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  • Writer's pictureKiara Eijo

My Performance Anxiety Story

Updated: Mar 2, 2021

For those who have been following my musical journey for a while, you know that I've talked openly about my struggles with performance anxiety. For those who are new to my blog, allow me to introduce myself: My name is Kiara Eijo and I suffer from Performance Anxiety.

Let me preface this by saying that I know that I'm not the only one who deals with Performance Anxiety but I do feel that Performance Anxiety is different on every person. Some people don't have it that bad and others have it so bad that they need to take Beta Blockers in order to get through a performance. I was inspired to write this post because I listened to an episode of The Unclassical Musician Podcast hosted by Flutist Tori Lupinek about Performance Anxiety and for the last few months, I have been going back and forth about telling you all my story.

Since we are in the season of College Auditions, Pre-Screenings for Competitions, Grad School Auditions, Masterclasses and Festivals, I thought that now would be the best time to tell you my story of my performance anxiety. So If you are interested in knowing my story, then keep on reading.😀

The Beginning

When I first started my musical journey over 16 years ago, I was just like any other kid starting out in band that would have fun performing and it was always a joy to get up on stage and perform. The first four years of my musical journey, I wouldn't get too nervous about performing but that was about to change when I got to high school.

So what did change?

My Sophomore Year (Fall of 2008 to be exact), a lot of things changed: I joined marching band at the end of my Freshman Year (I was kind of forced into it but that's a different story), I had started taking lessons on and off, and I was starting to learn major flute repertoire. On top of all that, I was a pretty insecure teenager who was bullied a lot. 😢

My first major panic attack happened a few weeks before District Solo and Ensemble halfway through my sophomore year, I decided during lunch time to go to the band room to work on my piece that I was working on which was Danse de la Chevre by Arthur Honegger and one of my friends saw me and told me that my band director heard me play and wanted me to play for him in the keyboard room. My high school band director stepped out of the keyboard room and had me warm up in his office. As I was playing for his keyboard class, I had a panic attack which consisted of trembling, my heart racing, hyperventilating, and sweating profusely and I wasn't feeling well that day. Despite all that, I did okay in that impromptu performance.

Did it get better?

No, in fact it started getting worse around my senior year of high school because at that time, I was taking college auditions, I did a couple of honor band festivals (To be more specific, Miami-Dade College Honor Band and University of Miami Honor Band), I had just upgraded to my step-up flute (It would later be the flute that I played on for pretty much all of my undergrad) and my struggles with impostor syndrome had just started. On top of that, when I did Solo and Ensemble I ended up playing badly because I picked a piece that was too hard for me (That piece was Poem for Flute and Orchestra by Charles Griffes), I didn't get along with the pianist I played it with; She was unwilling to work with me and I was a basket case with nerves. That incident manifested in me a fear of playing with pianists. 😱When I got the call from my band director that I got a Good rating in Solo and Ensemble (Highest rating is a Superior), I broke down and cried. I ended up locking myself in my mom's room and bawled my eyes out for two hours after I got home.

When was it at its worst?

From what I can remember, I would say that it was at its worst between 2013 and 2017 but it was especially bad in 2013 and 2014. During that time, my performance anxiety got so bad to the point that I dreaded performing; It was partly because I genuinely thought that I was a terrible flutist and because my talent was constantly overlooked and I was constantly underestimated by my undergrad band director (the same person who tried to put me in pre-applied lessons my freshman year). My last forum, as a student at MDC I had a panic attack so bad that I started crying and wound up ruining my makeup. Thankfully, I was able to fix my makeup in time for my performance and after the performance, my teacher came up to me and hugged me.

When I transferred to NWSA in the fall of 2014, I carried that pain with me and I thought that I was somehow the "black sheep" of the flute section because my performance anxiety had overpowered me by that point. At the end of my first semester, my undergrad orchestra conductor (He recently retired back in May) met with all the instrumentalists in the college division after orchestra to announce who was going to perform at the annual Adrienne Arsht Center Concert in the Spring, He turned to me and said "I want you to play piccolo in Prokofiev 5th Symphony for this concert".

I was so excited that I was getting this opportunity but in the back of my mind, the thought of performing in a big hall like that scared me. The day of the concert before the dress rehearsal started, I remember looking to the stage and I was so overwhelmed with a plethora of emotions that I started tearing up (I was excited but deep down, I was terrified). Long story short, that concert went very well.

