This story shows how a musician can turn performance anxiety into performance power, using a combination of great piano technique, strong mental focus, and above all, a deep belief in themselves.

Laura is preparing for a recital in a few days. She had come to the Art of Practicing Institute’s 2018 summer program looking for guidance with mindfulness as a performer, and her playing really opened up that week. She developed more awareness of her body and learned to sit upright and move more effectively at the piano. She started feeling in command of the powerful energies in music and was able to get a bigger sound with less effort. Since then she’s been progressing wonderfully, playing in a lot of our live online workshops.

But in last week’s workshop, as she was gearing up for her recital, her energy really started to come out, and it was a little more than she could handle. In the more exciting passages she found herself reverting back to her former hunched posture. I could see that she was struggling to stay in command.

I’d seen this with students before—although they can play at lessons with great body mechanics and freedom, they lose it somewhat in performance. Something just takes over in performance that challenges our ability to let go of old habits and to fully take charge. I told Laura it was absolutely normal and OK that the new body mechanics hadn’t fully taken root, and that the most important thing for her performance was that she allow herself to be however she is in that moment.

But then I had an idea. The main thing I wanted Laura to understand is that her wild, creative energy must be free, and that she needs to protect it. I asked her to sit still and upright while feeling the full force of that wild energy, and then to see herself as a mama bear, fiercely protecting her gift of self expression. Then I asked her to maintain that strong, upright position when she played.

As she sat quietly on the bench for a minute, I could see the fierce energy radiating from her body. She looked confident and powerful. As soon as she started to play, her sound erupted like a volcano. She looked like a queen, regally upright and in total command of the piano, and she played with phenomenal energy, like I had never heard her before. I could see other people in the workshop grinning, and I was smiling big myself. When Laura finished playing, both she and I wiped tears from our eyes. I had known that she could do it when she was ready, but I wasn’t expecting her to suddenly manifest her power like that. Neither was she. It was an amazing demonstration of what a person can do when they give themselves permission to fully manifest their power.

I felt deeply gratified for several hours after Laura’s breakthrough. There’s nothing more important than a human being becoming who they’re meant to be. Thank you so much, Laura, for your hard work and dedication. And especially for believing in yourself.