This is an undisguised rant about stage fright, why our children grow up to be nervous in front of audiences, and why the Alexander Technique is so important.
Recently my son played cello in his first ever school concert. He got excited about a new piece, and though he didn’t know it very well, he decided he wanted to play it instead of the two he’d been practising. Predictibly, he got stuck mid-piece, and I had to murmur hints to help him to the end.
When he sat down, another parent leaned over to him and said in a consoling tone, “It was very brave of you to keep playing. Well done.”
Both he and I fielded many such comments over the next few days. One even said (to me, luckily), “I don’t know how he did it. I would have burst into tears.”
These sound like nice, nurturing, supportive comments, don’t they? So why was my son nonplussed, and why do I feel the urge to rant?
Because they are not supportive comments. And here is why.
These comments come from a very particular world view. If I asked the parents involved, they would probably admit that, in their eyes, having to perform in front of an audience is tantamount to torture. And making a mistake in front of an audience is just about the most awful thing that can happen to you.
But this is just a point of view. It might be common, but that doesn’t make it the only right or normal way to think about performing. How about this for an alternative: there’s an audience of really nice people waiting to hear me play, and I am going to share my favourite music with them. (That was what my son was thinking. I know, because I asked him.)
So which would you rather be thinking as you walked onto the stage: ‘this is torture and I hope I don’t mess up’ or ‘I get to share my fun with all these people’?
The sad thing about the concert was watching all the other children. Many of them were clearly afraid and couldn’t get off the stage fast enough. One girl even burst into tears beforehand and refused to play.
That sort of fear is a learned behaviour. We are not born with a natural fear of performing. We learn it from the people we love and respect.
So… You may be content to live with a fear of speaking or performing in front of strangers. You may be content as you are. Fair enough. But I want to ask you the same thing FM Alexander asked in 1911:
“What of the children?” Are you content to rob them of their inheritance…? Are you willing to send them out into the world ill-equipped, dependent on precepts and incipient habits…? *
Those of us who have any contact at all with children have a tremendous responsibility. The paradigms we live in, the views we hold have the potential to mould their thoughts and actions, for better or worse. In today’s world, a fear of performing or presenting is a serious handicap – one that we would be crazy to want to pass on. For the children’s sake, if not for our own, we seriously need to reconsider our ideas and attitudes about doing stuff in front of an audience. And for me, the work of FM Alexander is a great way to start that process.
*FM Alexander, Man’s Supreme Inheritance, in the Irdeat Complete Edition, p.68.
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