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3 Things I Learned From My First Professional Performance

3 Things I Learned From My First Professional Performance

It was a cold day in New York City and I headed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for my first performance as a professional. This was my life now. No school, no safety nets, just real, real consequences. How did I feel? 

Photo Credit: Mark Kingsley

Photo Credit: Mark Kingsley

I felt pressure from every angle. I had to learn new repertoire in a short amount of time, perform with musicians who I had never performed with before, and deal with a new identity.

Let's break down repertoire. We all know the feeling of being underprepared. It isn't peaceful. It's like your brain goes into intense survival mode...Ok...just trying to come in right, play the right notes, and if possible, follow the composers directions to at least appear musical.

This was no good for my confidence.

Then the whole chemistry thing...I just met my colleagues under a week ago and now I have to understand their body language, playing style, and energy. Oh, and they already knew the repertoire so they would know when I messed up.

This was no good for my confidence.

And last but not least, I viewed myself as a student. How does that make me feel among seasoned professionals and critics? Totally inferior. It's time to play pianissimo.

I began unpacking in the green room with mixed emotions. On one hand, I was actually really excited. This has been what I was working for my whole life and the moment was finally here! However, excitement always quickly evaporates in the face of anxiety. Yep, the guy who has been coaching musicians for the past 4 years is getting nervous. Hypocritical? Possibly, but it wasn't my first performance experience so I knew exactly what to do. Here was my breakdown of how I survived and launched into my professional career with success. 

1) Identify emotions immediately

My heart was pumping and I started to retreat into my shell. I quickly told myself that I'm nervous. Now I do this for a couple reasons. The first is the fact that if I lied to myself, I would not allow myself to move on from that emotion. The second is the fact that it's part of my pre-performance routine which involves identifying how I'm truly feeling and proceeding to a mental state of optimal performance level. 

2) I acknowledged I was nervous and then...

I literally started shouting reaffirming statements to myself. For example, I reminded myself that this was NOT my first performance, this was NOT the first time I've had to perform underprepared, they HIRED ME for a reason, and I WILL SURVIVE. Now this may seem ridiculous, but honestly getting nervous is ridiculous. A lot of times to change your state of mind you have to do crazy things that are outside the box. This is why passive techniques aren't always the solution. 

3) CRAM CRAM CRAM

This particular performance was all about survival. I always advocate that you should enjoy the stage but you earn that right through hard work, patience, and experience. Here I was with no previous professional experience, new repertoire, and new colleagues. It wasn't a setup that would allow for complete freedom on stage like at a recital where you have plenty of time to prepare. So I knew in order to walk away satisfied from this performance, I crammed my intonation, rhythm, and musical practice right up until the performance.

Conclusion

From what I wrote, it wasn't my best performance experience. I was not completely free on stage because I was so tied to managing the performance. However, I view this performance as a key point in my career. This was my first professional performance and I played decently. It gave me the confidence to take on the next performance with just a tad more confidence. I was on my way to becoming a master performer and actually identifying myself as a professional musician.

Good luck in your upcoming performance!

-Coach Cory
contact@liberatedperformer.com

 

Top 10 Facts about Stage Fright

Top 10 Facts about Stage Fright

After going through all the articles about performance anxiety on the internet, I have created the top ten most common facts to give you an overview and save you massive amounts of time. Enjoy!

1) Expectation with no plan

Many musicians think stage fright will go away over time. For some, it does. For many, it does not. There are countless personal stories about how musicians have tried to wait it out. However, once they return to the stage, their anxiety is still there. Address the mental side of performing just as seriously as technique!

2) No one really wants to hear about your anxiety

There's a certain stigma about having performance anxiety. It can make people around you nervous if you talk about it and decrease your perceived value as a musician. However, we must talk about it and support each other. We need to value our mental health just as much as our performance success even if it means admitting to others that you get nervous. 

3) Physical and cognitive effects

Musicians report that they experience shakiness, sweatiness, lack of focus, negative thoughts, dissociation, trembling, dry mouth, etc. These are common examples of the symptoms of performance anxiety. Which ones do you experience?

4) You're not actually alone after all

Countless articles refer to our cultural icons as those with performance anxiety. Crazy right? The ones that we look up to still experience the physical and cognitive effects. Examples include Glenn Gould, Renée Fleming, Pablo Casals, Adele, Barbara Streisand, and many others. Performance anxiety gets the best of the best from all different performing arts worlds. 

5) Give yourself a break

When I lecture around the country, one of my main messages is to let everyone know that concerts and auditions are not normal environments. They are considered hyperactive environments which means even the most confident people can get nervous. So what's the lesson? Don't think there's something wrong with you if you keep getting nervous. 

6) Beta blocker debate

The pill that reduces physical manifestations of anxiety is here to stay. Whether you should use them is up to you. To find out more, click here to view my video about it.

7) Using imagery

Imagery is a great strategy to incorporate not just for stage fright, but for your everyday practice. Click here to view my video on how to use it.

