Listening to the comments about the cricket between England and Australia on Test Match Special or the analysis of certain golfers at The Open Championship this week reminded me how similar all performers are. Whether it is in sport or the theatre, concert hall or teaching, performers have to be mentally prepared as well as physically ready. One sport’s scientist described it as “consistency of mind gives a consistency of performance” and it is relevant to any type of individual accomplishment.
The reason Andy Murray won Wimbledon this year or any of the medallists at last year’s Olympics achieved their awards was the mix of physical and mental conditioning they all toiled through to be ready to win. Many musicians go through the physical conditioning, the hours of practice and rehearsal, but rarely consider some mental workouts to be ready for the concert or studio situations. When I used to perform at a number of engagements outside during the summer, knowing the dress code was tail jackets, I would prepare by turning up the central heating, put the jacket on and practice for two hours at a time to become comfortable with the environment, both mentally and physically.
With the growth of sport as entertainment, and the enormous revenues generated in this area compared to the performing arts (the IFPI 2012 report had global music revenues at approximately £11 billion in 2011, film revenue at £41 billion according to HIS and revenue from sport in the same year was £92 billion from the Reuters’ analysis), there has been a great deal of research into all aspects of how the mind and body functions in a sportsperson and how to get that bit extra to help them win. Mentally all performance is very similar and those in the other areas of performance should learn from the extensive work written about sports psychology in order to enhance their own methods of dealing with the performance situation. Another area that has been studied in detail is that of public speaking and again there are many reports and books that can aid the approach to performance from this starting point.
The approach I use is more simplistic than the many reports and books that have been, and will be, produced about the art of the mind. The more you do, the more confident you become, the less nerves or stage fright you suffer. Practicing until you are consistent is only a part of it, putting your acquired skills into practice needs a different mind set. Being able to perform to an audience also needs the opportunities to be accessible and the sooner you start, the easier it will become. The time, energy, risk assessments, parental letters and organisation needed to put on an event with young people seems to grow each year, no wonder it often stalls or sinks really good ideas for performance experiences. There are some organisations that have overcome these obstacles, usually by having many volunteer helpers and a management committee that has the time and experience to delegate many of the tasks throughout these volunteers. Let us hope they continue and grow for many years to come for the sake of the performers of the future.
Some books and blogs I would recommend are Susan Hallam’s Instrumental Teaching: a practical guide to better teaching and learning that shows a number of aspects about the learning process, Richard Bailey at his blog http://talkingeducationandsport.blogspot.co.uk has some contributions from various people with their recommendations and there are many books that consider the “mind over body” concepts especially from a martial arts perspective.
For any performer, whether it is in sport, the theatre, concert hall or teaching the main concept to think about is you are not alone. Thousands of people have similar experiences and many have written about them and how they can be mastered or overcome. If you research you can find many approaches to this subject and many different ways to prepare for and enjoy the performer – audience interaction, I hope you find a suitable method.