Attending Christine Vitale’s Optimal Performance Workshop gave me a better sense of how to deal with the intangible, but very debilitating, things that happen to a performer before, during, and after a performance. But before I get into the meat and potatoes of this topic, if you have never heard of Christine Vitale, she is an accomplished concert violinist and a performance psychologist who applies mind-based strategies to aid any musician in how to overcome or manage anxiety, concentration issues, and perform at a consistent level.
I always deal with the nerves just before I go onstage; it can sometimes be so overwhelming that it can completely shut down all opportunity to do well. I have gone onstage knowing exactly what I want to do but maybe I recognized someone in the crowd or maybe the lights are too bright and I shifted from being present in the moment to being trapped in my own mind. Vitale talks about how society attempts to solve this problem by looking at people who have anxiety issues and doing the opposite; but she doesn’t think this is the right approach. She says, “What works is looking at people who perform well,” and defining the components that make those performances great. When I am or I see someone “in the zone” and having a great performance, it feels effortless, it’s fun, there is a definite connection with the audience, and it feels like a complete submersion in the moment. Vitale describes this as “flow.” When it happens, you are one with your body, instrument, and the surroundings and nothing can get in the way of the delivery and moment you are feeling.
The next thing the workshop addressed was the amount of pressure we put on ourselves in direct relation to the goals we set. Vitale talked about making sure your skill level matches your challenge level. What she meant was don’t set your challenge level too high when your skill level is low because the goal you set may be too high to reach at that moment. This can lead to anxiety and decreased self-confidence. I would consider myself my own worst critic and I put a lot of pressure on myself to be perfect and have the best technique. I forget that music is a labor of love and you want people to feel the love aspect rather than the work it took to get to the stage-ready moment. In my private lessons, my instructor gets on me all the time about how I let technique get in the way of the delivery of a song; I had to step back and realize that the instrument is good and I need to have a firm grasp of what I know my voice can do, and that if I do that I will be great.
Performance anxiety and all the other issues we face as performers and musicians are natural. In the past I had a hard time managing the anxiety but now I am able to use it as a tool for a great performance because I know it will always be there. The difference is now I know how to use it to best serve me. Remind yourself how talented you are and set goals that are attainable so that you move closer and closer to those “flow/in the zone” moments. Understand that these moments are achievable. Remember how good it feels to have those moments and what it takes to have them every time you hit the stage. Take charge of your performance issues, know how to use them as ammunition, and just be present in each and every moment!
Jonathan Page is a first semester voice principal who is majoring in professional music.