8) It's about your perspective

Whether you're nervous or excited, your body is triggering the fight or flight response. Try to translate it as excitement the next time you see yourself shaking.

9) Yo-Yo Ma says you have to accept life as it is

That's right. Accept your mistakes during live performances and auditions. No one has ever given a perfect performance- even the professionals. Also if you make a mistake, move on. Spend zero time in the past!

10) The desire to be great

Overcoming performance anxiety is not easy. You face lots of obstacles and are constantly tested. This is why you need to have a strong internal motivation of wanting to become your best self. It doesn't make sense to embark on the journey to establishing powerful self-esteem and confidence if you don't truly want to experience greatness. 

So there you have it! Leave a comment below about what you think of these and contact me with any questions!
contact@liberatedperformer.com

P.S. If you want to find out more about performance anxiety, sign up for my free e-course!

-Coach Cory
contact@liberatedperformer.com

Overcoming Stage Fright Before Your Carnegie Hall Debut

Overcoming Stage Fright Before Your Carnegie Hall Debut

When I found out I was to perform a solo in Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, I was in true disbelief. At that time I was just a Masters student at Yale and didn't feel like I was ready for the big stage. This was THE Carnegie Hall after all. There is no NEXT LEVEL.

Ok, there are totally next levels, but it was not going to be a typical performance. This is a place where lots of people want to perform. So how did I, a musician with social and music performance anxiety perform my best and enjoy my time on stage? Here is my advice.

coach-cory-liberated-performer-five.jpeg

1) How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice Practice Practice.

The answer to the old question is true. Receiving a great opportunity is a reflection of all our hard work and it takes a lot of practice. But what about the practice we do to prepare for the concert? Well, we need to practice our repertoire enough to master technical facility and have informed and creative musical ideas. Now we have probably heard this before...of course, we need technique and musical ideas, but we are missing a third of our preparation if we just stick to those aspects. We need to value the mental side as equal to technique and musicality because we often learn rather quickly that performing is a whole different skill. So to expand on the answer to the question of how do you get to Carnegie Hall...Practice technique, Practice musicality, Practice performing. 

2) Stick to your pre-performance routine

Coming from years of anxiety-ridden performances where I would be shaking, sweating, and unfocused, I finally invested a large amount of effort to create a pre-performance routine. Through years of research and trial and error, I can now say my routine consistently gets me into the most optimal performance mindset. It began as eating a banana and has developed into a full-fledged process that allows me to enjoy the music even if a family member just passed away. Yeah...that's pretty dark, but you'll have to learn how to perform when tragedy strikes- or relationship problems. Anyway, the concert date was approaching and it triggered the typical stress and anxiety. In these moments I would normally use my pre-performance routine. However, because it was Carnegie Hall, I for some reason went into this hyper research mode where I went looking for the next NEW strategy to improve my routine. Makes sense right?

But here's the thing. I realized I was trying too hard. Why would I risk a new technique at one of the most memorable performances I would ever have? It would be foolish. So I fixed my mindset, relied on what worked for me in the past, and carried out my pre-performance routine. 

P.S. If you don't have a pre-performance routine, you need one.

3) Excitement vs. Anxiety

It's probable your heart may increase before the performance. However, make sure you are using the power of self-talk to convince yourself that it's excitement rather than anxiety! Also, you really should just be excited to perform in Carnegie Hall. The acoustics are amazing. The history of the hall is amazing. The stage is amazing. The dressing rooms are lovely. You won't get many moments like this. It's epic. 

4) It's just another place to play

I began the article placing tremendous value on Carnegie Hall. It's true, the place is stunning and awesome. However, let's look at it from a performance anxiety standpoint. Are you going to be able to play more comfortably in Carnegie Hall or your bedroom? Right. You'll be more comfortable in your bedroom. So we need to alter our perspectives a little bit. You have to begin seeing Carnegie Hall as an amazing place to play, but not let it be your main motivation for playing well. All the seasoned professionals I perform with and learn from always play their best despite the environment. Their goal is not to perform in certain halls but rather to make great music and powerfully communicate to the audience. 

5) A point in the journey

We all have certain markers in our journeys as musicians- like when we are accepted into conservatory/college, graduation, or win a competition or audition. Carnegie Hall or a great opportunity is the same. Sometimes we fail, sometimes we succeed in these moments. Either way we keep going because that's what champions do. One's career is not defined by one moment, performance, or mistake, no matter how visible. We are defined by how we respond to adversity. In fact, I attribute my success at Carnegie Hall to the competition I completely failed. It almost made me quit the violin. If it weren't for that super negative experience and low in my life, I wouldn't of had the leverage to learn how to overcome stage fright and have the career I have today. So no matter what happens, charge forward.

Conclusion

So there's my advice for having a great performance. It takes a lot of work, nothing is guaranteed, and as always, performing tests you to see if you're thinking straight because the stage never lies. With this said, all the hard work pays off and is totally worth it. To be able to thrive and succeed in pressure situations increases your self-esteem and confidence to all time highs which allows you to accomplish anything in life.

