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 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.
How to Improve Creativity In Music Part 3: Electronic Dance Music
Welcome to part three of improving your creativity in music! So far we have covered the benefits to exploring the baroque and jazz cultures and how it can make you a better performer. In this part, we will explore some of the most powerful performance experiences I have ever felt.
In all my life, I never thought I would be performing at popular music festivals. In fact, I had never been to one before. However, I was presented the chance to get outside the concert halls and collaborate with my classmate Alex Seaver. Alex is a former horn player from Juilliard that became a DJ with his long time friend Logan Light. Together, they formed the epic duo named Mako.
Our first set was at EDC Las Vegas, the biggest dance festival in the United States. For those that have no idea what I'm talking about, check out this trailer and welcome to mainstream rave culture.
As you can see, this place is quite similar to Carnegie Hall. *end sarcasm*
Anyway, here are a couple things I learned during my experience.
A Different Kind of Audience
Somewhere during the 20th century, there were a set of rules created for experiencing classical music concerts. For example, you cannot talk, clap in between movements, and make any noise without someone glaring at you. In fact, I remember as a child my palms would sweat into the program as I tried not to move in fear of ruining the performance. But what about the crowd at EDC?
Completely different. Before we even took the stage, there was this anticipation like none other. The audience was cheering and chanting "Mako" as they prepped themselves for the greatest set ever. When Mako revealed themselves, the crowd went wild with a pure, authentic expression of joy and excitement. They waved their signs, got their phones ready, and some were on the verge of crying. That's how much this performance meant to them.
Mako dropped their first song and the audience began dancing to the beat and singing along with the lyrics. It was everything 20th century classical music was not. It was a concert experience where there was no wall between performer and audience and no rules about expressing how much you love the music. With such an active audience, a positive energy feedback loop is created. It is an absolutely surreal feeling to having the crowd massively cheering you on, and then for you to be rocking out and giving that energy right back. Now one can argue that a classical musician can feel the same thing from the audience, and it certainly happens, but not to this level.
A Different Kind of Performance Value
Both classical music and EDM performances value the universal principles of music such as pitch, rhythm, etc. However, their performance values differ in terms of how much weight they give to each aspect. For example, a good classical music concert highly values accuracy while in pop, the performance spirit is the most important thing. Now of course you could argue against this claim as both genres value these, but I'm speaking in terms of what's most important. If you went to a classical concert and there was sub average accuracy, you probably wouldn't think it's a good performer even if that performer was into the music. Meanwhile, if you went to a dance festival and the DJ wasn't putting out enough energy, you probably wouldn't think it's a good concert even with flawless mixes.
So what happens when you put a classically trained violinist into a rave? Well, I quickly felt the difference between performance styles as we went through the set during soundcheck. I began by bringing the standard classical music approach to the stage. I focused on accuracy, embodied the music as much as I could without upsetting intonation, timing, and sound, and played what I thought was good enough. Upon watching me, Alex quickly told me that "this was not Lincoln Center, you can move more, and bring extra energy." After hearing this, I felt a little uncomfortable shifting the values I had so engrained in me over the past 20 years, yet it was liberating. For the first time, I could just focus on performance spirit and walk out like a rockstar.
However, it raises the question of "does it mean I totally forget about technique when I perform?" Absolutely not. In fact, I prepared for EDC with my standard 200 step method I used for winning auditions. With a full proof method, the practice sets you free to express yourself on stage with the only difference being in the allocation of focus. For example, in classical music you want to focus on the music, but also have an ear for how you are actually sounding to the audience. At dance festivals, you want to trust your technique and go all out on performance spirit.
Performing at these festivals have changed my performance career and life. They have given me the experiences of getting 100% in touch with my expression and feeling the intense positive energy feedback loop of an engaged audience and performer. These experiences have shown me amazing value and every time I walk on stage in a classical music setting now, I make sure I create the energy I would as if at a dance festival. Does this mean I get the crowd jumping up and down? Actually yes, it happens at ETHEL concerts quite often. However in classical music, there are a variety of energies that change in a second. It's what makes classical music so unique and beautiful. So, whatever the energy is, I go after it with full force so the audience can get sucked into the musical journey and lose themselves.
