Five Things to Remind Yourself Before Performing

We are excited to feature a post by sixteen-year-old trumpet player Evelyn Hartman on Brass Chicks! Evelyn is our youngest #FiveThingsFriday writer yet but her words pack some serious wisdom. 

evelyn.jpegEvelyn Hartman is a sixteen-year-old trumpet player living in Northern Michigan, where she is currently a junior at Petoskey High School. She is involved in her school’s award-winning marching band, wind ensemble, and jazz band. Evelyn is also in the Northern Michigan Brass Band, having now played repiano cornet, soprano cornet, and flugelhorn parts in various programs. Another group Evelyn is involved in is the Northern Symphonic Winds. Both Northern Michigan Brass Band and Northern Symphonic Winds are often exclusive from high school players.

Evelyn has participated in several Solo and Ensemble performances. In her sophomore year, she received first division ratings at both the District and the State level for the Arutunian Concerto. This year she performed the piece Rustiques, by Eugene Bozza, again earning first division ratings at Districts and States.

Evelyn also enjoys playing for charity. This last holiday season, for example, she formed a brass ensemble that went around to local retirement homes playing a large selection of Christmas carols. In the summer of her sophomore year, Evelyn attended Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp on a merit scholarship and sat first chair in their top wind ensemble. She also earned the Outstanding Camper Award at the end of the session. For this summer, Evelyn was selected as an alternate for National Youth Orchestra 2 and was also accepted into Interlochen Arts Camp’s six-week World Youth Wind Symphony program. She recently confirmed enrollment into Interlochen’s program and is eager for it to begin.

Performances are a time of magic. Whether it is in a small room for a panel of judges or before a filled concert hall, performing allows us to share our art with others. For me personally, performing used to be a time of incredibly high stress. I found myself nervous days before it was time to showcase. As a result of this, my performances usually just weren’t that great; I merely survived. And I know I’m not the only one who has suffered from this pressure. I’ve seen many performers, from all ranges of ability, suffer symptoms of performance anxiety. Stars like Jim Carrey, Adele, and even Fryderyk Chopin have admitted that stage fright has been an issue for them.

Performance anxiety is a massive beast. It can strike a musician in a multitude of ways. There have been times when nerves have caused me to become overly aware of what I was doing and there have been times where I have ended with no recollection of anything that I just did. I realized the way I approached performances was never going to serve me well in the long run. After realizing this, I’ve worked to strategize finding inner balance for whenever I’m about to take the stage. It’s essential in a successful performance to be able to be focused, yet calm. The saying “heart on fire, mind on ice,” introduced to me through my high school band program, will forever ring true. They were the words that were echoed by our director every time we were about to take the stage. Through hearing the words, I came to realize that it is critical to take control of your emotions prior to playing the first note. Negative and distracted thoughts have to be deflected. In the end, whenever you perform it should be only you, your burning passion, and your mind, serving as the gatekeeper between you and the audience.

Performances are a time of sharing and growth. One is able to share with the outside and grow through the inside. Performing should be a time of closure. Over the past couple of years, I’ve learned it’s essential to keep positivity close to the surface. I’ve compiled a collection of thoughts that I now run through every time I’m about to perform. I encourage you to use my list, or to better yet, use it as inspiration to make your own and think through it each time you enter a warm-up room. I’ve found mentally warming up is just as important as playing any long tone or lip slur. By going through a mental checklist, your performances can tremendously improve, as mine have, in both the delivery of the music you play and your overall feeling in the process of it all. Being properly mentally engaged when performing makes all much more meaningful.

Here are Five Things to Remind Yourself Before You Perform:

1. I am the best.

Although it is important to remain humble, it is equally important to validate oneself. The music industry is filled with comparison. Comparison can be a good thing, but it can also spur lots of negativity. It is often forgotten that music is an imperfect art. We often compile strengths other players or ensembles have into one being and expect that we can come close to that if we do all of the right things. Doing this couldn’t be more unrealistic. Compare the trumpet players Wynton Marsalis and Tine Thing Helseth. Wynton is known for being a technical machine and Tine is known for being able to produce a full, effortless sound. Both players have been rated as top-notch, but both players are completely different from one another. There is no mold that you are designed to fit. In fact, it is your polished differences that will attract an audience. There have been many times when I have let myself believe that I am less than what I have worked towards. Whenever I lose sight of who I have worked to be, everything crumples. By telling yourself that you’re the best, you are putting yourself above the negative comparison that the music industry too often bears.

2. I am prepared.

Music takes an excruciating amount of work. This work involves a combination of dedication and persistence. Hours are put towards rehearsing materials that only amount to a couple of minutes. It often takes many tedious practice sessions to be able to play a piece well. Music is demanding because there are so many technical aspects that must be followed. There are dynamics, articulation, and the list only continues. And one not only has to follow the instructions written in by the composer, but also translate it into something human. Music has to be played with passion. It drives me crazy when I have parts that aren’t being play up to standard, and so I get to work. I have been working from the moment that I held my instrument for the first time. The work is necessary, but the results are so very rewarding. Being able to play through a passage without thought is one of the greatest feelings one can muster. When you are about to perform, the biggest mistake you can make is letting yourself forget of all that you do.

3. Music is exciting.

There is an excitement music brings that is unable to be described. Music manipulates emotion to no end. There have been countless times where I’ve heard something that spreads a grin across my face, or where chills are moved through my entire body. Music, when played well, keeps everyone on the edge. It should grab the entire focus of those who are listening, and those who are playing. When I play, I remind myself of this. It is not my best performance unless I am fully invested into what is being done. Your emotions should be fully engaged with all that you play. If they aren’t, why play in the first place?

4. Playing is fun.

Playing in itself is something that is addictive. Between the building of satisfying dexterity in the fingers and the creation of pure sound, who wouldn’t feel enjoyment when they are able to make music? When I’m playing, I’m not only close with music, but I am the music. It’s important to remind yourself that when you perform in front of an audience, you’re making music, the same as always. The only difference in performing versus practicing is that now other people get to watch you enjoy yourself and share in the pleasure of all that music is.

5. Every performance is only another opportunity.

Performances are solely life experiences. They will never define you. If one goes wrong, all you can do is move on from it. If anything, use any bad performance as motivation for your next one, aiming for it to be better. Life becomes boring when all is easy and everything just works out. Life is a rollercoaster and the most successful partakers are the adrenaline junkies. Appreciating the bad is just as necessary as appreciating the good. Both good and bad are equal parts of being alive.

When you are about to perform, don’t consider failure in the slightest. You are the best, don’t you remember? You are prepared. Let the music be what it is meant to be; let the music excite you. Enjoy yourself and all that you are able to do with ease. Through being cool and collected, you’ll likely have good results. By overcoming failures with hard work, you are given the satisfaction you need to refuel your tank. You’ve already driven across the bumpy roads. Performing is a stop at the gas station. Regardless of whether you have a nice conversation with the person behind the counter, your tank is refilled. You are either given new motivation from the bad, or hopefully, a feeling of euphoria from the good.

2 thoughts on “Five Things to Remind Yourself Before Performing

  1. Greg Webster March 25, 2018 / 12:04 pm

    Well written, by one of Michigan,s Best high school trumpet players. I am very proud of you!

  2. Ralph Schweigert March 25, 2018 / 11:36 pm

    Bravo, Evelyn! You demonstrate maturity and depth well beyond your years. Great advice for all of us, regardless of age. I, too, am very proud of you!

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