On performance anxiety

Whenever I have a performance or recital coming up, people often ask me, “Why do you have to do it?”

I used to believe that some people are born to be performers and some people are not meant to be on stage, but now I have changed my opinion. I believe that everyone has the ability to perform well but some musicians do not know that they could feel comfortable on stage. People react to performance anxiety differently and some people need longer time on stage or more performance experiences than others to make them strong performers. However, some musicians have not had the courage to perform, the opportunity to perform or the chance to play more than one short piece in a performance.

I have never been a confident performer. I need a long time to make myself comfortable on stage. I always mess up my first pieces in recitals and exams. It is hard for me to play when people are watching me, even though there are only three people in the audience. Every time my piano teacher says his favorite line which is, “You have to go out and play,” I will reply him with my favorite argument, “No, I am not a good pianist, I get nervous easily.”

Lucky me, in one of the lessons, I had this as the answer. “Well, do you know what to do if you got nervous easily? You need to perform more, more, and more and MORE!  You should go for competitions! You have to go out and play! Most professional pianists try their concert programs in smaller settings before they perform for bigger audience. You are not a professional pianist, aren't you? So how can you expect yourself to perform a piece perfectly in one go?”

It left me thinking, “If the great (and good) performers keep performing, they will keep getting better (and better) at it while I am just sitting on the piano stool in the practice room being scared of performing.” I will not get better by doing that! “You don’t have to be great to start but you have to start to be great.At least I have to start somewhere. I cannot wait up because I will never feel ready even though I am.

So why do I have to do it? For me, it is not a matter of showing off my skills (Unfortunately, I do not even have brilliant skills …yet), but I am doing it to challenge myself to beat my performance anxiety and to share my music. After having more performing experiences, I do realize that I get (a bit) better at performing.

It is true that “it will not be a problem if you played wrong notes or had a minor memory lapse during a performance”, but please, never take the statement as an excuse to not to learn how to overcome the anxiety. We musicians need to be able to perform well under pressure.

How can you inspire people if you could not perform well?

How can you share the music if you could not play the music in front of people?

What is the point of keeping beautiful music just for yourself (and the practice room walls)?

And what is the point of making music if you do not have the intention to share the joy of music to others?

A teacher once told me that the first time you get up to perform a piece is the worst part and it can only get better from there. A friend of mine once told me that for her, playing and instrument and performing are two different skills. Hence, the only way to improve is to start somewhere and learn the skill. You cannot throw the performance anxiety away, but slowly, you will be able to learn how to handle it.

As the saying goes, "The terror of performing never goes away. In fact, you get very, very comfortable being terrified."