ChorTeach is ACDA’s quarterly online publication, designed for those who work with singers of all levels but specifically K-12 and community choirs. A full annotated ChorTeach index is available online at acda.org/publications/chorteach. Over 160 articles are organized into seventeen categories. For more information, email or visit acda.org/chorteach. Following is an excerpt from an article in the current Winter 2022 issue titled “Performance Anxiety – 5 Strategies that Worked for Choir Students” by Mikayla Feldman.
In March of 2020, as our high school choir rehearsal schedule plateaued and “temporary distance learning” became more prolonged, my program director and I raced to convert our sight-singing, music theory, music history, and performance materials into something that the students could engage with digitally and asynchronously. Still, with 110 class minutes to fill and our repertoire load reduced to one piece for a virtual choir, we needed more curriculum. “What else do I wish I could have learned as a young singer?” we asked ourselves. My mind was immediately drawn to the expertise of Dr. Kristina Driskill, a voice teacher of mine at Chapman University who wrote a doctoral dissertation called “Symptoms, Causes, and Coping Strategies for Performance Anxiety in Singers: A Synthesis of Research.”(1)
From the very beginning of our voice work together, she took a holistic approach: singing is a physical, mental, and emotional process, not simply a technical one. As such, the highly personal nature of the singing art—where one’s body is the instrument—is a major reason that many singers experience performance anxiety. I knew if my students could learn to overcome these fears at a young age, they would become more empowered individuals both on and off the stage.
Pursuing this idea, I asked my high school students to share their experiences in an online discussion based on the following question: “Have you dealt with performance anxiety before?” The response was overwhelming. Of 161 students who responded, 97% reported experiencing physical and/or cognitive symptoms of performance anxiety that affected their ability to perform or practice. And this wasn’t just on stage. It affected everything from sight-reading in class to attempting a solo in front of peers, auditioning, or even raising their hands to ask a question. Though most common in singing, it spilled over into public speaking, test taking, athletics, and more. To better understand the science of dealing with performance anxiety, I set up a Zoom interview with Dr. Driskill.(2)
In a fascinating ninety-minute discussion, she outlined strategies for tackling anxiety and growing in confidence as a performer (readers can fi nd the full video interview linked to the QR code at the end of this article). Eager to share these tools with my students, I presented the interview to my classes over a short series of lessons and discussions about performance anxiety. A year after those lessons, I asked a number of students which strategies turned out to be most effective for them. What emerged were five essential themes that students cited as helping them manage or diffuse performance anxiety.
1 Kristina Driskill, “Symptoms, Causes, and Coping Strategies for Performance Anxiety in Singers: A Synthesis of Research,” DMA diss., West Virginia University, 2012.
2 Mikayla Feldman and Kristina Driskill, “Dealing with Performance Anxiety – An Interview with Dr. Kristina Driskill (Full Video),” YouTube Video, 1:29:30, https://youtu.be/PUTA9Dkh_1s.
Read more in the Winter 2022 issue at acda.org/chorteach.