Everyone has different things going on in their mind before they audition or perform. I hope that some of my experiences in managing performance anxiety will help you!
First of all, it took me some time to realize that being nervous before an audition or performance is normal. Now, instead of trying to get rid of the nerves, I name the attributes that can come out of being nervous. I then focus on those positives.
Being nervous helps me understand that I really care about what I am doing. It’s a good feeling to be completely invested in something. So many times, we just can’t take the time to give anything our all!
But why do I care? What are my ambitions?
Is it to be accepted by others? Is to win accolades? Is it to feel like I have accomplished something worthwhile? Is it an important personal goal I want to achieve? Is it so I can be a part of the group? If so, why do I want to be? Calling out the many things you can ask yourself is critical to having a good experience. Sometimes, putting pen to paper can really make a difference in aligning what’s in your soul and mind.
Secondly, assessing why I care helps me understand my priorities. Articulating the answer, helps me understand if this brings a true value to my being and propels my passion or if it’s a shallow thought driven by ego. Maybe my goal was to win the approval from the adjudicators whether they sit at the table with a score card or are members of the audience. Of course, shifting their name from Adjudicator to Listener for Enlightenment helped my state of mind.
If I’m performing, I remind myself that on this given day at this appointed hour there is most likely no one in the audience that could perform this music better than I. Who has invested all that I have? Who cares as much as I do? Who can portray what it means to me except me? But, what if that audience has the Artistic Director of Chanticleer sitting in it? Ah! But what if that audience has my mother in it?! First of all, my mother couldn’t sing it better and whatever her thoughts are belong to her. I cannot change her thoughts and I am not responsible for her thoughts. Second, the Artistic Director of Chanticleer understands I am not a world- renowned singer and really came to be still and let the music flow over him rather than feel he is working it. Still, his thoughts are his thoughts. I cannot change that no matter what I do or who I am. I must shift my focus from singing for the approval of others to singing for my own satisfaction and experience of it all.
Thirdly, before I go into my audition, I assure myself that I have adequately prepared for this. I have chosen a piece I love singing. If I sing something I love they will enjoy hearing me! Sometimes, I will question if I need to sing the piece just one more time. At some point, countless repetition of the solo will stop having the desired effect. Meaning, the brain can only absorb so much repetition effectively. As my colleague Bill Baker says sometimes, “Enough practice, it’s time to just go out and play the game.”
Fourthly, I recognize that when I get nervous, my breathing is the first thing that suffers. I automatically default to shallow breathing. The diaphragm doesn’t even appear to be working! That’s why I move. I walk and sing and look about the room and engage in something mindless. I walk or sway until the minute I walk through the door. I also do a couple of minutes of lip trills. I might even sing the piece on lip trills rather than the words. Sometimes, however, I find it more effective to not think about the music but distract myself by looking about the room and gaze on the beautiful blue color in the stained-glass window. I might even appreciate the storm brewing outside and see it as being powerful and majestic. Or I might remember that after I sing, I’ll be attending a world premiere at Symphony Hall or treating myself to chocolate cake!
Sometimes, I find it helpful to think about the mechanics of the piece rather than the outcome of my performance. I might envision the colors of the phrases, or feel the pulse of the music by swaying or dancing. It might be that I hear myself singing the arpeggio scale passage as if I were a beautiful bird soaring from the top of a tree to the next mountain peak in the Colorado Rockies.
Fifthly, I always have present in my mind two thoughts ~ One came once again from Bill Baker: “There is no one performance that will break you. There is no one performance that will make you.”
I tell myself that all I can do is all I can do. It’s not what anyone else can do. What’s the worst that could happen? I could trip over my own feet walking in, forget my first word and blow the sustained F on the last page. But, if I do, at least it will make for a good story and I’ll walk away better for having tried than not tried at all.
Finally, as with all things, the performing/auditioning I do, the easier it is to manage.
I don’t know what your issues are, but I hope this can shed light some light if you experience nerves that you can’t seem to navigate through before an audition.
Some of these conclusions came about when I took the course on Navigating Performance Anxiety written and taught by Babette Lightner. I encourage you to check out her website for more inquisitive and thought-provoking insights.