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Suggestions for the Victim of Stage Fright.

Stage fright, though ordinarily laughed at and made a joke of, is in reality a very serious affection of the nerves, at times producing a condition which, from any other cause, would merit the attention of a physician.
The body becomes cold and stiff. There is a rigidity and consequent weakness of the limbs, a constriction of the throat. The mind grows confused and bewildered. Often there is even dizziness and momentary flashes of blindness.
In the case of the performer the fingers are liable to wander aimlessly and the memory to turn traitor. An insane panic ensues, the player fumbles hopelessly and gives up. The singer mechanically opens his mouth, but no sound comes from his paralyzed throat.
Ordinarily, however, after suffering preliminary agonies, the victim finds himself sufficiently recovered by the time he begins his performance to make at least a passably creditable appearance. But he is always made wretched by the regret that he could not have been free to do his best.
Obviously it is of small advantage to a music student to be well equipped by nature and education for his work if his nerves are so little under his control that he can make no use of his knowledge at the time of his greatest need. He is in the position of an artisan with a box of perfect tools in his possession, but without ability or skill to work with them.
It is not at all uncommon for hardened concert soloists to suffer acutely from this nervous obsession before their appearances. Still, in most cases, it may be largely, if not entirely, overcome.
Absolutely perfect preparation is the first and most important help toward casting out this evil spirit. Playing in public is only playing as well as you can for some people who want to hear you. There is nothing to make a "bugaboo" about. If you do make a blunder, nine times out of ten no one in the audience will know it, and if they all know it, what of it? It is not a state's prison offence, or a disgraceful act that you can never live down. It is only something that every concert player does constantly, the greatest as well as the least; something that they all must do as long as they remain merely human beings. A realization of this will help you to cast off the fear of making a failure, that fear which alone will cause the only mistakes of any consequence that are likely to occur.
You could walk for miles on a plank a foot wide without stepping off, because it does not matter whether you step off or not. If, however, you attempted to walk across the plank forty feet in the air, your life would be the forfeit. Fear would grip you, and you would step off. Another man might run across it and do it with success. Physically he has done no more than you can do. Mentally he has triumphantly solved the question of success throughout the ages. The man wins who does not get "rattled." He has learned to rule himself, which being interpreted means not alone the negative ability to restrain one's temper and desires, as is generally understood, but also the superlative power of positively compelling every faculty to obey the will, when and where one pleases.
Even as is love to the heart, so is self-command to the intellect.
Strive for confidence. Practice it all the time in other things than music.
Acquire the habit of deep breathing. Develop an elevated chest and a relaxed body. He who can at any time entirely relax himself and fall into a state of absolute physical repose, be it even only momentary, has made a great stride toward self-command.
One of the greatest stumbling blocks to the person who is struggling with nervousness is haste. Learn to be deliberate. If you have to play, and are cold and stiff and trembling, move slowly. Take your seat deliberately. If it is too high Or too low or too near the piano or too far away, re-adjust it. Then if it isn't right, fix it again. An annoyance common to a woman pianist is that her skirts will slip over her toes and get between her feet and the pedals. If you are a woman, provide against that. Take time to arrange and spread your skirts so that your feet will remain free, and so that there shall be no sensation of pulling or discomfort. Look under the keyboard to see that your feet have found the right pedals. Then, if you use your notes, arrange them carefully in front of you with each alternate corner folded over, for facility in turning. If you play from memory, think through the first few measures clearly and accurately.
By this time, which may have seemed like six or eight minutes to you, but has been in reality one or two, probably you will begin to know your own name, and very likely, the name of what you are to play. If the hands are moist, wipe them and lay your handkerchief not on one end of the keyboard, but where it will not be in your way.
Then relax the whole body, with the hands lying loosely in the lap, and inhale deeply, slowly and easily.
All this gives your listeners an impression of ease on your part, even though you do not feel it yourself; and predisposes them in your favor. This is a great point gained, but it is the least part of the benefit. For such a proceeding is almost certain to make you feel at ease yourself. The very act of deliberating causes your nervous panic to pass away. These seemingly trivial, but in reality very important acts start the mind working, and serve to put you in a more normal condition. After it is over do not worry about the slips you made, and do not tell anybody about them. Smile and accept all the pretty speeches you can get.
Do not be afraid of keeping an audience waiting an extra minute. Most of them are paying no attention to you between numbers anyway. They are glad of an opportunity to turn and speak among themselves. A short wait is frequently restful to an audience. Extreme deliberation is surely preferable to the all too common habit of inexperienced players who hurry upon the platform, drop into their seats, and plunge with a gasp into the work, often to meet disaster because of some lack of familiarity with the instrument, or because of some slight discomfort of position, or because of any one of a dozen insignificant circumstances which could have been so easily corrected with the exercise of a little presence of mind.
If you are thinking about what you are doing, there is no room in your mind for stage fright. Self-consciousness is always stultifying, on the concert platform or elsewhere. The habit of mental concentration breeds a self-forgetfulness which makes many good things possible. And of self-forgetfulness, self- command is the handmaiden. So cultivate constantly the practice of mental concentration and nervous control.
Lastly, play every chance you get. Constant experience will work wonders in wearing away the trouble. After you and your various audiences have survived a few thousand of your mistakes, you will have less fear of making a few thousand more. Consequently you will cease to make any serious ones.
Musical education, like all other mental progress, is of slow growth. Do what we will, the rosebud takes its own time to unfold. The same is true of the human mind. We may press the rosebud and force it open, but the flower will not be as beautiful or as fragrant as it would have been had it unfolded in its own slow process. Neither will it be a healthy and enduring flower. Do not hasten the young mind, for this is a dangerous and unhealthy process. Too much work laid upon the pupil is often as injurious to the mind as too much water and heat for the plant. Give the child time for development.
Don't attempt to teach before you learn how. Hosts of people are trying to do this, and they wonder why their success is so limited. To teach well is to know what to give, and when and how to give it. You are not a teacher until you know this clearly, and your mistakes will outnumber your successes until you learn these prime requisites.—Anon.

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You are reading Suggestions for the Victim of Stage Fright. from the August, 1910 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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