Below is a photo of me recording in the studio, doing exactly what I just said above. It is intense and can sometimes be stressful, but...it is a totally different type of 'stress' than what most of us think of when we experience stress. Stress comes in many forms as all of us are aware of and have experienced. It's that natural "Fight or flight" feeling caused by a perceived threat whether real or not, caused by an intense rush of adrenalin. In its most positive function it is a natural protector...hitting the brakes when an animal runs in front of our moving cars, being on guard in a crowded metro, hearing strange noises around our homes late at night. But when it functions as a deterrent to our ability to live more peacefully and relaxed when there really is no threat at all, then problems can arise, and anxiety can intrude into our lives. Situations where the adrenalin rush of the fight or flight response may actually be an aid such as to make for a better public music performance or in a recording studio, or playing a good game of softball where the positive energy (and fun) of being on alert for the unexpected curve ball coming very fast toward us and that dash to first base, are overshadowed by an uncomfortable nervousness that seems to come up from nowhere and for no reason. At times anxiety occurs even when merely taking what we hoped would be a peaceful walk through the neighborhood park. This happens to everyone, but some have learned how to handle it better than others. There are literally thousands of world class musicians who we never get to hear simply because they have a very difficult time revealing themselves artistically in front of a live public audience. Some do fine in a studio environment, but not on a stage. And others have no problem on a stage, but go to pieces in front of microphones alone in a room. In my own case, I find the studio environment far more stressful than playing live. I stated why in my opening remarks above.
So many things today cause us all to be on an almost constant alert to so many issues. The best description I believe is expressed in a simple word.....fear. It is estimated that as many as 25% of all professional level performers deal consistently with performance anxiety. It is hard to imagine that (as a possible example) someone at the level of Yo Yo Ma would experience anxiety when performing to the point of making it difficult to do a good show, or in some cases even play at all. But it is real. It is commonly known that the great Pablo Casals was never totally comfortable on the stage, but he played brilliantly anyway. Somehow he learned to funnel much of the energy into a more positive place inside, and just left what remained of the adrenalin to float around inside but not control him. This is how most performers deal with it. I know I do. But I have experienced times when anxiety got the best of me and my hands started shaking from on overdose of adrenalin. A hyper-adrenalin rush is a bit like having six cups of coffee in a row ten minutes before a performance. Whoa! It's like being outside of your body and out of touch as your mind tries to tell your inner self to relax, the body is already overcharged and meditating and breathing won't work. You really have to just wait for it to pass, like caffeine finally losing its effect. But of course asking an audience to please wait an hour while I calm down probably wouldn't sit well with most concert goers. So I for one make sure I don't drink anything stimulating for at least six hours before I play. I like to be as clear minded and relaxed as I can be, as no doubt most performers do.
This entire conversation of course concerning anxiety, goes far beyond stage or studio performance. Any and all of us know it, experience it, and suffer from it at times for any of a multitude of reasons. For me, to focus on stage and studio work is a clear and easy way to see my reactions to life in general. And this is where I would like to go with this particular topic, opening to a broader conversation on fear and anxiety in our lives, and what we can possibly do about it. I have learned that communication, openness about our feelings, and empathizing with each other, are a good beginning in teaching our minds and bodies how to let go and find some relief from fear and anxiety. Letting each other know that we aren't as alone as we may feel at the moment is an action which springs from our innate humanity. And this is the issue in a real sense: to allow ourselves to feel, to experience our deepest humanity and act on this, even if our societal environment may fight us at every turn.
To be continued..................