Everything you need to know about performance anxiety in one massive guide. Develop the confidence to express yourself, execute at the highest musical and technical level, and enjoy your time on stage. Click now to learn more!
How To Speak Confidently On Stage
In 2017, my colleagues and I were ecstatic and grateful to receive honorary doctorates for our work at Denison University. With this honor, we were asked to give the commencement speech as well...to thousands of people. While it did not phase my colleagues, it definitely got my heart pumping followed by a rush of anxious thoughts. Now this wasn't the first time I was getting nervous at the thought of speaking in public, but it was definitely a situation with higher stakes. Some of the thoughts that went through my head were what if I messed up? Would the University be embarrassed that they just honored me? Would my colleagues be disappointed? Would the faculty and students question my value and forever remember me as the guy who couldn't speak? AHHH! Be right back, freaking out.
So, what should I do to not feel anxious?
Prepare. Sound familiar?
The first step is to develop great content. If you don't have great content, you won't feel as entitled to speak as well. It's like the difference between playing a piece that clearly lacks quality compared to your favorite piece. There's just a different mindset even if as a professional you try to play every piece with equal effort. Along with developing great content, you'll inevitably discover techniques like "making good eye contact". All of these techniques are in service of helping you communicate your great content. It's like learning how to produce a good sound quality with your instrument so the audience is not distracted and can actually listen to the music.
The second step is working with a speaking coach. We all know the value of private lessons and coachings. Nothing gets you to your goal faster and more efficiently. In tandem with working with a coach, you will need to practice consistently and develop good habits. All the typical practice principles apply like taking it slow, doing it right the first time, listening intently, analyzing and applying the right solutions, experimenting, and repeating the passage until you can execute it 10 times perfectly in a row.
The third step is to begin speaking in public! Join a toastmasters club or practice in front of friends. This is a crucial step because we all know that no matter how much you practice, it never guarantees how you will do on stage. You need speaking experience!
The fourth and final step is to speak with a clear intention in the present moment. A lot of times you will watch many presentations and speeches that have zero personality. This will not be good enough. There needs to be a performance aspect to it. You need to embody the character of what you are saying just like in music.
In conclusion, you will need great content, techniques to convey your message, individual practice, public practice, and that X factor to speak in public successfully. This may sound like a lot of work, but as performers already, you have the foundation in place to move people with your words. So, do not fear, put in the work, be patient, and develop this vital skill!
How to Improve Creativity In Music Part 5: Multimedia Programs
Welcome to part 5 of improving your creativity in music! We have covered quite the range of cultures and now I'm thrilled to give you the inside scoop on ETHEL's newest project called Circus-Wandering City. This is one of my most favorite programs of all time. It's super fun, entertaining, and represents a new direction for classical performances.
Circus- Wandering City combines stunning images and films from the Ringling Museum’s unmatched archives, intricate projection mapping, and original music composed by members of the quartet. The music and projections illuminate and reveal a 21st century take on a larger-than-life performing culture of global traditions and origins, while celebrating the wonderment and excitement of one of America’s most iconographic popular culture experiences.
So how does this project expand artistic development?
All my life I was trained to translate a composers intent. I study a composers style and acknowledge directions like notes and dynamics. It's really fun and ultimately what I still do for a living. However, in this program we have created our own music which is doing it old school like Bach who composed and performed his works. For me personally, this task was challenging because I am the only one with pretty much zero composition experience. Fortunately, I had the help of my colleagues, one who was even nominated for a Grammy in composition, to tackle this obstacle.
Throughout this process, I faced massive creative and technical challenges. I would experience writers block for days and would be forced to start from scratch again. Just like all previous skills I developed, it forced me to create some sort of process. I learned to be flexible in my approach, but for starters, just get a solid concept and overview of what I was going for before diving in.
Ultimately, creating music gave me new insights and exposed me to the composers perspective. We can study composers all we want, but we won't truly understand their perspective if we don't try it ourselves. By no means am I a master composer now, but by merely completing works, it gave me a deeper understanding of improvising, structure, and musical language.
The other and probably most relevant impact it had on me was the feeling of absolute ownership of the music. I wasn't playing Mozart, I was playing Cory. When you play your own music, you can't make a mistake and you know exactly what to aim for (relatively speaking).
Theater and Dance
Every time I went to my classmates dance concerts and theater productions, I always left in awe. Theater and dance have always moved and inspired me to look for ways to incorporate certain aspects into the classical concert. With Circus- Wandering City, it was the perfect chance. Thanks to director Grant Mcdonald, we emphasize staging, lighting, choreography, costumes, story line, and set design. Sound familiar? Well that's because it's similar to opera! To me, there is nothing more inspiring then taking the best of what other performance arts offer and trying to incorporate it into my performance. After watching something like this, how can you not be inspired to expand your use of choreography and staging?
If performing my instrument wasn't hard enough already, ETHEL loves to sing and play at the same time. It adds a beautiful color and makes the show more dynamic. Kip Jones, the other violinist in ETHEL is a master at this and it's one of his claims to fame. Anyway, for me I wasn't ever really a trained singer. I sang in a choir for a little but nothing compared to my training in violin.
So here I was trying to sing and play at the same time and wow, what a terrible result. The moment I focused on my singing, I played like I was in pre-college again. The moment I focused on violin, my voice sounded like a tone deaf drunk person singing karaoke. To improve, I began doing a couple exercises like singing scales as I played them to match the voice and violin. After hours of practicing that skill, I could execute it decently. When I listen back to the concert recordings I still have a long way to go, but it's at least a step in the right direction.
