Music Performance Anxiety - Introduction
Beads of sweat permeated the spongy material on the inside of my helmet. My breath shallow and hands clammy as I approached home plate. I set my feet in the batter’s box. Right first and then left, a routine I had perfected through hours of practice. I held the bat over home plate to check my distance from the center and brought the bat over my right shoulder in anticipation for the first pitch. As I looked at the pitcher, I could no longer ignore the pit in my stomach nor could I escape the feeling that everyone was staring at my back expecting me to hit the ball, a skill I had spent hours refining. “Strike!” yelled the umpire. I hadn’t even seen the first pitch go by because my internal monologue of self-doubt had taken control. I stepped out of the batter’s box and tried to regain composure by taking a few deep breaths, but as I squared my stance to home plate again, my symptoms of anxiety worsened. My leg started to shake. I saw the pitcher wind up and throw a beautiful strike right over home plate. The umpire affirmed what I already knew by exclaiming, “Strike!” for the second time. At this point, my mind was racing with negative self-talk. “You knew that was a strike! Why didn’t you swing? You’ll never be any good.” These thoughts continued as I squared up to the plate for the third time. Frustration welled up inside me as I willed myself to hit this pitch. Time stopped and the pit in my stomach froze me as I watched another perfect strike sail right into the catcher’s glove. Before the umpire had even finished saying strike for the third time, I was sulking back to the dugout. Infuriated by another failed attempt at executing something that I had been practicing for months.
Participating in sports was a huge part of my childhood and adolescence. I thrived in the team environment of soccer and welcomed the mental game that was required to run cross-country. However, standing in the batter’s box at a softball game or waiting on the block before diving into the pool at a swim meet gave me a mixed bag of emotions. Many times I was excited about the opportunity to show off the skills I had been perfecting, however other times my anxiety about being in the spotlight would hinder my ability to execute what I had been practicing.
Sometimes, seeing my coaches or my mom on the sideline would pull me out of an anxious state and refocus my mind on the present moment. Other times, especially in high stakes situations, I would completely freeze and not be able to control my body’s manifestations of performance anxiety.
When I began investing more time in music, my sports anxiety reared its ugly head in music performances. In large ensemble performances, I have rarely struggled with performance anxiety. However, my experiences as a solo performer or even having a solo with an ensemble performance have been far more similar to my experiences in swimming and softball. My first time ever playing clarinet in studio class as a college freshman was a complete disaster. My inner pulse was inconsistent and rhythm lost all meaning, my hands and legs were shaking, and all I could hear was my own heart threatening to force it’s way out of my chest with each beat. As an undergraduate student, I spent a lot of time learning how to overcome my performance anxiety. Over the next few posts, I plan to share some of the methods that I have experimented with on my own journey of coping with music performance anxiety.