Although I didn’t grow up celebrating Christmas, I’ve always felt the spirit of the season and been moved by how this particular day transforms so many people. Their joy in giving and receiving gifts, in expressing love, generosity, and appreciation, is beautiful and contagious.

The anticipation and planning of this special holiday remind me of the ritual of giving a concert performance: We plan and prepare, with excitement and care, and then the moment comes when we give our gift to our audience. It can be a wonderful and powerful experience.

But usually, giving our gifts onstage is a lot harder than buying a present, wrapping it up, and putting it under someone’s tree or into their hands. It involves complex and demanding preparation, and even if we’ve learned the music extremely well, we may nevertheless lack confidence at the crucial moment of performance.

Often, the reason we lack confidence onstage is that we’ve never fully discovered the gift we have inside of us. We’ve carried it with us all our lives, and we’ve perceived it to a degree, but we’ve never fully unwrapped it and seen how beautiful it really is.

When we don’t fully unwrap the gift we carry inside us, it can feel like a burden. We sense that it’s there, and we want it to just leap out of us and victoriously take the stage. But we feel frustrated because we don’t know how to make that happen.

Some of us do unwrap our gift when we’re alone, practicing our instrument—music flies out of us, and our heart soars. But when an audience is watching us, we somehow hold back or clam up, and people never get to see or hear what we’d hoped to share with them. Only part of it comes through.

My Gift to You

My gift to you today is to offer you three free calls you can participate in to help you unwrap your gift. I’ll be hosting these calls in early 2013, and in each one I will teach a valuable technique and answer a few questions from callers. I’ll also talk a little about a weeklong summer program I’ll be teaching next year where you can work with these techniques in depth and enjoy the unwrapping process along with other musicians.

I’d like to tell you a little about that program now. So at this cold, dark season of the year, here is a picture of where you could be next summer:

This is the beautiful campus of Edinboro University, in Erie, Pennsylvania, and the program is called Mindfulness, Confidence, & Performance: A Transformative Program for Musicians. It will take place July 27–August 3, 2013.

In addition to the lake and trees, we will have practice rooms, classrooms, and a concert hall, plus dorm rooms and a dining hall. We will have lots of workshop sessions in mindfulness techniques, with and without instruments, which everyone can attend, plus daily discussion groups, and even some time to drive to the beach on nearby Lake Erie. All participants—those who play or sing in the workshops and those who don’t—will have time to practice their instruments each day and apply the techniques taught in the workshops. And on the last night, all performing participants will be invited to play in a celebratory concert for the local community.

This program is designed for those of you who are ready to jump in and bring your music making to a new level.

To tell the truth . . .

The program is a great gift to me also. I’ve taught six weeklong programs similar to this one, and the chance to see people open up their playing so much in that span of time is very special. Discoveries happen every day, and people find out they can do things they never knew they could do before. For me as a teacher, this is as rewarding as any performance I’ve ever given. I get to offer my gifts, and to see people take off and fly with what they receive. It makes my year.

But participants gain the most. Here is a snapshot of three of the techniques I will be teaching at the program, and in the free calls:

The First Technique: The Present of Your Presence

In the September issue, I wrote about “Grandma’s Recipe for Space.” This means mental space, and the recipe, which is actually 2500 years old, is for something called mindfulness meditation. If you’ve never tried meditation before, you might think it’s weird, or that it’s not for you. But it’s actually pretty ordinary and straightforward, and it helps your gift breathe, so that it can come fully alive and show its true colors.

If you’ve read Grandma’s Recipe, you’ve seen that there’s not much to it. You just sit still, with your eyes open, and notice what’s happening: your breathing, your thoughts and sensations, and your environment. That’s it.

So what’s the point?

Well, one point of just sitting there and noticing simple things is that this kind of heightened awareness happens every time we perform—we’re acutely sensitive to the atmosphere in the room, every little sound, and every little physical sensation we have. So the idea of meditation is that by practicing noticing these basic things, we’re actually preparing ourselves for dealing with such heightened awareness onstage. It becomes less of a shock. In fact, it becomes something familiar, and we start to feel at home with it.

So how does that make your true colors come out?

Well, as you sit there, just breathing, your breathing relaxes, which makes your body and mind less tense. So you start to feel more free and open, and musical energy can flow through you more easily. It can be quite surprising to see and hear yourself actually playing with more vibrancy and precision by using less effort. All because there’s less in the way—less tension obstructing the musical flow.

This means more of you is coming through. In other words, you are more present. And that means stronger stage presence, too.

So this simple little technique called mindfulness meditation is very potent. In fact, it’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever learned to do.

That doesn’t mean it’s totally easy. Learning meditation is like learning an instrument—it takes practice. But at the summer program, you’ll have time each day to build up familiarity with it, get the hang of it, and ask questions as you go. You’ll also discover the magic it works in daily practice with your instrument—more ease, focus, and enjoyment will start to happen.

In the first free call, we’ll actually practice mindfulness meditation—which will be quite interesting. When the few minutes of silence are over, you’ll feel different. And you’ll have a chance to press a button on your phone to ask a question or offer a comment.

If you live in the New York area, you can also learn this technique at one of my monthly classes at my studio.

The Second Technique: Polishing One Jewel at a Time

The second main technique is called Body and Sound Awareness, and you do it while practicing your instrument.

