Performing With Heart: Love Your Performance

by Carol Barth

On Sunday, November 20, 2005, Karen Johnson led a workshop entitled Performing with Heart. Ms. Johnson began her presentation by having the 20 members present listen to a recording of Native American flute music played by R. Carlos Nakai. Attendees volunteered that the music was relaxing, calming, uplifting, inspiring, and healing. Ms. Johnson then posed the question Why do we want to perform? to which attendees responded: to share beautiful music with others; to better connect with the music; because performing enables a person to feel closer to music; and to allow a voice from within to speak. Then, why does the idea of performing create so much anxiety? Ms. Johnson asked. Possibly, the critic in our mind has established a lifetime pattern of feeling not quite good enough, she offered. She continued, saying that all of us as performers should transfer those critical thoughts into a different form of energy.

Ms. Johnson led the group in breathing exercises to heighten awareness of each individuals pattern of breathing. The group practiced breathing in for three beats, then exhaling for six. Inhaling activates the sympathetic nervous system, she explained, which prepares one for activity. Exhaling activates the para-sympathetic nervous system, which is calming. Calming the body will calm the mind.

Another technique to conquer anxiety that Ms. Johnson advocated is visualization. She counseled attendees to prepare for performance by erasing the minds cassette that says you are nervous. Replace it with a new mind cassette that says love your instrument, and love your presentation of the music. She recommended that a performer should practice these techniques daily if possible, just as one practices the notes of a piece in preparation for performance.

Karen invited Patrick Shea to perform Prelude # 17 in Ab major by Chopin. Before he started to play, she guided him through a breathing exercise and told him to take his time, start when he was ready. After Pat played, he stated that the breathing helped him feel calmer once he started to play.

Richard Sawyer played Orientale, Spanish Dance #2 by Granados, again after conscientiously paying attention to his breathing before he stated. Yasunari Ishii performed Bachs Prelude in b minor, BWV 869 (WTC I #24) after Karen talked him through a visualization. For each piece, it was apparent that our member performers were thinking about their presentation, not worrying about being nervous or making mistakes.

Ms. Johnson again encouraged all in the audience to practice breathing and visualization and invited e-mails to describe differences in anyones feeling about performance. She closed by performing Morceau de Concours for Flute " Piano by Gabriel Faure accompanied by Carol Barth. Clearly, she had been thinking about presenting something beautiful.