I do it, and I do it big. Here's to not forgetting about it.

Posts tagged ‘Performance Anxiety’

Trust me; I’m a Pianist – The Final Countdown

In two days, I’ll be packing up the car with my gear, Red Rocket, and the first and greatest cheer crew I’ve ever had – my parents – to go to Augusta for my first half-iron distance triathlon. For those of you sane enough not to know what that entails, I get to swim 1.2 miles in a river, ride 56 miles on a bike, then run 13.1 miles. This is going to take me all. day.

It’s taken countless hours and a disturbing percentage of my salary to get to this point. And I’m pretty stoked about it. Which is weird.

“But Lady J,” you start. “Why would it be weird for you to look forward to something you chose to do?”

Excellent question.

This is triathlon number five. I was BEYOND terrified for triathlons 1-3. #4 was a bit better and I distinctly remember feeling odd that I didn’t feel terrified. Probably because I wrote it down. Number 5? I’m not saying I think it’s going to go perfectly, but I think I’m gonna have a damn good time. From the get go, baby.

I’ve maintained that piano performance and triathlon are totes the same. The preparation. The nerves. The ridiculousness of the task at hand. Imma be real with y’all – while I might not literally fear for my life when I’m on stage as I may have in the water or on the bike course, swimming, biking, and running seem like much more reasonable requests to make of someone than asking her to memorize thousands of notes in a specific order to be played at a specific time in a specific way. That being said, as I’ve prepared for both types of events, the problems I’ve encountered don’t lie in my body. My arms, legs, feet – fingers – work just fine, praise God. It’s about putting the hours in to allay the fears that I am not good enough or that I don’t deserve a place on the stage or on the course.

Less than 100 hours remain between Augusta and me. Coachie and pretty much everyone else on earth are saying that this is the time that jacks with people the most. Questioning if you’ve sufficiently trained. Intimidated by people you’ve never met with more experience, strength, speed, or all three. I think I’m calmer now than I’ve ever been in my whole life. What’s gonna happen is gonna happen, man. Don’t get it twisted – I’m not saying that I won’t be nervous on Sunday. I just know that it’s my time. My time to show myself what I’m made of. My time to put myself to the test. My time to celebrate the physical health with which I’ve been blessed. However it ends, it will be my time to decide how to move forward to continue growth.

I’ve been getting ready for this all my life.

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Bada$$es need love, too

As the peak of triathlon season approaches, I am feeling many things. With less than two weeks remaining until my “A” race, what I am feeling most is doubt. Doubting that I will finish within the time goal. Doubting that I will finish at all. Incredulous that I belong among this group of people who do things like swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles, and run 13.1 miles. In a row. This is my first race of this distance – it’s normal to feel some anxiety, right?

Evidently, I am not the only person who will show up at his or her race with these type of feelings. I have found myself sympathetic with other beginning triathletes who question themselves similarly. However, I have caught myself being judgmental with anyone who has more than like, 5 minutes racing experience than I do.

I’ve been there.

I know what you’re going through.

and the worst –

I. Am. Right. There. With. You.

The f*** you are.

You have been doing this a long time OR completed this same distance or even same course before. You’re so much faster and stronger than I am. Why are you even talking to me? You make me sick.

And then – I am reminded of my relationship with music and my music babies. One of my favorite exercises is to have them raise their hands if they suffer from stage fright. I always raise my hand with them because indeed, I still get very anxious before I perform. Invariably, at least one student responds, “No. Way.” I tell them we are all growing musicians, but I’ve just been growing a little longer than they have. And they actually buy it.

I applaud my babies when they are brave enough to play 3 note songs for each other. As I age, I think I am even more proud of the risk I take as I share music with others. In some ways, greater experience brings greater risk. You’ve delivered results in the past and success becomes more normal than not. As you expect more of yourself, others start to believe in you as well. “Man. People think this is going to go well. What if it doesn’t?”
Dammit, if anyone DARED to question why I was nervous as my recital last month was approaching, I looked at him or her as though s(he) had two heads. “Why wouldn’t I be nervous? Dumbass.”

Oh. Heh.

I suppose that if I am allowed to be nervous on stage, despite having performed since I was 4, people who already call themselves Ironman can be nervous too. While I haven’t read the USAT guidebook lately, I think it’s a safe bet to say that only humans are allowed to compete in races. To be human is to be fragile. Having the will to test your limits, regardless of your experience level, is to always be admired – never judged.

