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Become the powerful artist you are meant to be!

April 24, 2024

It’s a funny thing… I never suffered from performance nerves as a violinist until I was hired by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra to play in the back of the 2nd Violin section.

Before then, I’d performed at a world-class international masterclass for Nathan Milstein (one of the best classical violinists of all time), as a soloist with top-notch orchestras like the Pittsburgh and Berlin Symphony Orchestras, and I’d won international solo competitions in the US and Scotland. I’d never gotten nervous for any of those… just excited.

In fact, I’d loved performing since the time I was a little kid. I enjoyed the attention, I enjoyed the communication with my audiences, and I found it all quite thrilling!

So what on earth was going on when I suddenly found myself having won a great job with the RPO to play at the back of the seconds?!?

To my great surprise, I felt far more exposed and vulnerable back there, hidden amongst the other violinists away from the front of the stage, than I’d never felt before as a soloist.

My bow was shaking, I felt frozen with fear, and I just wanted to run away and hide. I hunkered down, head down and chest collapsed in an attempt to make myself small and invisible (and inaudible). Of course, this felt HORRIBLE and I just hated playing this way!

All of this was a real pity, because I was now a member of a truly wonderful orchestra filled with wonderful, warm, people who were very kind to me. They even had a baby shower for me when I was pregnant with my first child, and they bought all the big-ticket items like a crib and stroller! These were amazing people!

Of course, nobody had a clue about how uncomfortable I felt, since we musicians don’t normally talk about these things with colleagues (or anybody else)! Naturally, we don’t want other people to know when we’re suffering from imposter syndrome!

So what was happening to me?!?

It’s been many years since I had that experience playing in the RPO for a few years in the late 90’s, and I’ve had many opportunities to learn and understand what happened to me, so I can share the fruits of that experience (and much more) with my coaching clients.

Here are a few key things I’ve learned about performance anxiety looking back over the years. Performance anxiety is related to:

* Fear of being exposed, seen, or heard… and judged *

For lots of musicians, it’s hard to be seen and heard as a soloist, playing alone without accompaniment. Paradoxically in my case, sticking out a soloist was easy for me. But as a student, I’d been taught that if I could hear myself play in an orchestra, I was too loud. Trying to perform well without being able to hear myself was a terrifying prospect for me, and I found it very difficult. For me, playing in a group where I was expected to blend in, play more softly and NOT be heard was HARD. What would people think of me if I couldn’t play the way I was expected to?

* Fear of feeling out of control. *

The fear of being exposed – and therefore judged – caused symptoms of performance nerves in me, which showed up mainly as a visibly (and audibly) shaking bow that I could not control. Having an essential tremor diagnosed around the same time (which was minor and not usually not a problem) which was exacerbated by nerves didn’t help! A vicious cycle began: Fear of exposure (and judgment as a consequence) caused shaking, which caused my bow to bounce uncontrollably, which caused my playing to stand out and be heard more…. which heightened my fear of exposure, and judgment… and made the shaking worse.

* Over-thinking and catastrophic imagining.*

The more I thought about how my bow might shake (or was actually shaking) and how I might be too loud, and the more I imagined what my colleagues close to me might be thinking of me… the more I fed my fears, which resulted in more shaking, and more fear. NOT FUN!!

I still have an essential tremor, of course. And it can still be a problem when I play… BUT ONLY if I don’t take care of myself the way I’ve learned to do over the years, by practicing for myself what I preach to my coaching students who want to learn how to play better without pain or anxiety.

Now I know – and teach – how to get control over performance anxiety by integrating the 5 Life-Pillars of The Art of Freedom® Method for conscious living and masterful artistry: Purpose, Mind, Body, Spirit, and Artistry.

When you know how to integrate every aspect of who you are as a musician, and you know exactly how to practice and apply ConstructiveThinking™ to every aspect of your music-making, you have it made!

I wish I’d know how to take charge of my anxiety way back when I was playing in the RPO. Sadly, music teachers don’t teach these essential skills, so most musicians are left trying hodge-podge solutions that may help sometimes, but aren’t very reliable over time and in the heat of the moment.

These days, I can teach a student how to be a powerful soloist sitting happily in the back of the section… or a section player how to enjoy performing as a soloist at the front of the stage, exposed in a small ensemble, or as the leader in a church group in front of hundreds of people.

As one of my students wrote after working with me for just a couple months, “I don’t want to brag, but…. I had my first ever pain & anxiety free performance yesterday! I played three Easter worship services at a local Lutheran church. I had several solos and was mostly improvising the entire time. I literally forgot to be nervous!”

If you’re suffering from performance nerves and you want a way out… so you can feel excited about fearlessly sharing your love of music with others instead of terrified about being exposed and judged… reach out to me on messenger or send me an email today and we’ll have a chat about how I can help. I currently have a few openings in my online studio.

I also have a Masterclass on How to Play with Relaxed Confidence coming up this weekend. Type “RC” in the comments below if you want me to send you the link to register. I’d love to see you there – or send you the replay video if you can’t attend live!

You CAN conquer performance nerves and feel great when you play for – or with – others. You just need a bit of understanding about how your mind and body work together, and a few key skills that you can easily develop, so you can thrive in your musical career instead of just survive!

Jennifer xo


focus, performance anxiety, technique, wellness

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