“His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy” Eminem – Lose Yourself
So on Friday, I did my first live piano performance for the London piano institute live feed. And it was brilliant! There was a concert with 32 students in total playing a wonderful variety of singing, guitar, piano and other talents. What was great is that everyone was at different levels, some (like me) performing for the first time in the world of zoom, others a bit more experienced.
When my teacher Stefan first asked me if I was OK to perform, my initial thought was (quite reasonably I believe) “absolutely not!” But of course, I said, “yes I would be delighted”. As Richard Branson says “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!”
So – I thought it would be interesting to give a brief overview of what was going through my mind once the concert started, to show what happens at a first live performance (at least to me!)
I was feeling pretty calm and about 10 minutes before I was due on I did some practice to warm up my fingers and get ready. All day prior it has been excellent but at this point, I couldn’t get past the first bar! Of course, this causes a spiral of over trying and making things worse. OK..
“Take a deep breath and don’t think about it- it will come” (it came).
I was number 9 on the list so at least I was quite near the beginning and I always prefer to get things over and done with. As the other performers started to finish my anticipation grew. “Number 4 done. Almost halfway to me. number 6.. how long will they play for? oh, they all sound really good. I hope I am as good
Number 9. Oh, that’s me! Here we go get ready
My fingers are shaking- OK this is new. Breath deep for a count of four.. and go!”
I want to talk here about what I call “internal monitor”. When you are in calm familiar situations this monitor is focused outwards to the world and helps you out and works for you. For example, when you’re practising playing the piano at home, this monitor is looking at the music and actively assists the subconscious mind (the bit that knows the music and plays automatically). More often than not in these situations, they are working in synch and the disruption caused by the monitor is minimal.
The conscious brain is calm and is assisting with the music looking at the age and calmly going “ok next up is the first chord sequence, next up 4th finger on C sharp and so on.
When in the live situation is felt very different. Suddenly, the internal monitor assistance has gone awol. No help whatsoever. in fact, it’s a hindrance. What’s happening is because of nerves, it is focused on the situation around you because it senses danger and is hyper-alert. This is known as the fight or flight response which is a very handy thing when you are in actual danger, such as being chased by a tiger- but not so useful when you need grace and finesse on a piano!
So, back to my performance, I was completely reliant upon my subconscious to guide me through. The only bit I stumbled on was where the conscious brain suddenly jumped in with “watch out this is the bit you mess up!!!!!” This sudden interruption threw me off and I lost my flow.
Here I had 3 choices. 1) Throw my telephone (zoom camera) out of the window, 2) throw myself out of the window or 3) just start again as if nothing had happened (I did choose C but it was a close-run thing).
I got to the end of the piece but I can’t remember how I got there. Kind of like when you have been driving somewhere and you suddenly find yourself at your destination with zero memory of the journey.
One thing that helped me was a simple strategy that calms down the crazy nervous system and helps you relax a little. Take. Deep. Breaths. I know this is obvious but when you are stressed, you forget to breathe and it becomes very shallow and from the chest. When you take rhythmic deep belly breaths it tells your stress system, everything is going to be ok.
Was it the best version of this I have ever done?
No.. but that’s ok.
Remember there is a difference between doing my best and performing my best.
Doing your best is about controlling what I can and preparing and being ready as best I can. My absolute best performance is then something that is subjective and can always be improved.
As this is not the objective, the main thing for me was to experience the thrill/fun/horror of a live performance.
Did I enjoy it?
To quote Eminem again, “You better lose yourself in the music the moment, you own it, you better never let it go.”