So uh – for all the thoughts that have ever run through my head about you – my bad. 🙂 I am praying for your progress, just as I pray for my own.

13 days.

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Answer: Everything that kills me makes me feel alive. Recital Report, Part I

Question: Why the hell am I here again?

I asked myself this as I pulled up to my performance venue after a hectic morning. I had anticipated feeling panicked, but at about two hours before show time I just wanted a nap. Music is cool, but naps are better, right? Alas, I would feel guilty drinking later if I didn’t play first. Onward!

I met with the owner and worked out some final details. A local university student was there with her professor, checking out pianos. “Fantastic,” I thought. “People who know what they are doing. I bet that feels good.” I tried to shut everything out and settle myself.

Dress? Check. Playing shoes? Check. Diva shoes for the after party? Check. Confidence? Uh. This face stared back at me in the mirror:

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Oh, dear. Maybe we can get some confidence from upgrading that face. My makeup application took me 5 whole minutes. That’s 10x longer than normal. You know this must be a BFD. Next came the dress, pearls, and shoes. I giggled. “I’m cute. Still tired, but cute.” I checked my watch. 45 minutes to go. By now, the others had cleared out of the hall and I could warm up.

I adjusted the bench how I like it and started playing through my favorite (read: most terrifying) sections of each piece slowly. Heh. “This Steinway D shole is purty!” Soon after I had begun, one of my cousins popped her head in. Polite pianistzilla that I am, I gave her a hug and asked if she would wait outside for me until 1:45. She was cool. “Hey, could you keep others out for me too?” “Sure!” she says.

I start playing again. I hear another person. “Gah!” Oh yay, it’s 3M! Happy to see her, I ask her to go away, too. 🙂 My mom and aunt then came in (cousin you are REALLY sucking at this) and my mother tried to attack me. “Ermahgerd lemme see how beautiful you are!” Thankfully, my aunt shuffled her away. I got about 2 more minutes in before I went to go hide and check myself out one last time.

I had wanted to minimize my contact with people before I went on the stage. However, as there was only one bathroom, it became a bit of a reunion area. “I’m so excited!” “Are you ready?” “Good luck!” Everyone please SHUT. UP. I smiled and hugged, of course, and in retrospect, that is probably what I needed. I managed to hide, eat a Bonk Breaker (hey, endurance is endurance) and await 2 PM. I checked my watch. 1:53. As I sat in a room by myself, I repeated the command from Philippians 4:6 to be anxious for nothing. I thanked God for my family and for music and the opportunity to bring them together today. “Uh. What are you gonna do if when you make a mistake?” I asked myself. “Keep going. No big deal,” I replied. Keep breathing. Have fun. Think happy thoughts. Did Jesus really die on a cross for me to whine about Chopin? No, probs. Chill out.

I came out at 2 and told owner dude I was ready. I turned my head and saw my Dad TOTALLY not in the performance hall. “Waaaaaaaaiiiiit!” I asked him to wait 5 more minutes. I wrangled my father, who was giving directions to a turned around family member. Real talk? When my huge family of Caribbean descent is involved, starting an event 5 minutes late is like starting an hour early. I couldn’t be mad.

No, seriously. I couldn’t be mad. I had a job to do. They are clapping for me!

Separation Anxiety: On Winding Down

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not talking about something low-stress, like dropping your kid off at day care for the first time or saying farewell to your military spouse before s(he) deploys. This is SERIOUS. As my recital approaches, I am finding that I have had to spend more time away from the piano than I would like. I had planned for this, as this is not my first rodeo, but it is unsettling nonetheless.

Incidentally, today was also my rest day for my triathlon training. No playing. No biking. No swimming. No running. Um. What else is there? Aside from descend into self-sabotaging, paralyzing thoughts of what could go wrong. Hah! I didn’t do that either, actually. I suppose I must be maturing because I feel very matter-of-fact about my performance. I know I cannot cram any more details into my head. It is what it is.

So why is this pulling away so uncomfortable?

I think it is the waiting. I wish I could fast forward to 4 PM on Saturday when I should be having my first glass of champagne. Before that, I have to welcome family into town, ensure that I sleep and eat well, finish printing programs, get dat recital day pedi, and wait backstage without losing my mind and keeping my heart rate down for about 30 minutes until show time.

Moreover, the approach of any event is the time in which friends and family are in my face like so:

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I know they mean well, and because people aren’t usually comfortable with anything less than a sunny disposition, I try to reply as such:

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I don’t feel like I will know I’m ready until I sit at the piano on recital day and play E flat with my RH 2. Or maybe I’ll know when I play the final B octave with lefty.

