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The Magic of Performance Stress

Updated: Apr 26, 2020

When I was eleven I was given the opportunity to play a Bach Concerto with the Mount Royal College Orchestra in Calgary. It was BMV 1056, F minor, 2nd movement. The coolest part was that the conductor was J.S. Bach, a direct descendant of the composer, via his son Johann Christoph Friedrich and his son Whilhelm Friedrich Ernst.

The concert was held at the Jubilee Auditorium which seats just over 2,500 people. I was given lots of musical direction for this occasion but lacked any support on performance psychology. It was a big deal for me and I was terrified. My mom was a working mother and I remember the morning of the concert she realized that we hadn't bought a dress for the occasion. A quick trip to K-mart (the only store open on Sunday) and I was the not-so-proud owner of a pink polyester shift with fake pearls. I felt a bit ridiculous.

No one talked to me about nerves or asked me how I felt about walking on stage in front of an orchestra and over 2,000 people.

This is very pertinent to me now because my grandson, William Taber, is 11 years old and was recently picked to sing a solo with the Victoria Symphony. He will be singing Walking On Air from The Snowman. It's a beautiful song and he is up to the task but it's a very big deal for him. He too will sing to over 1,000 people.

Here is what I would like William to know when he is feeling doubts and fears:

Dear William,

1. Breathe. Breathe deeply and mindfully starting 5-10 minutes before walking on stage. Also do this anytime before your performance if you are starting to feel anxious.

2. Close your eyes and remember what you love about music and especially what you love about this piece.

3. Put on your concert clothes at home and make sure you are comfortable in them.

4. When you walk on stage you will be in a magic trance. You don't know what will happen. No one does. Everyone is rooting for you to do your best - not to be perfect, but just to do your best. Accept and enjoy the buzz you are feeling. It will give you superpowers.

5. When the orchestra starts you will be transported to a place few people get to experience. It may feel like slow motion but listen to the music and be prepared to jump in, join that glorious sound (and keep breathing).

6. It will be over before you know it and there will be a thunderous applause that you probably haven't experienced. Every cell in your body will want to run and scream to get rid of the tremendous amount of energy that is surging through you. Smile, bow graciously, and exit the stage.

7. If your parents are at the stage exit, ask to go outside for a moment to breathe in the fresh air and run around a bit before going back in to listen to the rest of the concert.

Love and big hugs,


My Bach concert went well and I was immediately led to a seat in the theatre to listen to the rest of the concert. I had so much energy I couldn't sit still. I'm afraid I was distracting to the people in front of me one of who turned around and said, "We listened to you, now it's your turn to be quiet". Ouch!

I never wore the dress again but at age 14 I played a Haydn concerto with the Calgary Youth Orchestra. This time I asked my mom to go dress shopping well ahead of the concert and wore a beautiful full-length purple dress. I was experienced :-)

I was still nervous, but this time I knew lots of kids in the orchestra and it felt like I was playing with friends. It was much more fun.

I'll write a follow up blog after William's concert :-) The after-party is at my house... I can't wait!

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