Performance Anxiety: a talk for SOCA members, June 2019

Several SOCA members met together and took part in a facilitated discussion of Performance Anxiety in the relaxed atmosphere of my family home. We freely examined its causes, psychological and physical, and looked at a number of strategies for mitigation in the light of current research.

In particular we discovered that:

  • Performance Anxiety is common and widespread amongst all musicians, including the Professionals…you are not alone!
  • It manifests in the classic Fight/Flight response to Fear
  • Fear in performance relates to how we, and others, perceive us. It is a learned response, reinforced by repeated stress.
  • Adults are capable of re-thinking past experiences
  • Adults can re-set their emotions with Effort and Practice.
  • As well as technical practice, we need to Practise Performing.
  • There are a number of strategies which can help with managing performance anxiety, and each individual will benefit from their own unique selection.
  • There are also strategies for dealing with performance nerves “on the day”. Again, individuals need to find what works best for them.
  • Limited Nerves may not be All Bad after all.
  • The ISM has looked at the issue in some detail. Downloads are available from org. Blogposts from  and similar may be useful. Post 2015 searches of the UK press may yield useful information.

If there are SOCA members who would like to look at this issue, or whose family members or friends may be interested, please get in touch with the Secretary. I may be able to repeat the session in the future. Remember performance anxiety is not exclusive to organists, it can be a problem for all musicians, speakers and singers.

Hilary Shaw B.Sc., PGCE.

An appreciation by Ray Willis:

A small group of SOCA members gathered on the evening of Thursday 13th June 2019 for a talk and discussion on “Coping with Performance Nerves … What’s New” hosted and led by Hilary Shaw. This is an enormous subject and Hilary prepared (and expounded upon) a comprehensive and informative sheet to guide us along the way. The evening proved most valuable as there is very little information specifically relating to organists; and those that work in churches are performers on each occasion. The discussion times showed that we each have our own particular ways of coping (or not coping as the case may be) with issues ranging from self confidence through managing criticism (often from people least qualified to make such), to realising that even highly experienced players get it wrong sometimes! Psychology – particularly Sports Psychology – offers us a great help in all of this, and Hilary brought us up to date with current thinking. The importance of Practising Performance alongside the notes was emphasised, and of particular interest here were the two new Booklets published by the ISM Trust. Other relevant blog-sites and research journals were listed. A big thank-you to Hilary for the evening – including tea and cakes – and a follow-up event is to be hoped for.



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