But what happens when the performance doesn't yield the results we hoped for? What happens if the outcome of the performance doesn't reflect all the effort and dedication we put in?
I have to admit that once upon a time, I used to think each performance defined who I was as a musician and charted the entire course of my musical future! Can you imagine how much pressure I put on myself for each performance? How much stress I created, that just wasn't necessary? I convinced myself that each performance bore significant weight on my future, when in reality, it was simply an opportunity to learn and grow.
So, I've come up with a formula, something that you can use before and after a performance: BREATHE.
B - Breathe. This sounds simple, and yet for us flute players, it is the most fundamental "skill" we possess. Without sufficient breath control, we would not be able to play long, beautiful phrases or rapid passages with clarity. However, when we feel nervous about a performance, the first thing that's affected is our breathing. Suddenly, we may find ourselves short of breath. So, the first thing to do before and after a performance is to take a few deep breaths. Try counting to 5 when you inhale, and again when you exhale. Deep breathing has several benefits: it relaxes you so that physically you feel more at ease; you are able to focus better and respond more clearly to triggers; and you are warming up your lungs for when you perform.
R - Remember the journey you took in preparing for this performance. Perhaps your piece required you to learn a lot of new technique (i.e. double tonguing or vibrato). Perhaps you are performing a trio or quartet and throughout the process of learning the music, you became good friends with your ensemble members. Perhaps this is a piece you have always wanted to play and now you have achieved your goal! Whatever process took you from day one to the performance, remember all of that. This will help you to value the learning process more and put the performance into perspective as just another step in a long journey, thereby lessening the pressure.
E - Enjoy your audience! Whether you are performing for one judge at Solo or Ensemble or an auditorium full of enthusiastic audience members, be appreciative that you have the opportunity to play for share your music with them. One of my band directors told me, "If you go onstage with the intention of proving something, you will always fail; if you go onstage the intention of giving something, you will always succeed."
A - Accept your weaknesses. This is difficult for many people, myself included. When a performance doesn't go as well as we hoped, the tendency is to say it's because of someone else (i.e. our teacher, band director, parents, siblings, etc.) Perhaps all those people could have made different choices in helping you to prepare for this performance. However, in accepting your weaknesses, you are taking the first step in empowering yourself to change those weaknesses into strengths. If you ignore them and focus on external factors, it is unlikely that you will ever feel like you have control to improve your own playing - but you definitely do!
T - Thank everyone who has helped you. Similar to enjoying your audience, thank your teachers, mentors, family, and friends who have consistently supported you in reaching your goals. (This can be a silent thanks, especially if it is right before a performance!)
H - Have fun! Remember, you are playing the flute because you love to do it. I remember for my junior recital in college, one of the pieces I played was Doppler's "Fantasie Pastorale Hongroise." In a rehearsal with my pianist, he mentioned that there were some parts he could just tell I loved to play. Perform your piece so that the audience will feel like you love your piece and the opportunity to share it in performance!
E - Energize yourself for the next goal. Whether this is before or after a particular performance, you should be looking ahead toward the next goal or milestone in your musical achievements. Having the next "mile marker" in mind will take your focus off this particular performance and shift it toward the "big picture" - in which there will be many more wonderful performance and opportunities for growth!
So, the next time you are faced with a performance that did not go as well as you'd hoped (or an upcoming performance that you are nervous about), remember to just BREATHE.
Let me know how these tips work for you!