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LIBERATING VOICE & CONFIDENCE FOR PERFORMANCE
Most singers experience some anxiety at the prospect of performing or auditioning. For some the nerves can be completely debilitating. Celtic harp player and traditional singer Alan Mars suggests some simple methods for transforming stress and anxiety into confidence and excitement.
The techniques are drawn from the author’s extended training in singing, Alexander Technique, NLP and presentation skills training
NERVE ENDINGS & THE RING OF CONFIDENCE
The performing world is full of remedies for nerves, from the lucky rabbits foot (not so lucky for the rabbit perhaps) to Luciano Pavarotti’s gracefully flourished handkerchief! Ultimately, the luckiest charm you have is a harmonious relationship between mind, body and voice.
A little adrenaline can be the fuel that turns a merely adequate performance into an exhilarating experience for both singer and audience. But what can you do if you have rehearsed your material thoroughly and you still feel the kind of anxiety that turns performance into panic?
THE “OUR SONG” PHENOMENON
Many couples have experienced the phenomenon of “our song”. During the courting phase they had a favourite song. Hearing that song, even decades later, can bring the feelings, images and sounds associated with that time flooding back.
Similarly, for many people, the mere thought of performing in public can spark off feelings of confidence and resourcefulness or terror and abject misery. Does the name Pavlov ring a bell? The trick, of course, is to have your very best experiences of confidence and competence powerfully associated with the thought of the venue within which you are going to perform. How is this done? Nothing could be simpler!
LIBERATING YOUR BODY AND YOUR VOICE- IN REHEARSAL!
EXPERIMENT 1) Vocalising from restriction
Think of a time when you were feeling a bit pressured and restricted. Remember this as fully as possible… what you were seeing around you, what you were hearing and also what you were feeling… Stay fully in this state for a while longer.
Now look around the room, does it look any less bright or any less friendly than before? Now walk around the room. Do you feel taller or shorter? Do you feel wider or narrower? What size does your “personal space” seem to be (indicate with your hands)? Is your walking lighter or heavier?
Vocalise an ah sound. Sing a line or two of a song. How easy or difficult was it to vocalise?
EXPERIMENT 2) Vocalising from ease
Move around the room and stretch to dissipate the effects of the last experiment.
Remember a time when you felt “on top of the world”. Recall and relive this experience… what you were seeing, hearing and feeling…. stay fully in this state a while longer and allow yourself to take two or three easy, deep breaths with the emphasis on the outbreath. Allow this feeling to spread through your entire body…..
Look around the room again. Is it any brighter or friendlier now? Walk around the room. Do you feel shorter or taller? Narrower or wider? How large is your “personal space” now? Is your walking heavier or lighter?
Vocalise an ah sound. Sing a little. Notice how your voice feels and sounds different from the first experiment.
You have just taken the first step in freeing your body and liberating your voice! Which of the two states would you prefer to perform in?
The above experiment demonstrates that, as far as our muscles are concerned, the difference between thinking about a particular event and actually doing it is only a matter of degree.
When I run performance workshops many participants tell me that the room looks more friendly and welcoming after doing the second part of this exercise. This reminds me of the old cartoon series “The Gambols”. One of the characters, George, is portrayed in a variety of moods as he responds to the ups and downs of life. When life is going badly there is a grey or black cloud above his head. This is accompanied by an appropriately sagging posture.
When George is on a high, there is a puffy white cloud above his head or a kind of halo radiating light. This is accompanied by a confident posture, bright eyes and a smile. What this demonstrates so well, as many cartoons do, is that the state we are in at any given moment affects the way that we respond to the pressures of daily life- including any performance activity.
Many cartoons also seem to express the belief that the cartoon characters (and by implication, ourselves) are at the mercy of circumstances. It is possible, however, to stabilise your best physical, mental and emotional states, so that you approach performances with a peak performance state literally at your fingertips…
THE RING OF CONFIDENCE
Fully recall and re-live a focused and easy state by seeing , hearing and feeling it again. As you begin to slide into your focused state, gently link the tips of your forefinger and thumb together. Keep your fingers linked for 10 to 15 seconds. You are now beginning to link or “anchor” your resourceful state to your fingertips.
Once is not enough? Strengthen and reinforce your anchor by repeating the above process three times.
Simply linking your thumb and forefinger will now be sufficient stimulus to take you the critical first few steps into your confident and focused state- a very useful thing to do when waiting for your turn in a competition.
“…I use certain tricks that make me feel more secure. Everybody knows about my white handkerchief, which I used in my first concert in Missouri in 1973, in case I started to perspire… I feel much better if I have it out there with me. It has a function but it’s also for good luck.”
Luciano Pavarotti- My Life
Many different concert halls and audition rooms share similar characteristics e.g. exit signs, furniture, instruments of different types etc.
Get yourself into a resourceful state by using the fingertip “ring of confidence”. As your state changes visualise the furniture, the instruments and the general room layout. Repeat three times.
This will help you to anchor your most confident states to the appropriate context. If you can do this “live” in the venue, before you perform, so much the better.
Smells are very powerful. The smell of apple  blossom, for example, can virtually transport some people back to childhood, playing in an orchard.
Radio 4 recently reviewed techniques that help actors overcome stage fright. The performer first creates a state of poised relaxation and then sniffs a handkerchief impregnated with aromatherapy oils that encourage even deeper calmness and focus. They then strategically place the handkerchief on their costume just before they go on stage. The odour of the aromatherapy oils then triggers the state of poised relaxation. So there may be more to Pavarotti’s handkerchief than meets the eye!
Imagine your favourite aroma. Breathe it in gently and deeply and let it go with a whispered ah sound. Anchor your peak state to this aroma. Use this technique before performing.
DRIVING THE CAR
Instead of getting into the car and immediately rushing off to do battle with the rest of the traffic…
Pause and place your attention in your physical centre of gravity (just below your belt buckle); extend a strong positive feeling to the world around you; adjust your driving seat; your mirrors; keys in the ignition and your hands on the steering wheel.
This will anchor the touch of the steering wheel to a safer driving state and will ensure that you arrive at work, the interview, the sales appointment etc. in a happier and more efficient state!
This is perhaps the simplest and most powerful self-management technique of them all. Radiate a strong positive feeling from the core of your self. Cast the “net” of your positive feeling over the whole venue including your audience.
BUT I STILL FEEL NERVOUS!
The point of anchoring is not to stop butterflies in the stomach- the point is to get the butterflies to fly in formation. Adrenaline can give you the critical edge that takes you over the threshold into performance excellence. Adrenaline means that you care.
The attitude behind anchoring, I believe, is of greater importance than any anchoring exercise itself. When I ask people about this they say it is to do with a quality of self belief- “I have a choice”; “I have control over my response patterns” ; “I can learn from all situations.” etc.
REACHING HARMONY- THE INTEGRATED ANCHOR
Much of what is written above is drawn from the field of sports psychology (national and local sports teams please take note!) and, more recently, from the field of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)- a study of, amongst other things, the structure of excellent performance.
Our best and easiest performances happen when conscious and unconscious are working in harmony. This is like watching two excellent dance partners waltzing. They make it all look and feel oh so easy and flowing. But as you look at them you realize that such skill required repetition, communication and time.
After a while your peak performance states become the new normal- you are no longer walking in the foothills, you are becoming acclimatised to the higher slopes. The higher slopes allow you to glimpse unknown and perhaps unsuspected lands of mental, physical and vocal excellence…