My First Jury

The first time I performed on classical guitar was my freshmen jury. I had just started CG four months before. For those that are unfamiliar with juries, you walk into a room and play for a bunch of music professors. They give a grade that is supposed to influence the grade you receive in lessons for the semester. Most of the time your private instructor/professors disregards them and gives you an A.

I walked in ready to perform Brouwer’s A Day in November and the Prelude to Bach’s first Cello Suite.

What the @#$% is Stage Fright?

I’d been playing guitar for about four years by this jury. I’d stepped on stage hundreds of times with various bands. My first jury was also the first time I got nervous.

I arrived early, and had plenty of time to sit and stew in my nervousness. Then when it was my turn, I walked into the room to be greeted by the grim visages of the various music professors. This included the orchestra conductor, the oldest, meanest looking man on the planet (really nice guy, though).

Crash and Burn

So I sat down announced my pieces nervously and got going. My guitar slid every which way on my slacks; it felt like I was fighting with my instrument. My technique was not solid enough for a clean delivery anyway, and my shaking hands did not make it better.

I missed more than a few notes in the Brouwer, but the Bach stands out in my memory. I remember starting too quickly. And being that I did not really have the control to slow down or even notice that I was moving to quickly, I just kept speeding up. I remember thinking, “this is NOT good.” By the end of the Prelude I was playing so fast there was no where to go but straight down. I crashed. I stopped. I missed whole measures of notes.

Then I said thanks, and escaped.

What I Learned About Performing

As I thought about it later, I realized that this was the first time I’d gotten nervous. My next jury went much better.

What I learned from this experience was to expect my body’s response. As I was imagining the performances to come I was able to include the stage fright response that I was not familiar with before. This continues to performances I give today. I acknowledge the stage fright, then ignore it; stage fright doesn’t take me by surprise me anymore.

In retrospect I’m also able to examine my mental response to mistakes. It’s very hard to not grasp onto those and obsess over them. But in performance mistakes come, then you have to let them pass by. That was a mental state for me to use for a while. That was part of my downfall at the first jury; I was so caught up in my mistakes I couldn’t think about anything else.

Sometimes knowing what to expect is the best preparation.

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  • I didn't want to leave my real name
    I didn't want to leave my real name

    I enjoyed your post. It brought me back to the days of NYSSMA (New York State Music Association), All-County, All-State, et al auditions/competitions, and the very first performance efforts at my parents’ Lutheran Church in upstate NY (which had Awesome acoustics!). They were awful feelings of anxiety/uncertainty (for me, it was the feeling like I had to $#!+ every five minutes. UUUGH). Sorry.

    It is very strange how different environments affect the pressure that you feel while performing (as you mentioned: not being nervous playing concerts, but then falling apart in front of a jury). In the beginning for me, it wasn’t very nerve-wracking to perform on a large stage, as well. But, in a smaller environment (i.e. a living room, in church, in front of a jury, etc), where it was totally silent, you could see people in your peripheral vision and FEEL them staring at you, it was Terrifying.

    The major shift in performing for me was when I started focusing on the audience MORE rather than focusing on myself. Meaning, instead of fretting about making a mistake, the focus of performance preparation became: I want the audience to say to themselves, “JESUS, that is Gorgeous!” So, what that took was practicing as if I were playing for the audience: Visualization. See them staring at you, smiling, going into a trance. Hear them breathing, coughing, shuffling. Feel the hair on the backs of their necks tingling, the music taking them to the place the music brings you, etc. Visualizing the performance as being a very pleasurable experience for the audience then became a way for me to convert trepidation into exhilaration and anticipation.

    An EXCELLENT book that helped me with this is: “The Art & Technique of Performance” by Richard Provost. It is very well researched, psychological, pointed, thorough and fun to read. I would encourage anyone who performs, especially the newbies, to read it. It is very interesting. He also has sister book titled: “The Art & Technique of Practice” which is also great.


  • Kier

    Tension and stress is the biggest killer of all performances, whether it’s guitar, singing, athletics or snooker etc. The public don’t realise it’s a completely different ball game when you’re up on stage or in the limelight. Even the best bedroom players fall to pieces when faced faced with the scrutiny of a judging audience.
    They best way to conquer it is to keep getting up there, over and over again until being under the spotlight becomes second nature. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.
    And of course, the more you place your self in the spotlight, the more people will see you perform, which can only be good for your musical carreer.
    You’ll never totally conquer your nerves, but you can make them a whole lot easier to deal with.

  • Rodelon

    Yes i enjoyed this article too.I keep thinking the tense on my firstime on stage.Haha! when i play my guitar i keep playing it very fast,i just notice it in the mid of the play.