After my experience of singing and playing at the same time, you might think it's not worth it. However, singing forced me to be that much more automatic with my violin skills. Without singing, I could focus on the sound of my violin and everything would be fine. However, since I had to focus on singing, my sound quality and intonation had to be so engrained in my muscle memory that I didn't have to think about it. Yes, that made me practice more but the payoff is so rewarding.
Memorization is standard for solo repertoire in classical music but not really for orchestra or chamber music. It makes sense that it is like this because it's really hard to remember so much repertoire especially when the repertoire changes every week and certain figures might be repetitive. However, in this program, we will be touring it for a couple years and find it much more practical and beneficial to memorize it.
Memorization not only allows us to be free from sheet music, but the opportunity to create amazing communication on stage. Instead of looking down at our music with our peripheral vision on our fellow peers, we can look into each others eyes and jam the whole piece! Now to get here, we need to rehearse a lot, do a lot of personal practice, and review, but memorizing repertoire is simply liberating. The audience can see and feel the music on a deeper level because you're that much more engaging. Check out the Aurora Orchestra. Look how beautiful it is to perform for memory.
Often times in our training, we are isolated in our practice rooms working on our individual obstacles. This is great, but we must not forget about joining a team. In every professional field, the best things are always created by multiple people and classical music is no different. Now you may be out there alone performing Bach, but you still have to give credit and work with your teacher, manager, presenter, marketing team, and supporters.
With regards to creating a program such as Circus- Wandering City, ETHEL had big dreams and knew it had to reach out to other disciplines to empower the creative process. The program features direction and projections by Grant McDonald, scenic design by Jason Ardizzone-West, costume design by Beth Goldberg, lighting design by Oona Curley and sound design by Stowe Nelson.
With professionals in each of these categories, it allows ETHEL to focus on our musical strengths, while simultaneously incorporating different performance aspects to create a program like no other. A production of this magnitude simply cannot be created without a team effort and ETHEL is honored to collaborate with all of them!
So, in conclusion, get your team spirit on and create something bigger than yourself.
Partaking in this process has made me think about so many different ways of performing. It has been an extremely entertaining, creative, and awesome experience with tons of fails but also epic realizations. As ETHEL creates more productions, we will take away many lessons from this process and improve upon them. However, after years of investment in time and energy, sometimes you just gotta step back and appreciate what you created.
Hope to see you at a show!
How To Recover From A Bad Performance
Have you ever experienced an extreme low after performing? Well, I certainly have. Check out these thoughts about what you're feeling and how to bounce back. You can take your worst performance or audition experience and transform your whole life.
Feel free to contact me with any questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
How to Improve Creativity In Music Part 4: Native American Music
Welcome to part 4 of improving your creativity in music! The past three articles have summarized my visits to the baroque, jazz, and EDM worlds. In this article, I am so excited to introduce you all to one of ETHEL's main collaborators, Robert Mirabal.
Robert Mirabal is a Native American flute player, instrument builder and three time GRAMMY® Award winner. In collaboration with ETHEL, we created one of our most powerful programs called "The River". During this program, the audience is immersed in a flow of music, narrative, and ritual, that evokes timeless Native American traditions through contemporary musical artistry. It is truly a unique collaboration and has empowered me to develop not only as a performer, but as a person.
I grew up viewing the stage as a place to perform my piece at a high level, entertain the audience, and somewhere along the way, I started seeking the validation of the audience. These are common views shared by many in the musical world, but what does it result in? In my case, it produced a musician who was negatively affected by both the extreme pressure to execute at the highest level and audiences potential negative opinions. I was simply stressed every time I was performing or auditioning and it wasn't a fun or successful time. To solve this, I learned managing techniques, developed strategies and intense processes for performing my best and enjoying the stage. After years of work, I was able to get to that point and it felt amazing. With multiple successful experiences and auditions, I thought I had performing finally figured out. However, when I started performing with Robert Mirabal, I quickly realized he embodied a different spirit on stage that could help me even further.
If you ever attend a Robert Mirabal concert, which you should, you'll immediately feel his connection with the audience. He is the definition of a natural performer. But how does he get there? Well aside from owning his music and being the best at what he does, he views the stage as a place of ceremony. A ceremony differs from the standard view of the stage because it is just something you do. It's not a place to seek validation and prove yourself. It's not even about executing at the highest level. For example, if you go to church and the congregation or priest is singing out of tune, no one is judging. They are there for the ceremony. Now of course as a performer you don't want egregious execution to distract from the ceremony, but you get my point. The focus is more on creating the experience, ritual, and spirit.
The results of this are some of the most moving experiences I have ever felt on stage, which directly translates to the audience. After a concert, you'll typically hear comments like "I enjoyed the show, you're so talented, and that was beautiful." While we receive those types of comments, we also receive statements like "thank you for healing our soul tonight." This is the power of focusing on the ceremony and makes a concert experience that much more effective.
Now does this mean you have to replicate "The River" and it's ceremony on stage? Not at all. In fact, classical music concerts are already a ceremony. All you have to do is switch your perspective of the stage. When you begin to view every concert and audition like a ceremony, you'll reduce your anxiety, self pressure, and create an unforgettable experience.