What I do know is that this – the discomfort, the waiting – this is how real women are made.

Breath of Life

You heard it here first: I’m a big punk. I am prone to worry. It often manifests itself physically with headaches, stomach pains, twitching. Even though I know and believe the following:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (‭Philippians‬ ‭4‬:‭6-7‬ NKJV)

I remind myself of this, see it work, and forget EVERY TIME I need to apply it. Within moments, even.

Flashback – January 12, 2014. My second triathlon. HITS Naples, baby. I had heard the half and full athletes had a gorgeous swim on Saturday. The sprint and Olympic distance races were on Sunday. I had had a few swim lessons with Coachie and was excited to take my new knowledge for a spin. Hahahahaha OR NOT! The water was so choppy that I ended up having to take a break. That was after I had decided not to return to shore in a panic after the race had started. So. Much. Water. Everywhere. I breaststroked that bad boy, man. I was bargaining with God – “just get me through this and I’ll change!” Yeahhhh I’m still working on that too, hah. 🙂 When I made it to the shore, I was like Sweet Brown, y’all. I RAN FOR MY LIFE.

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Heh. I suppose the both of us were craving what we thought to be safe air. Quite frankly, I think bronchitis is less paralyzing than the fear I dealt with that day. In my panic, I forgot that indeed, I had plenty of air. Not only did I have air, but I had time to breathe it. My next triathlon swim went much more smoothly, thankfully. All I can do in the water is breathe and move forward as efficiently as I can without compromising my breath.

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Ah. If only if I had been able to internalize the business about breathing sooner. No worries, Coachie. In terms of words of wisdom, I’ve been ignoring (usually unintentionally) people a long time.
You’re in fantastic company with my piano teachers. They’ve been trying to remind me to breathe my whole life. What has happened to me in the water plagued me first at the keyboard. Instead of “OMG so much water! So many people,” it’s “OMG so many notes! So many people!” I question whether I really know what I’m doing, regardless of my preparation. “Should I really be here? Have I earned this?” At least triathlons have lifeguards! If I have a memory slip during a performance I am SOL, man.

But when I remember to breathe…

It fills my lungs and my music with life. I start to enjoy what I’m doing. I’m able to focus on the present. There may be a big ass wave in the B section, but there’s nothing I can do about it until I complete the A section. Why not try make the most of every moment?

My triathlon swims since January have been FAR from perfect. That didn’t stop me from having a great time and crossing each finish line with a huge smile on my face! I want my recital to be don’t expect my recital to be perfect, but I pray that The Lord will help me fill my music with life.

Tee hee. I screamed “I’M NOT DEAD!” at the end of St. Anthony’s. You better believe I’ll be thinking it when my recital is over!

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Apparently, I’m a Total Bitch. Classroom Edition

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Here’s a secret – just because your kid gets the claps and is adorable doesn’t mean he’s good.

Periodically during the school year, I allow my classroom students to perform for one another with very little guidance (a. Be nice to one another and b. You break it your parents buy it). I like this exercise for several reasons, but I think my favorite is that it gives the students a chance to explore without a right or a wrong hanging over their heads. I love being surprised by my students’ previously hidden talents and am delighted when they appreciate one another and burst into applause.

But maaaaaaaan do I see some “wrong” musical decisions. No sense of rhythm. No sense of steady beat. What’s a key? And that’s not even the kicker. Those kids receive the SAME amount of applause.

This is where I think to myself, “y’all just heard what I did, right? Why the hell are you showing EQUAL amount of appreciation for something of significantly lower quality? Don’t you know about the normal curve?”

Indeed. I’m sure my students would have a greater understanding of my frustration if I would only display this image to them:

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Mm-hmm. Clearly you understand now, dear children. Not everyone deserves the same amount of claps because not everyone can be exceptional. Otherwise, awesomeness loses its value, yeah? How can a standing ovation mean anything if ANYONE can get one?

Yet not just anyone receives standing ovations in my classroom. I do not force my students to perform for one another in situations like these. While I think it’s important that students push their comfort level, I don’t want them to develop a strong association between music and anxiety. My babies volunteer to share their music, and THEY are the ones on the end of the normal curve. I have to reassure my ears that the students are actually clapping for cojones and not musical quality. I suppose my job is to nurture already existing bravery and encourage them to discover that which they can do.

In the meantime – anyone know of any discreet earplugs for purchase?

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