Leave a comment below about your preparation process and contact me with any questions!

-Coach Cory
contact@liberatedperformer.com

 

How To Win A Professional Audition

How To Win A Professional Audition

Hey all!

Coach Cory from Liberated Performer here and I wanted to break down how I managed to win my dream job in 10 bullet points.

1) Hard Work

Winning an audition is a reflection of all your past hard work and dedication. To prepare for my college auditions, I woke up at 4am, practiced during class breaks, and after school. Throughout Juilliard and Yale, I woke up early before theory class, practiced during class breaks, and again after rehearsals. I ended up averaging six hours for 9 years straight minus about 20 days a year. That's some serious momentum into my professional audition.

Side note: It wasn't until I learned how to overcome anxiety that all those practice hours finally paid off in performances and auditions.

2) Matching Today's Standard

The bottom line is I knew I had to play close to what the "standard" is. Do I need to be the best technical or most musical player? Ideally, but not practical. However, I made sure I was good enough. To determine what was good enough, I observed musicians who were winning competitions and auditions and asked how do I stack up against them? What do I still need to develop and reinforce? Once I felt comfortable at that level, I entered auditions not for experience, but to win them.

3) Walking in with Intense Value

The world is super competitive so I asked myself what value do I offer in an audition? All too often I couldn't answer that because I was just playing the same pieces as everyone else at relatively the same level. With this in mind, I started looking for other ways of offering more value to the organization I was targeting. Fast forward a couple years after the development of Liberated Performer and I walked into my audition as both a performer and as a coach for music performance anxiety. This ended up being very helpful. What extra value do you offer?

4) Understanding Patience Vs. Speed

I valued speed on the day to day level and patience for my overall career. For example, once I learned something in my lesson, I practiced it immediately to make it a habit. I could never wait around and let time pass by. I had to be consistent and feel a bit of urgency because the sooner I engrained a skill, the sooner it would be leverage in my audition and the sooner I can develop another skill. But what about patience? I used patience for my overall career development. While opportunities weren't presenting themselves on a regular basis, I stayed calm and continued on course. Eventually, an opportunity presented itself and I went after it with full force. 

5) Acknowledging Chemistry

In the long run, I knew I needed to find a good fit artistically and personally if I wanted to be truly satisfied even though at such a young stage in my career I would accept any professional position. So I asked myself, who and what am I auditioning for? Which opportunities empower me as an artist, match my personality, artistic vision, and allow growth? Once I answered this, I was able to identify auditions ideal for me and walk in there with that extra boost of confidence knowing I could relate to my potential colleagues. 

6) Creating Support

On the day to day level I previously mentioned you have to work hard and quick. Another aspect of that day to day level is assessing your environment of support. Here is the big question for you... Are your family, friends, significant others, teachers, and peers helping you along your journey or are they holding you back? If they are holding you back, how can you address this? While the answers may be tough to face, it's vital to solve. For example, I dropped negative influences, those that held me back, and replaced them with people who made me better and believed in me. I attribute all my success to those who are in my life.

7) Staying in the Moment

Auditioning for my dream job was not easy. I tended to think about the what if's. What if I win this? What if I mess up and ruin my entire career? Thoughts like these took me out of the moment. However, in pressure situations, I learned to focus on what I was trained to do, trust myself, and execute at the highest level. It's easier said then done.

8) The Logistics

I prepared years in order to put myself in a opportunistic situation like an audition. The last thing I needed to have happen is get lost on the way to the venue. This might sound silly, but the day of stress can really hamper an optimal audition mindset. I made sure I got there in plenty of time, had everything I needed, slept, and ate well. 

9) Leveraging My Strengths

In times of competition, I always forgot about my strengths and only focused on my weaknesses due to insecurity. However, I realized that an audition was actually a time to put my best self forward. Therefore, I reassured a couple of awesome qualities in myself which allowed me to have a bit of confidence to cling onto during the pressure situation.  

10) Addressing My Weaknesses

My biggest weakness was getting nervous at auditions. My playing level would literally drop to about 70% of my potential and it was a huge set back. In fact, it was such a huge set back that I contemplated quitting the violin. However, if classical music teaches you one thing, it's that you can conquer anything through discipline, education, intensity, and patience. Therefore, I developed Liberated Performer, the full-fledged program to defeating music performance anxiety and turned my greatest weakness into my greatest strength. What that did to my confidence still empowers me today. So, what is your weakness and how can you downright dominate it to turn it into your strength?

11) Luck

I am not in control of how the judges are feeling that day. I am not in control of how other competitors are auditioning. I am only in control of my preparation process. 

Conclusion

These are a few of my pointers and they, of course, do not apply to all audition scenarios as it differs from organization to organization. However, do your research, maintain a positive attitude, and keep working with a tenacity and eventually, you'll find yourself close or in your dream situation. It sounds like a lot of work to get there but it's definitely worth it in the end. Music and performing is simply awesome. 

What's your audition experience like? Leave a comment below.

-Coach Cory
contact@liberatedperformer.com