Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Performance Anxiety

"I had discovered the stage fright drug Inderal, or propanolol, which blocks the receptor site for adrenaline. Unlike anxiety medication like Valium, Inderel lessens physical symptoms without affecting the brain. I'd gotten mine over the counter in Ecuador, but Inderel is best prescribed by a doctor. Too many sends people with low blood pressure or asthma into a tailspin. But at least my nerves wouldn't flare up."
-Blair Tindell in Mozart in the Jungle

Flamenco guitarist Juan Martin deals with it by downing a glass of red wine minutes before stepping onto the stage and some artistes require bananas which contains some muscle-relaxation substances.

I have noticed that quite a number of professional musicians who rely heavily on such drugs like Inderel for their career and at the same time, several people who have commented that musicians who requires such drugs shouldn't even be performing at all. Apparently some harsh and critical comments they have there. It does seem that they relate a musician's right to perform to whether they take the drugs or not. Aren't their inherent musicality and musical accomplishments sufficient to justify their place on the concert stage? It's a pity when one looks back in history and realises that the devil had struck the king of Bach, Glenn Gould, with severe performance anxiety which forced him away from the concert stage.

I personally am blessed with a mild performance anxiety. More often than not, it does escalate a little more than which I would prefer but bananas would usually solve the problem. I do find that a slight anxiety, when my body releases a slight rush of adrenaline, is helpful in performance. It really does help when I can switch into an altered state without much difficulty. Simply an deep analysis of the musical work away from my instrument would throw me into an altered state, whereby I'm oblivious of everything else including time which bounds the majority of entire human race. However, on important performance occasions, I do bring a small dosage of Inderel with me, just to be prepared for the sudden, uncontrolled surge in adrenaline that I might have. I have never felt a need to use it though as bananas usually do the job of eliminating the minute shivering of the fingers which can heavily cripple a guitarist when a slight misjudgment of the frets or strings can cause the entire piece to break down or snap me out of my altered state.

All in all, I do certainly wish that Inderel shouldn't be treated with disdain by those blessed ones who do not require it. Although I do not rely on it as my main remedy to curb those fight or flight response symptoms, I do recognise its importance to fellow musicians who are crippled without it. Not that I would encourage it, but it should be administered with a doctor's advice to those who are severely affected by nerves.


IVAN LIM said...

Tomas should sell that stuff and bananas over the counter at his shop in Roxy!

irene said...

hey! from what little i know, i think bananas actually make the tissues more excitable since they've lots of potassium in them! or perhaps with that extra excitability comes greater control of the muscles hmm...

but propanolol wld definitely be helpful by its known physiological actions though

Then again, could the results of some of the things musicians take/do be psychogenic? Like they think it works, therefore it does. Could try placebo drugs assuming it's propanolol and it might work with an added incentive of consuming less drugs (think the poor liver and kidneys) for such purposes.

solitudex said...

Thanks Irene, does help to have a friend studying medicine. =) I do know about the part where bananas contain potassium, but apparently, bananas were supposed to make the muscles relax. Which is why coffee and chocolates are a definite no before a concert due to their caffeine content.

Maybe you're right about some of the stuffs being psychogenic. But I have personally experienced how excessive caffeine does affect me in a negative way, even when I'm not performing or preparing to perform.

In performance situations, bananas have often been sufficient to eliminate or minimise the very minute trembles in my fingers (probably just a psychogenic effect like what you've mentioned), so I never had a need to use Propanolol or Valium in those situations, thankfully.

Thanks so much! I believe I can look for you for advice when you've graduated and become a full fledged doctor. =)

solitudex said...

Hey Ivan, that stuff requires a doctor's prescription. The entire States also prohibit that drug to be available over the counter. I don't think Thomas would find selling bananas more profitable than selling guitars. Moreover, I doubt he has that sort of passion!

Nancy Tierney said...

Since I teach people how to perform with confidence and ease, I often get asked, "What about beta-blockers? What about propanolol?"

I usually tell people that if it works for them, why not? I actually feel that once people have had several experiences of performing or speaking without feeling the discomfort of performance anxiety, it can help them expect that kind of experience every time they perform.

But I do advise people to try it during a non-performance time first so they can see if the drug agrees with them!

solitudex said...

Hi Nancy, that's some really good advice. It does seem that for most people, such anxiety will dimimish over time and experience. And yes, I do find it essential to test the drug in a non-crucial time first before using it in a performance setting. They sure don't need to realise that they are allegic to the drug just before walking up onto the stage. But well, I'm not a qualified psychologist, so I would be careful in giving such advice to fellow performers.

That's a helpful website you have there. =)

Hucbald said...

I used to hate to perform. I still get nervous and blow some pieces from time to time, but it's managable. The key for me was just doing it EVERY WEEK. I usually perform two to five times per week, but never less than once or twice. I get all of my students to just go out and DO IT.

If you perform often enough, you won't need any substances to lean on.

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