Breaking through performance anxiety:
Last week I was very proud to have a student I have been working with perform publicly at the PSSD Foundation launch event. Performing at this function was no small accomplishment for this student. In fact it has taken significant scaffolding over the previous weeks to get him to agree to do it. Leading up to the event he had us in limbo as to whether he would commit to actually doing it or not, so much so that I was asked to find a Plan B in case he bailed out.
The student is highly skilled and his apprehension to perform publicly was not because he lacked the skills to do so, but rather it was because HE didn’t believe he had the skills to do so. This led us to have conversations about public perception vs. self-perception, as well discussions on personal standards of perfection vs. the reality that no performance is ever perfect; nor does it have to be! To get this student ready the (very supportive) principal had this student doing “hallway gigs” about once a week where he would practice in the hallway for an hour while people were coming and going. After his first “hallway gig” I asked him how it went. He told me he didn’t play very well. I asked him, “Did anyone throw tomatoes at you?” He replied with a grin, “Not yet!”
In addition to the “hallway gigs” I would also assign the student to perform specific things for the principal and the band teacher before I returned the following week. In addition, the school had this student perform at their Remembrance Day service and allowed him to be behind a curtain as he requested. For this student and for many others (even myself) being comfortable performing the music is one thing, but being comfortable sharing it with people who may or may not like or respect you as a person and who may or may not like what you play for them is a whole other internal battle. Musicians take something very personal to them and put it out there for others to judge; it is much like wearing your heart on your sleeve.
To mitigate the anxiety that can come with public performance, the musician(s) must be given opportunities to perform in SAFE environments and must have a positive experience in order to take future public performing risks. Another key to the success of this was that in all of the scaffolding exercises leading up to the big event, we did not put restrictions on what songs the student should play or how visible he should be while playing. He is capable of playing everything from classical Bach to hard rock/metal. Even for the launch itself, we took our direction from the student in regards to whether he wanted to be background music while guests came and went or if he wanted to perform as part of the program itself. The goal was for him to be as comfortable as possible! He chose to be background music before and after the program. He brought along a support system that included a friend and his Dad. Dad had never heard his son perform in public before; emotions and pride ran high!
So how did the launch performance go? It was perfect! The student did a marvelous job! The background music he played fit the atmosphere perfectly and the positive comments from guests were endless. In the end, when there were just a few people left cleaning up, I had to ask him to stop playing so that the rest of us could lock up and go home… :). By the way, I never did find a “Plan B;” in fact I didn’t really try!
Much credit for the success of this event for this student goes to the school principal. He has a desire to see students pursue their individual passions in school and is flexible enough to make it happen even if it means thinking a little (or a lot) outside the box. My many thanks go to him for that because without that type of thinking, last week’s success story would never have happened.
Tomorrow I will see this student and I already know that when I ask him how he felt about the experience, he will tell me that he didn’t play very well. I will ask him, “Did anyone throw tomatoes at you?” I hope he says, “Not yet!”
How about in your school? Are there safe performance scenarios such as “hallway gigs” or “Friday coffee shops” or “smoothie cafes” available over noon hours or breaks for your students to share their music, enhance your school atmosphere, and break through performance anxiety? Is there a small space in your school somewhere that you could build an open free stage?
Reminder that on Wednesday, Nov. 26th, 1-3 pm at PSSD I will be hosting a PD session on Introduction to Elementary Music. This is a session designed especially or teachers unfamiliar with this teaching area. You do not have to read music in order to participate. There is still room available and D-codes are available. Please register in PD Place if you are interested in joining us. Please come prepared to be actively participating in the music making throughout the session and feel free to dress comfortably as we will be moving around the room at at times using the floor to play instruments.
Schedule this week:
Monday – DO all day
Tuesday – Colonsay AM, Waldheim PM
Wednesday – DO AM, PSSD PD PM
Thursday – Blaine Lake all day
Friday – South Corman Park AM, Laird and Rosthern PM
Tuesday – Kim meeting 11-12
Wednesday – Colonsay AM