Fast forward to my senior year (Fall 2015/Spring 2016), I had lost pretty much all confidence in my playing, not only because of the fact that I didn't have the instrument that I needed (the flute I played on I had it since my senior year of high school and I didn't get my current flute until February of my senior year) but because I genuinely thought that I was less of a musician due to my performance anxiety. At that point, my performance anxiety would affect how I conducted myself in rehearsals, in coachings, and even class piano.

What else happened?

It didn't help that on top of having all those feelings, I had made the decision to take time off after graduating to better prepare for Grad School Auditions. The week that I got my current flute, I performed at the Arsht Center again this time, playing an all Rachmaninoff program (One of the pieces was his 2nd Piano Concerto with Christopher O'Riley as the soloist who at the time was hosting NPR's From the Top) and I performed in my very first flute masterclass with Bart Feller (Principal Flutist of the Santa Fe Opera and Professor of Flute at Rutgers University). For those performances, I was able to remain calm and I played well to my standards.

Fast forward to the weeks leading up to my Senior Recital Hearing and my actual Senior Recital, I was getting a lot of anxiety about two of the pieces in my program. One was the Poulenc Sonata for Flute and Piano and the other one was Carmen Fantasy by Francois Borne. I was getting anxious about both of these pieces because they are two of my personal favorites in the flute repertoire (even though in the case of Poulenc, I didn't like it at first and I didn't fall in love with the piece until I started working on it and I have been in love with Carmen since my junior year of high school) and a couple of weeks before my hearing, my second undergrad flute teacher told me that Carmen was not hearing ready but that everything else in my program was in good shape. I mentioned in my very first post that I got the chance to perform with two of my teachers in my senior recital; One of them was my undergrad music history professor Dr. Lajos Zeke and the other was my undergrad piano teacher Ciro Fodere . Each of them had their own style of playing and I don't know if I would have gotten through the preparation process of my senior recital had it not been for the both of them.🥰

Long story short, I was a nervous wreck the last couple of weeks before my hearing (to the point that I vomited before a rehearsal two days before my hearing). The day of my hearing, I got super anxious because I had to print out copies of my program for the people adjudicating, I had a lesson before that, and I had a dress rehearsal with my music history professor (We played the J.S. Bach Sonata in E Major BWV1035 for Flute and Basso Continuo). On top of that, the room where I was going to have my hearing became unavailable at the last minute: I was going to do it in the jazz room (Where the high school Jazz Band would rehearse) but I ended up doing my hearing in the orchestra room.

By the grace of god, I passed my hearing but in the back of my mind, I said to myself "Kiara, you need to practice more in order to have an amazing recital" (that was the perfectionist in me talking).

Long Story short, my actual recital went extremely well to the point that both of my teachers who performed with me were excited and proud of me because they both knew how much I really wanted to pull off this program (It was the hardest Recital Program that I had pulled off by that point and it was only my second solo recital that I had done) and they both knew how anxious I would get about performing. I learned two things during that time: With Dr. Zeke, I learned to remain calm while performing and with Ciro, I learned to be more confident on stage, (not just from playing with him but also from watching him perform).

In 2017, I spent all of that year not only preparing for my first round of grad school auditions which I failed but I started recording myself a lot for the Etude of the Week Facebook Group and at the same time, I started putting videos of my playing on Instagram which helped a little with my performance anxiety. Before that, I had never really recorded myself during practice sessions and now I record myself all the time.

So, what helped you cope with your performance anxiety?

When I started talking about my performance anxiety more openly which was around my senior year of undergrad and realized that it's not just me who deals with this, it made me feel a little bit better about it. During my Masters Degree, I talked about my performance anxiety a lot with my classmates and some of my teachers (in particular, my flute teacher at the time) and found that it was perfectly okay to admit that I suffer from Performance Anxiety. Taking Alexander Technique my last year of Grad School, also helped because before Alexander Technique, I dealt with a lot of tension in my playing (and still do from time to time) and I didn't know what to do about my performance anxiety. You're probably wondering "Why now Kiara, why now? I am telling my story now because when I was in undergrad (more specifically, at the beginning of my undergrad), it was considered taboo to talk about things like Performance Anxiety, for a time, I was actually ashamed to admit that I have it, and I sometimes get emotional talking about it but in the last 5-6 years, I have seen more and more people telling their stories about their Performance Anxiety and there are a handful of people who specialize in Mindset and Performance Anxiety. I recommend checking out Sarah Whitney who is a violinist and a mindset coach (She's better known as @theproductivemusician on Instagram), Dr. Chelsea Tanner who is a flutist and mindset coach, and Helen Spielman who is a flutist and Performance Anxiety Coach.

I hope this post helps with telling your story!😊

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Bye bye for now Friends!!!😍

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