Happy New Year 2013!
My sophomore year was coming to an end. I had just finished my first two music therapy classes, Intro to Music Therapy and Psychology of Music. I had also finished another year of piano lessons, performance classes, and also a concert and piano finals (juries).
Along with me in the piano studio, was a graduating senior by the name of Emily. I knew her as an excellent piano performance major who's fingers could fly across the piano a hundred times faster and accurately than my own. I am not entirely sure how she saw herself but I did know that before any type of performance or audition she was absolutely sick to her stomach. I myself was no expert at calming nerves before any type of performance. I knew how it was to go out there and mess up on notes that I had down in the practice room or just plain forget stuff that I had thought I had well memorized, not to mention sweating hands on the keys.
The time had come for us at the end of that year, to have our very last piano performance class, a class where we played our pieces for each other. During this last class we were just discussing the year and Emily announced to us that she had figured out how to not be sick before a performance. Excited and eager to hear her response we sat on the edge of our chairs in anticipation for the advice she was about to give. "I figured out how to not be sick by telling myself that I don't have to be sick". We stared at her. What? Really? That's the best advice you have for us? I thought to myself. By the looks of a couple of others in the room I could tell they were thinking similar thoughts. She went on to tell us about how she realized that she did so much better when she told herself that before performances and focused on that thought.
I didn't get it. I knew that when I was little, say maybe 9 or 10, I learned that if I was grumpy or in a bad mood when trying to study or accomplish a skill in sports, I did not do well. I learned then that attitude did have an affect on success. But at the time of Emily giving us her grand advice I did not understand how just telling herself that simple line could make such a big difference.
Over the next two years though, her grand advice turned out to be extremely grand and helpful. Not at first though. I went through another piano jury where I butchered something that had sounded really good before all because of nerves. I didn't practice enough, I thought to myself. I should have done this this and this instead. And maybe I should have but I learned later that those things were not my biggest problem. I thought about Emily's words more and more over each semester after that whether it was for piano, conducting, test taking, facilitating sessions and behavior modification, and presentations. Through each of these events it made more and more sense. In piano specifically, I told myself almost arrogantly (because I really had to in order to do the best I could), "I don't have to be nervous. This is going to be fun. I'm going to do great. So what if there's a lot of people, that's the fun part. This does not have to be nerve racking. I'm a great piano player. Even if I'm not the best, I'm still good. I have great musicality. I have evidence of these things because I heard myself succeed in the practice rooms and my professor told me these things". These words over and over accompanied with simple deep breaths, 4 seconds in and 4 out, I succeeded far better than I had in the past.
I need to find Emily and thank her. I hope her own advice has helped her as much as it helped me.