How to Improve Creativity In Music Part 2: Jazz World
Welcome to the second part of improving your creativity in music! In part one, we explored the importance of historical performance. In this part, I will share my experience visiting the jazz culture and all the amazing things that came of it.
Let me first just say how grateful I am to my quartet ETHEL and their past work. Before I joined, they built amazing relationships that still grow today. One of the relationships they built was with Laurence Hobgood. Who is Laurence Hobgood? He's first and foremost a great soul. Music runs through him like nobody else. Check out his music and you'll quickly realize why he has a Grammy (with Kurt Elling and ETHEL). The other collaborator was Michael Ward-Bergeman. Who is Michael Ward-Bergeman? He is one of the most insanely creative and awesome minds to be around. Check out his music with Yo-Yo Ma and his 365gig challenge.
Without further a due, here is a short list of obstacles I had to overcome which ultimately made me a better musician.
The First Obstacle
For 20 something years of my life, I had learned to follow musical directions to the smallest detail. In classical music, we prepare our pieces by planning about every aspect such as bow distribution in order to replicate it on stage. However, in Jazz, there's this thing called improvisation.
Improvisation is a challenge because you can't prepare for it. Well, that is half true because you can develop the skill and practice improvising but you get what I mean. When that solo comes around and you have to create it on the spot, you don't have time to replicate the bow distribution you worked on for hours. In that moment, you rely on your skills, face the very likelihood of playing the "wrong note", and create something that will never be replicated again. The risk and originality is part of what makes improvising so beautiful and impressive. But why develop this skill? I find that developing this skill allows me to become more and more comfortable with playing the wrong note, performing in the present moment, and trusting my skill sets that I've practiced for thousands of hours. The skill also allows me to have an extra fail safe if I forget a part of a song because hey, I can just make something up until I get back on track. It's simply liberating.
The Second Obstacle
CM7 to F#-7b5.
Yep. The skill of hearing and identifying chords in order to know what notes to play. In jazz, notation can be in the form of charts which contain chord progressions as opposed to specific notes written out like a detailed Mahler symphony. Charts of course can vary but the classical score will typically provide more markings.
Now this might not be a challenge for some as I've seeing doctoral students viciously write down chord progressions to symphonies in real time, but for the majority of us, it takes a lot of focus. So, how does one manage to do this? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. You have to earn it by training your ear to a level most classical conservatories don't push you to. However, nothing but positives come out of training your ear to boss mode.
The Third Obstacle
I was raised in an environment where I walk on stage, bow, play my piece, then bow again. This is a great art form, but it can make classical music a very serious experience. After all, the audience is trained to sit quietly and the musicians are trained to focus on their music. It is an amazing site to see and has many benefits. However, too much of this seriousness can create a one dimensional performer.
So, what happens if you place a serious classical musician into a jazz show?
That's right. An epic range of performance experiences and one big realization.
During my first couple of jazz performances, I quickly realized that I was not having enough fun. The musicians around me had this sense of joy, charisma, and freedom. There were crazy solos, bantering, clapping after solos, audience engagement, and other aspects that blew my mind. I will never forget this type of performance energy because it showed me that there doesn't have to be this barrier between audience and performer, taught me that I could have even more fun on stage, and forced me to develop more ways to create energy for the audience.
So there you have it. It's a short but powerful list of aspects that can help you expand your artistic skills and vision. Without my continued pursuit of jazz performances, I wouldn't feel as comfortable in the face of the unknown (improvising), have my ear as developed (crazy chords), and communicate to my audience as powerfully (breaking down the barrier and having a great time).
Let me know if you have any questions and leave a comment below!