myself grappling with performance anxiety that really impacted both how I auditioned and how I performed. I found that I didn’t have too much trouble if I were performing a role, but I did auditioning for one (which made it hard to get the role), and in performing in recital or concert. No matter how much preparation I put in, I would get up on stage and I would shake, I would hyperventilate, my mouth would get dry (once my lip adhered to my upper teeth while holding a high note, which looked weird, and then suddenly released, which made it sound weird), and my voice would suffer the consequences. As a result, I didn’t pursue a lot of auditions, and didn’t do a lot of performing in what should have been a peak time for me as a performer.

I looked for help on what was then this growing source, the Internet. One article that seemed to resonate with me was by composer/guitarist David Leisner. You can read the full article here, but I summarized the 6 rules on notecards that I apparently kept handy for me to refer to in the event I did have a performance or audition. I found 3 or 4 of them in a folder marked “performance anxiety.” I also put each rule into my own words so that it would mean something to me. Here are the rules – Mr. Leisner’s words are in bold, my “translation” in italics below:

  1. You have practiced to the best of your ability.
    Trust your autopilot (aka your TECHNIQUE) to work!
  2. Do not judge what just happened or will happen.
    No “what was that?” thinking!
  3. Don’t second-guess audience reaction.
    Please yourself only!
  4. Be in the music, in the moment.
    Be on stage, not in the audience; be in the GIVING mode, not the receiving one!
  5. Single out one aspect of your playing that is #1 priority (before going on stage)
    You can’t address everything. What do you want to focus on? Breath? Expression?
  6. Enjoy! Let your excitement for the music be present!
    You perform because you have a passion to perform. Nothing else matters.
I don’t suffer from this anxiety anymore. I have an idea of what ended it, but it’s personal (I actually do keep some things to myself). But finding this yesterday reminded me of what I went through and what other people still go through.
I’m going to write another blog about some other information I found in that folder, and about other resources that I had and that I still have.

Is this an issue for you? How do you deal with it? How can I help you? Just ask. I’ve been there.

Published by Mezzoid Voice Studio

Christine Thomas-O'Meally, a mezzo soprano and voice teacher currently based in the Baltimore-DC area, has performed everything from the motets of J.S. Bach to the melodies of Irving Berlin to the minimalism of Philip Glass. As an opera singer and actress, she has appeared with companies such as Charm City Players, Spotlighters Theatre, Chicago Opera Theater, Opera Theater of Northern Virginia, Opera North, the Washington Savoyards, In Tandem Theatre, Windfall Theater, The Young Victorian Theater of Baltimore, and Skylight Opera Theatre. She created the role of The Woman in Red in Dominick Argento’s Dream of Valentino in its world premiere with the Washington Opera and Mary Pickersgill in O'er the Ramparts at its world premiere during the Bicentennial of Battle of Baltimore at the Community College of Baltimore County. Other roles include Mrs. Paroo in Music Man, Mother Abbess in Sound of Music, Dorabella in Cosi Fan Tutte, Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro, both Hansel and the Witch in Hansel & Gretel, and many roles in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. Her performance as the Housekeeper in Man of La Mancha was honored with a WATCH award nomination. Ms. Thomas-O'Meally received an M.M. in vocal performance from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. She regularly attends master classes and workshops in both performance and vocal pedagogy, and is certified in all three Levels of Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method. Her students have performed on national and international tours of Broadway productions, at prestigious conservatories, and in regional theater throughout the country.

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