There are cures for most illnesses and symptoms, and performance anxiety has very much been treated in that way. There are beta-blockers, medication that prevents the body from over-stressing, bananas (which have attributes that help your heart remain calm), hand-warmers to keep your fingers from getting too cold and microfiber cloths (if instead of cold hands you get sweaty palms). There are psychological ways to treat it too; meditation before a performance, breathing exercises to allow oxygen to get up to the brain, and talking to yourself in the mirror and sending yourself positive messages.
All these things I have tried, staring at myself in a public restroom, wringing a hand-warmer packet to death and repeating the phrase "You are fine. You are good. This will be okay." (meanwhile attracting curious glances from strangers). I think that all these strategies ever did was distract me from the performance itself. Perhaps that was a good thing, to make me feel as if I was taking care of a problem but when it came time to actually perform, one banana could not hold back my flood of nerves. Up until recently, every performance was its own unique kind of meltdown that I had no way of preparing for.
I still have a long ways to go in terms of performance, but I think the only solution to beating performance anxiety is the same solution for all aspects of piano. PRACTICE PERFORMING...which means...just perform. Perform all the time. Perform whenever you can. Do it for your friends, your family, your church, your school. Every time you play for your piano teacher, treat it as a performance. If no one is there, record yourself using a phone or a tablet. It is not that performance gets easier the more you do it, but you will get used to making mistakes in front of an audience. You will learn how to recover faster, how to cover up errors and think on your feet. You will have bad performances, but they will be outnumbered by good ones if you keep trying, I promise.
For our MSS students stressing about this upcoming recital, please understand that this is nothing like the STAAR test. You've all taken the STAAR this year in school right? And if you don't pass, you don't get to move on to the next grade. It's too easy to think about recitals in the same way, but recitals and tests are nothing alike. No one is giving you a grade, they just want to enjoy your music. So you should be focusing on that too. Not getting everything right, but making everything you play fun and enjoyable.
So parents and students, what should we do between now and May 19th? I'll keep this post simple with a to-do list:
With all of this preparation, and with so many instructions to follow, your brain will be too busy making music to be nervous. And if you focus on making music, your personality will also show through.
Beethoven says it better than I:
“To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable.”