How the classical musician can feel fear and still perform
I had the privilege to be on a Zoom call last week hosted by my Alma Mater, Eastman School of Music and the incomparable Joel Luks. There were dozens and dozens of Bonnie Boyd’s students reminiscing about our time in school and as her student. The list of accomplishments in this group of musicians goes deep and wide: top tier orchestras, professors, recording artists, doctors, financiers, scientists and on and on.
At one point Bonnie started sharing about her time as a student and how she feared she’d lost her fire and that she was done for as a player. And Every Single Flutist on that call was either nodding their head, or laughing in agreement, or recalling when they had that same experience.
Every. Single. One.
The fear of failure doesn’t discriminate. It shadows anyone and everyone who is doing brave and authentic work.
So whether you are playing on the stage of Orchestra Hall or you are playing your first recital, know that fear of failure will be there. It just will.
I have a new classmate in a course I’m taking and we got to talking about failure. She shared how she recently interviewed dozens of scientists and engineers who create on the international stage.
Do you want to know the ONE THING that was common between them all?
How they view failure.
Every single person said that failure is an essential component to creativity. That it is only through trying and failing that we can create something new.
Failure is not something to be avoided, it is something to be embraced!
The musician inside me shuddered.
The human inside me nodded and said YES.
True, authentic artistry cannot be measured by a tuner or bounded by a metronome. It operates on a completely different plane of existence.
Yes, just as engineers need precision when they are building, so too do we need it as we prepare music.
But, ultimately, we MUST elevate ourselves above the search for perfection to the search for connection.
So, if we are going to bring our art into this world, we must rumble with failure. We need to confront our fears head on, contend with them, honor them. And Move Through Them.
Here Are 3 Ways to Move Through the Fear of Failure.
Set an intention. When you walk on stage, what are you trying to do? Execute the Ibert Concerto flawlessly? NO!!! Anyone can do that. No, you are bringing your fullest self through the music so that your audience can feel. Can be connected. Can be known.
Or maybe for you it is something different? What I do know is that it is bigger than playing
perfectly. Align yourself with that and you can’t fail.
Choose COURAGE. “It is worse to spend your life on the outside looking in, wondering what if, than it is to try and dare greatly and risk the chance of failure. Dare greatly; get in the arena and try.” Brene Brown
Man in the Arena Speech. Read this Every Day. You can live safe and small like I did for 10 years after I quit putting my voice into the world OR you can put all of you into this world, fail again and again, and know that you were true to your calling as an artist and as a human in this world.
Remember WHO YOU ARE. Your identity, your value and worth as a human does not hinge upon how a performance or audition goes. It simply doesn’t. You are a beautiful creation, full of light and love and heartbreak… You matter because you exist. No achievement can make you matter more and not failure can take it away.
It is easy not to fail. You just live a small life. You stay in your comfort zone. You numb, you shove down your dreams, and you stay on your couch.
I’ve done that and I don’t want that life for you. It is worse than the most painful failure you will ever experience.
Next Steps and Additional Resources
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First, check out our Personalized Mindset Tools Quiz to discover the mindset strategies perfect for YOU!
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Founder of The Musician's Mindset
Katie is dedicated to helping musicians overcome stage fright and believe in their own unique artistic voice. She believes live classical music is a powerful antidote for the division, pain, and loneliness pervasive in the culture and strives to support all artists to confidently share their work with the world. She lives in Cincinnati with her husband, three kiddos, a dog, a snake, and a goldfish.