I was playing the piano in front of a few people tonight. As I played, I thought a little about stage fright and how debilitating it can be for the performer. Fortunately, I felt more confident than I have in the past, but here are some of the ways stage fright affects musicians:
- A feeling of unreality. Pretty awful, especially when the keys of the piano seem to lose their distinctiveness
- Sudden shaking. This happened a couple of times to me over the years, once in the middle of a Chopin polonaise, the other time towards the conclusion of a famous Scriabin work
- Memory lapses while performing. Fortunately, this has never presented any huge problems
- A strong urge to get up in the middle of a piece and abandon the performance. Pretty frightening and common, although I’ve never walked off stage
- light-headedness and nausea
I’ve heard other musicians say they feel particularly exposed in front of a smaller audience. I would agree with that.
Personally, I feel that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can help with performance nerves. I also think that not rushing the pieces makes a huge difference. Tonight, I forced myself to perform the fourth impromptu by Schubert from the first set (opus 90), taking the middle section slowly and paying careful attention to the dynamics. Not exactly a technically demanding work, but for some reason I dislike playing the impromptu in public, although I have done countless times. Perhaps it has something to do with the piece’s structure – ternary form – and the sense of feeling trapped in a work that consists largely of repetition.