Stage Fright: Part 3 – It’s a Concert, Not a Contest

So far we have talked about what Stage Fright is, and what it isn’t. We have looked at how it is done, and why it is done. We have seen that it is not something that happens to you, it is something you actually do. We have seen that it is just another form of People Fright, although a highly potent form.

Well, if Stage Fright is something we DO, I think we can all agree we would rather NOT do it. But how do we not do it? The answer may surprise you.

There is no way to not do it. Or more correctly, there is no way for “you” to not do it. There is no way for the “you” who does it to not do it.

There is, however, a way to go THROUGH it. There is a way to give birth to a new “you” who does something else instead.

The answer to our problem is to discover what it is we SHOULD be doing when we play music for other people, and then do THAT. And what we will find when we DO that, is that the Stage Fright thing STOPS.

In order to find out what it is we should be doing when we play music for other people, instead of doing Stage Fright, we need to look at a couple of things first. We need to consider a couple of questions.

One, what is music? Two, why does anyone want music in their life? Three, what are we really doing (or trying to do) when we listen to music, or play music for ourselves or for other people?

What is Music?

There are 3 kinds of people. First, the people that have no feeling for music at all, and whose lives would not be affected if there were no such thing as music in the world. I believe these kinds of people are very rare, and that they are similar to the kind of people who don’t like dogs or little children, and the ones I have met always gave me the shivers. Personally, I don’t think I have met many at all, in fact, only one or two, so I have to account for them here. I’m sure there must be more, I have just been lucky so far. Second, there are the people to whom music makes a pleasant background to their daily activities. It’s nice to have around, like a basket of plastic fruit on the kitchen table. I do know a number of people like this, but I try not to spend much time with them.

Thirdly, there are the people who recognize what music REALLY is. They recognize that music is the most potent form of MAGIC a human being is capable of making. They recognize that music not only expresses emotion, music is a tangible form OF emotion. Music IS emotion, it IS energy in motion, human energy, human FEELING emotional energy. That is why this third type of person not only likes music, not only loves music, they NEED music. Thankfully, I know lots of these people. You will find this type of person as what we call a professional musician, or as an amateur, it makes no difference.

There are many among this third group of people who recognize that music is DIVINE. If you are one of the people who like to use the word GOD to express your feelings about the ULTIMATE REALITY (as I do), then you may think of it, like me, as the voice of God. When I was a teenager, listening one time to Beethoven’s 9th symphony, I was at once converted and baptized. I didn’t need any scriptures to tell me what God was like, whether there was a God, or any of that nonsense. The “Meaningfulness of Existence” had been revealed to me through a higher Revelation, one that doesn’t need human words. It was revealed in a different language, the one we call music, the one that never needs a translator or interpreter, because it speaks “in tongues”, directly to every human heart. And it had been spoken by one of Music’s greatest Prophets, Ludwig van Beethoven.

There are many musicians throughout history who have recognized the divine nature of music, and because they recognize it, they have the proper reverence for it. Beethoven, of course, felt this way. Antonio Vivaldi, the great Baroque composer of the seventeenth century, was, in addition to being a great musician, also a priest. One time he ran off the altar in the middle of saying Mass, because he had just at that moment received an inspiration for a new piece of music which he had to immediately write down, lest he forget. “I was called by a higher authority”, he later explained.

In our own time, musicians like Carlos Santana exemplify this highest type of artist. Santana’s relationship to his music has always been intensely spiritual, and you can certainly hear it in the notes! There is an intense quality of ennobled human emotion in his playing, as there is in the music of all such artists. “When I play, it’s no good unless I cry” he has said.

I have always noticed that the greatest musicians came to see that what they had dedicated their lives to was of a Divine, or Ultimate origin. In addition to being irresistibly compelled to be music makers and creators, they knew they were answering a supremely high calling. It is not without meaning that Franz Liszt’s students were not called students, but disciples. The same with Francisco Tarraga, (who Segovia called “the patron saint of the classical guitar”)

Why Do People Want Music?

Now, human beings have argued endlessly over their confused ideas of “God”, and made hundreds of versions of “God” each in their own image, and each with a different name which they know is the “true” one. But the beautiful thing about the language of music is that there is no confusion. There is no doubt. It is a direct communication of the Divine to the human heart, and it speaks to each heart that recognizes it. And it speaks in the native language of every heart it touches. When we are moved by the music we love, transported and taken to that place which is above this world, we don’t need someone to explain it to us, or tell us whether it’s “true” or not. We know.

And if you are a music lover, it doesn’t matter whether you have ever thought about it in this way or not, whether you have ever used the words I am using. The Reality we are talking about is beyond words, by definition! That’s the whole point! That’s why we need music to touch it! Music puts us in touch with our INTUITION, our “inward knowing” of the Spiritual Reality that stands behind this physical one we normally touch.

A thirteen year old listening to their favorite rock band or rap artist, the 30 year old listening to their favorite pop artist or folkie type singer/songwriter, the person sitting down to meditate upon the mysteries of a Bach fugue or late Beethoven string quartet, all are feeding upon this most necessary food of the human spirit, and are drawn to it as naturally as a baby to it’s mothers milk.

Now, here is the whole point.