The idea here is that usually when we practice we’re so busy producing sound that were not fully hearing or enjoying the sounds we’re making. The music isn’t nourishing us as much as it could. Notes may fly out of our instrument at an amazing speed, but not a lot of music is coming into us. This is why many musicians become frustrated with practicing. And because they aren’t as nourished as they could be by the music, they don’t have as much to give to their audience as they could.

At the summer program we’ll be learning to take in a lot more beauty while practicing our instruments. Everyone will feel more nourished by the music they’re making, and more ready to give it to their audience.

With this technique, you play or sing a single phrase, focusing intently on the quality of each sound, and how it affects you inside. Because of such caring attention, more comes through–each sound becomes more beautiful and shines like a jewel. The whole phrase becomes more brilliant.

On the second free call I’ll give exact instructions in this technique. First everyone will do what’s called a body scan, which will heighten your body awareness. Then everyone will play or sing a simple musical phrase, very slowly, and I will guide you through the process of noticing how each sound affects you inside your body. Don’t worry! I’ll mute everyone for this part so you’ll only hear yourself playing or singing. Then I’ll unmute everyone so you can comment or ask a question.

After the call you can try it out further with your instrument. And I’ll e-mail you a story that describes exactly how a young violist used this technique to accomplish an amazing breakthrough one day at my summer program a few years ago.

We’ll be using this technique a lot at next year’s summer program, with a variety of instruments, and I’ll be guiding each performing participant through it in detail.

The Third Technique: The Pièce de Résistance

Finally, next summer and in the third free call, you can learn the Fearless Performing Exercise—a mental technique for accessing deep communicative power and for transforming stage fright into confidence.

I developed this exercise for the 2006 summer program, because I wanted musicians to have a quick, powerful method for bringing out their very best in performance. Since then, my husband has been teaching it to actors, a lawyer friend has taught it to lawyers, and I’ve even taught it to some people who wanted more confidence in challenging business situations. Although it has to be adapted to fit each group of people, in all cases, wonderful results have come.

For me, the word “fearless” conjures up images of medieval warriors in battle, with shields, swords, and helmets, charging forward to meet the enemy. Yet I’ve used this word in the title of this e-zine and of this exercise because in our modern day concert world, we often cower in fear onstage as though the audience were our enemy. Many performers think of their audience exactly that way—as something to be conquered.

But audiences generally come to concerts to be moved and uplifted, not to attack us. And the real enemy we face is within ourselves. It is our habitual reaction to the natural and understandable fear of exposing our hearts, and our level of expertise, in front of other people.

Many of us have been conditioned to fear judgment, and even humiliation, when we expose ourselves in this way, and debilitating stage fright often results. In some cases, psychotherapy can be helpful. But we can also learn other ways of discovering and nurturing actual seeds of bravery that we all carry within us.

A Story of Fearless Performing

In the wake of recent violent events in the news, I’d like to relate a story of how one brave musician reacted to real hostility that did come directly from his concert audience as he was about to perform for them. Although no one in the audience was carrying a weapon, he nevertheless faced a large audience that was expressing hatred toward him.

In 1960, pianist Byron Janis was selected by the United States government to begin a cultural exchange between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, after years of intense animosity between the two countries. His first concert in Moscow followed the news that an American spy plane called the U2 had been deployed against the Soviet Union, which outraged the Soviet people. On the day of the concert, a man in the street recognized Janis and fired an imaginary machine gun at him, shouting, “Americanski, nyet!” When he walked onstage that night, many members of the audience greeted him by screaming, “U2! U2!” Their hatred was palpable, upsetting him intensely.

But somehow, as he sat at the piano and waited for them to quiet down, he found himself thinking, “I am not your enemy. I just ask you to listen to my music, which I want to play for you without rancor but with love.” From that place of love and courage, he gave his concert. At intermission, he received a long ovation, And at the end of the entire concert, people in the audience streamed toward the stage, some of them weeping. Deafening applause and cheering went on for 20 minutes, and one woman shouted, “You make us love America!”

It was Janis’s deep devotion to music and deep motivation to play from love that enabled him to rise above the hostility of his audience and to melt their hardened hearts. Although we may not feel up to meeting the kind of challenge he faced that night, we do share such devotion and motivation. Underneath our fear of performing, we always hold within us the power of our devotion to music and of our desire to share it with others.

Seven Transformative Minutes

The Fearless Performing Exercise is a seven-minute technique for bringing that power to the surface—to bring out the best in us in performance. This is the third main technique we’ll be working with in the summer program, and you can receive instruction in it on the third free call. If you live in the New York area, you can also learn it in one of the monthly classes I give at my studio. (January 3 is coming up.)

The exercise takes seven minutes, and in addition to helping performers get past stage fright, it also connects you to your deepest communicative power. On the free call, we’ll take one minute for everyone to play or sing a few musical phrases (with phones muted), then we’ll do the exercise, and then you can play or sing the same section of music again, to experience how different it is. Then we’ll talk about it. At the summer program, we’ll do this exercise as a daily practice, and you’ll discover how it affects all of your activities, including your practicing and performing.

If you’d like to find out the dates and times of the FREE calls, send me an e-mail and you’ll be among the first to know. And please feel free to write anytime with comments questions—about the summer program, or anything else related to fearless performing.

Have a wonderful holiday.

I wish you much joy and success in making music.

Madeline Bruser

P.S. Click for more exciting details about the summer program.