You’re on stage in front of a room full of strangers, family, & friends to perform a piece of music that you have been working on for weeks. It seems as if all your senses are heightened. The lights are super bright. The air conditioning is super loud. The stoic silence of a waiting audience is almost deafening. You take your first breath, sing your first phrase, play your first note and it's as if, in a heart beat, you are driving a train going a million miles an hour down the track and you can barely keep control of anything that is happening. The wheels are casting sparks, the windows are all but shattering and, although you have managed to keep the train from coming entirely off the rails, you get to your final destination- the end of the performance- feeling so very far off the map.
It all blew by so fast and so very little of the journey was what you envisioned…
Live performance is where your practice habits really take the stage. I have said this many times to many of my students during my voice lessons in NYC and in my piano lessons in NYC: your technique in a lesson is just that- your technique in a lesson. Balancing what you know with the range of emotions and hormones that you feel while in front of a live audience really can be like learning an entirely new instrument from the very beginning. This experience needs to really happen as often as possible in order for you to really grow as a live performer.
But what can you do in the moment to regain control of a performance on the brink of coming off the rails?
You can set up physical triggers in advance that remind you to breathe, to slow down, to listen, to adjust your knobs, adjust your levers, and keep things from getting too out of hand.
Here are a few of the main triggers you should set up-
Pain: Pain is a sign to slow down. Sit back into your body or “drop” your body and become aware of your posture, your breath, and how you’re going to tackle the next phrase.
Shortness of Breath: Expand your ribs so that you can retain more of the air you do inhale and become aware of the sensation of breathing into your belly.
Strained/Unpleasant Sounds: Re-align your posture, your breath, your placement, and your tempo. If you need to visualize what you are doing in slow-motion to achieve more accuracy, do it!
In everything- no matter what happens- approach each new phrase with a fresh poker face. Shake off the mishaps of the last run, riff or technique you tried to execute and realize that what is ahead of you deserves a deep breath
and deep intention. If you accomplished 65% of what you intended in the last phrase, do not get taken down and discouraged by that. Make it your intention to accomplish 70% on the next phrase. 75% on the next. Before you know it, you’ll be back in control of your performance again & more satisfied with where you end up in the end.