What I am essentially saying is that music is a basic human need, it is not a luxury. If we do not feed upon this spiritual food, we will pay a price, we will suffer. If you have put yourself in the position of being one who MAKES this magic called music, if you have decided to become one who speaks this potent, universal, wordless language, than you have just joined a special community.

What Should We Be Doing When We Play Music?

If you have decided to be the provider of this spiritual food for others, then you have taken on a very special job, a very special function. And you must have the proper relationship to it, as those you are providing it for must also.

A priest, minister, or rabbi, is also one who serves the function of providing, or leading people to, spiritual food. He or she leads the congregation to commune with a higher, spiritual reality. I assume that such a spiritual figure, when they are conducting services, are wholly focused on what they are doing. I assume they are not up there thinking “gee, how am I doing? Hope the congregation is liking this! Likewise, I assume the congregation is focused on the reason they are there, to participate in a mutual “spiritual” experience, which the leader is providing. I assume they are not sitting there waiting for the guy to trip up a couple of words! I assume that if the leader misses or mumbles a few words here and there it is not going to make the participants lose their entire focus, and miss the spirit of the experience.

Many performers create terrible strictures for themselves by being so afraid of missing a few notes here and there. They play as if their primary focus was to not miss a note, instead of playing with feeling and expression. That would be like giving a speech, and focusing more on your articulation than on the meaning of what you had to say. Of course, it is not like the technical aspects are not important, but they are of SECONDARY importance. Music began because something needed to be expressed that couldn’t be expressed in words. Technique is the servant of expression, and should never be the master. Anyway, technical matters will take care of themselves when we know how to practice correctly.

Being “In Concert”: Your Responsibility

The dictionary defines “concert” as “agreement in action, feeling, or purpose”. It is a union, a meeting of mind, emotion and spirit. And the meeting takes place in a world of higher vibrations. If I am giving a concert, I am supposed to have MADE that agreement, to meet YOU there, the audience member, in the sound. That is my commitment, and I am supposed to be living up to it, not be thinking about myself, and whether I am looking good or not, and whether you like me or not! It’s a concert, not a contest!

And you are supposed to be living up to the agreement also, you are supposed to be “in concert” with me, meeting me in the sound, and not thinking about something else,

As I said in the beginning of this three-part essay, when a guitar player plays for another person, they are not only sharing the music, they are sharing their relationship to the guitar as well. If your relationship to the guitar, your relationship to your role as a guitarist and musician, is a mediocre one, a lukewarm one, you will not have much to share. First of all, it is your responsibility to make your relationship to music and the guitar (as your chosen instrument) a passionate one, an emotional one, because that is what we are dealing with here, that is why we bother to be musicians, because it is an inherently EMOTIONAL affair.

Don’t Fight Fear, Ignore Fear

Many people make a big mistake by trying to “fight” their stage fright, or to trick by performing little mental maneuvers, like imagining the audience naked or in their underwear. Well, I do believe in doing whatever gets you through the night, but don’t confuse it with getting to the heart of the matter. When Fear, when Stage Fright arises, it is because deep inside yourself, you are devoting a large part of your attention on YOURSELF, and not the music. In fact, here is something very interesting to ponder. It can be just as detrimental to your performance to be sitting there performing and be feeling really good about yourself as it is to be feeling bad about yourself. Most of us performers have experienced playing really well, and then sitting there patting ourselves on the back (in our heads), when we should be busy playing. Guess what happens? Bam, there goes that passage! Either it gets messed up, or just suffers from a lack of feeling or involvement, because we were to busy thinking about ourselves, this time in a “positive” sense.

There must be no “self” when you play. There must be only the music.

When we do make that inner error of putting self before music, whether “positive” or “negative”, the thing to do is to become aware of what you are doing. Take hold of your attention, and place it on the music, and feel your passion for it (which is what you are supposed to be doing, it’s what the people came for).

Fear (which is the result of your inner error) is like an unwelcome visitor who just popped in to see how miserable they can make your life. He stands there and starts saying nasty things to you to see if he can get your goat. Like any bully, if he sees he starts to get a reaction from you, he gets more power, he gets bolder. Pretty soon, he’ll have you on your knees. However, if he sees you are ignoring him and playing your guitar instead, he gets all deflated. It’s no fun, he hangs around a little bit, gets bored, and leaves.

The way THROUGH stage fright is to stay centered in that passion, to be with it, to lose the sense of DOING the music, and stay with the sense of BEING the music. This is the responsibility of the performer, just as it is the responsibility of the audience member. When this is done, there is no stage fright, because there is no one there to be afraid. When Attention is where it should be, on the music, instead of on the self, you cannot be “self-conscious”, you can only be “music conscious”. Then, the magic can really take place.

To Be With, or Not to Be With

As in all relationships in life, it comes down to this: to be with, or not to be with. Love, is to be with. Fear, the opposite of Love, is to refuse to be with. When it comes to this matter of playing our instrument for others, Stage Fright is what happens when we refuse to be with. Stage Fright is what happens when we refuse to be with the music, the audience, and ourselves.

Also check out… Stage Fright Part 1: What It Is And What It Isn’t and Stage Fright Part 2: How It Works, And Why It Works

Copyright Jamie Andreas, Guitar Principles.