“If you’re nervous, that means you care and you want to give your best.” – Adriana Lima
Whether you’ve been singing since Beethoven figured out which end of the pen the ink went on or this is your first performance ever, concert night can (will) bring on the nerves. It’s natural; for months, you’ve been singing in a room with your friends feeling safe and secure and now you’re going to be standing up in front of hundreds of people in a great big room where everything is different. Yikes! Here are some of the things that you are CERTAIN are happening, but I promise, none of them are true (the nervous brain has a whole bag of dirty tricks to play):
– Everyone in the audience is looking directly at YOU.
– Every time you miss a note, even a little, everyone in the audience will hear it.
– Your voice has never sounded worse and you KNOW that if you sing loud it will sound like a mule that just got stung by a bee.
– There can’t possibly be enough oxygen in the room for everyone and you’re NOT getting YOUR SHARE.
– Everybody else looks calm and cool and collected and NOBODY ELSE IS NERVOUS and can’t they see what’s going on?
– You look down at your music and it feels like you’ve never sung that song before. Ever.
You’ll also notice that the lights are too bright, the audience looks fuzzy, your knees are a little rubbery, and there’s a really irritating drop of sweat making an agonizingly slow journey down the middle of your back. If you’re a really skittish person, you may feel like running into a dark corner and curling up into a fetal position; if you’re not, you’re still going to be mad at yourself for being such a wuss.
Well congratulations, you are officially a normal human being. I’ve been singing and directing in front of people for over 40 years and still get a minor case of the willies before every performance. Just like you (and everybody else), my hypothalamus tells my adrenal gland to wake up and get busy. The heart rate and respiration bump up a notch (which doesn’t help matters at all, really) and perceptions sharpen. Everything looks and sounds just a little funky (which also doesn’t help matters at all).
So here’s the good news: you were just handed a magic bullet to make this performance epic. Adrenaline makes you into a super-you and if you direct that superness (is that a word?), your nerves become a tool for good things to happen. So how do you do that?
– Narrow your focus on the conductor. She or he is your guide and you’ll feed on each other’s strength (if you don’t think she/he can see that energy in you, think again). Trust her/him to be that guide.
– Return that focus back to yourself from time to time. Find that calm, educated, well-prepared singer inside you and say hello.
– Control your breath. If nerves have cranked it up, turn it back down. You don’t really need all that extra air. Try taking a slow, deep breath and let it out gently. Relax your shoulders and your neck (you didn’t even notice they were clenched, did you?). Do a quick inventory and relax anything else that is unnecessarily tightened up (hint…your okole). (Note: for the non-Hawaiians out there, the okole is the part of your anatomy you sit on…)
– News flash: adrenaline is really fun. Why do you think people go bungee jumping? I launched myself into the air from 250’ up once with that big ol’ rubber band on my feet and the buzz lasted for three days. You just got a rocket booster, so use it. Direct that energy into focus, use that focus to concentrate on your singing, the quality of the dynamics, all of the nuances that your conductor has been teaching you. Harness that nervous energy. You’ll find it brings power. It will also help to bring on the one big thing:
– SMILE! Nobody knows if your smile is because you’re seconds away from screaming and running in circles or because you’re really happy. You can fool yourself into sliding over into the happy side of the house by showing some teeth.
Finally, some things to remember:
– Yes, you do know your music. Relax. When that first note rolls out of your throat you’ll slide right into that familiar place. That’s why you rehearse.
– Be aware of the people around you. You’ve been together for months, you’re more than a choir. You’re surrounded by friends with the same mission and you’re ALL cranked up a notch. Allow that umbrella of love and support to cover you along with them and sing as one voice.
– Guess what…the audience WANTS you to be awesome. They’re here to be entertained and moved and have given you the gift of their precious time. They’ll never notice a wrong note, they usually don’t know what the right ones are.
– Guess what…the audience is another magic bullet. Their energy is fun, too. Watch their faces as they applaud; smile and acknowledge them. You’ll find yourself feeding off their enjoyment and THAT is really cool.
After the last note fades you’ll feel all that tension slide to the floor, leaving a nice little endorphin buzz and an overall feeling of calm and happiness. You may even find yourself shedding an emotional tear. You’ll be surrounded by friends and family and smiling people you’ve never met, all of them thanking you for the gift you gave them.
The concert experience is where we all truly share in the joy of Music.
Briggs Christie is a member and blogger for the Windward Choral Society in Kailua, O’ahu, HI. You can find the original post or more writings by Briggs here.