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On performance nerves and the online cello,
with Classical Music Agony Aunt ALICE McVEIGH

Dear readers,
I am indebted to Stephen Fuller for this, at which (with my usual mastery of the mouse, I did quite badly!!!!!!)
All you non-cellists (and bad mouse-controllers) out there, have a go!!!

Cello Challenge. © Berliner Philharmoniker

Ask Alice

? ' Dear Alice,

I am about to take my Grade VIII Associated Board viola exam and I keep having panic attacks. Help!


Ask Alice

Alice Dear ?,

I'm a little unclear about what you mean. A genuine panic attack (which even someone as neurotic as I have never yet had) happens to only about 1% of people (more often women, I wonder why???) and involves huge anxiety, chest pain, choking, nausea, palpitations, trembling, hot flushes etc -- sometimes for no very obvious reason. It is treatable with medication and/or therapy. If this is what you're up against, you must go to your doctor -- fast!

However, what I suspect you're suffering from is nerves -- perfectly justifiable, normal, reasonable, pre-exam nerves, and here, at least, I am an expert. Look no farther!!!!!

This is what you do.

  1. Research 'visualization' techniques online, and apply them to your entire exam preparation, daily, and preferably just before sleeping.
  2. Put yourself in challenging situations by asking friends to set up a trial exam, where they pretend to be the examiner and you submit to the whole process as if it was for real.
  3. Practice. This DOESN'T MEAN enjoying yourself playing through your pieces 94 times a day. This means taking to bits the parts you don't play as well as the rest and then reassembling them. It means patient, phrase by phrase, practice, where you don't allow yourself on to the next until you've performed the first phrase three times perfectly. (Note: there are no short-cuts!!!!) Remember, the Associated Board Grade VIII scales are traumatic for everybody (read: sadistic!!!!!) -- isolate every awkward shift, don't press, and go over the memorization just before your visualization techniques at night.
  4. Invest in beta-blockers. These aren't necessary for everybody, but a secret survey in a London orchestra brought out a 74% take-up rate, and top London orchestral players are neither weak nor stupid. These simply skim the edge off of your adrenalin, and put you in control. They DON'T prevent you from feeling emotion, or from getting involved (both common fallacies). I've never heard of a doctor unwilling to prescribe these for performance nerves.

Good luck!!!!!!!!

Copyright © 28 March 2008 Alice McVeigh, Kent, UK

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