A week or two ago, I did something I haven’t done in a fair while (and no, I won’t tell you just how many years!). I performed an instrumental solo in public.
It was only a local festival competition, and the audience wasn’t large. But it was a big occasion for me. For me, it was proof that I had finally found the key to the anxieties that I used to suffer before every performance. I was a stage fright sufferer.
And now I’m not.
Stage fright is a big problem, whether you’re a musician, a famous actor, or faced with giving the best man’s speech at your friend’s wedding. In fact, in the UK I believe that speaking in public ranks even above death as the thing that most frightens the general public!
In the next few weeks, I want to share with you the things that I have learned through studying the Alexander Technique that have helped me to conquer my stage fright. And for the first week, I’m going to start with the principle from FM Alexander’s work that makes it all possible.
There’s a wonderful sentence in the introduction of FM Alexander’s final book. It’s towards the end of the chapter, and the unwary would find it slide past their eyes very easily. But it is pure gold. Here it is.
“I think I may confidently predict that those who are sufficiently interested in the findings I have recorded … will find their outlook and understanding … so completely changed that they will see that knowledge of the self is fundamental to all other knowledge”
Alexander makes three major claims here.
1. His work changes students’ outlook and understanding
2. His work is all about knowledge of the self
3. Knowledge of the self is prior to all other knowledge
This is important to stage fright sufferers because we tend to look for external fixes to our problems. We try imagining that the audience are in their underwear. We try deep breathing exercises. We walk; we pace. Some of us resort to alcohol to calm us down. Above all, we try to deal with the awful thought that our anxiety is all our own fault because we aren’t courageous enough.
This isn’t true. We don’t suffer from a lack of courage. We suffer from a lack of knowledge of ourselves: how we tick as humans. We need to know about adrenalin and the fight/flight response. We need to know about discipline. We need to know about attitude of mind.
And those are some of the topics that I’ll be dealing with in future weeks, because these are all areas where the Alexander Technique has helped me.
And does it help performers? Just listen to Dame Nellie Melba, pre-eminent soprano of the early years of the twentieth century:
“When we come to know that certain actions produce certain results, and when we can, at will, perform those actions, uncertainty is removed, and uncertainty is at the root of most of our fears. In singing, as in all else, the precept “Know thyself” is of the utmost importance.”
So. Do you know yourself? Do you know how you get your results?
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