“If you aren’t nervous, you’re not paying attention!”
For countless years I thought worrisome backstage behavior was a badge of honor. It showed a high degree of awareness, care and concern, and therefore implied a higher degree of musical development. The less I allowed myself to relax, the better performer I would be.
I don’t have time to consciously relax!
Because the more time I spend practicing, the better I’ll do, right? And forget about the fact that I had no idea how to properly relax, because
Calm people don’t care as deeply.
I was PROUD of my nervousness, because I was someone who cared deeply. All those other slackers might be calm, but they could never match up to my level of care and concern.
If ever I caught myself in a slight state of peace, I felt uneasy. There must be SOMETHING I’m forgetting! I would then find something that opened a deep vein of concern, and be back to my normal fearful self.
Good musicians are supposed to worry, aren’t they?
Or so I thought, until I started to meet great artists that radiated a calm, centered confidence that set them in another class. I assumed they were just more talented, lucky, or somehow blessed to be able to perform with such freedom. I had no idea how they did it.
Until the day I discovered their secret.
Their secret wasn’t merely thinking themselves to be great or imagining that everything was easy. Their secret was their knowing—their direct experience of freedom that came not by talent, luck, or secret blessings, but by simple, courageous vulnerability.
What is this simple, courageous vulnerability?
Vulnerability is a journey beyond limitations of worry and concern. It is a journey to allow ourselves the universal experience of Inspired Performance. It is a journey to discover the joy, inspiration, and wisdom that brings keen discrimination free from judgment.
But vulnerability demands courage.
Courage to trust. Courage to perceive but not grieve over imperfections in performance. Courage to invite the listeners to join you on the journey into the ever-new present moment that makes music come fully alive.
My own journey started with meditation.
The time I spent being alert with a fully relaxed body immediately yielded huge results in my sound. Meditation not only shortened my need for over-practicing, but also trained my body and my brain to slowly accept a radically new concept:
It was safe to feel freedom from tension.
The more time I spent in meditation, the better my performances went. I began expressing more expression, passion, dynamic contrast, and felt an opening flow of power surging through me.
Calmness ENERGIZES performance.
I agree that forced relaxation backfires and actually decreases performance. But I must also tell you that once you establish a habit of dynamic inner stillness, it can be accessed at will with great benefit.
My challenge to you is this:
The next time you find yourself backstage, take a few minutes to consciously relax using a technique like measured breathing (4 counts inhale, 4 counts hold, 4 counts exhale). Avoid others who are more nervous than yourself. Seek out those who have calm confidence and attune yourself to their inner peace.
As you walk onstage, silently invite the audience to join you in an experiment of courageous vulnerability. You already have shown great courage to come this far. Now simply take one more step: find one small opportunity to allow yourself to feel dynamic calmness, an open heart, the lift of inspiration, or the flow of Inspired Performance. Allow yourself to enjoy the beauty you are creating, and see what happens.
Courage is not something you are born with—it is something you practice.
Every performance. And every day.