I’ve just been reading the chapter in Unbeatable Mind, by Mark Divine (see my last post) about the power of visualization and thought I would share an amazing experience I had many years ago.
As part of my violin studies at the Eastman School of Music, I was required to give a recital each year. The first three I gave were total disasters. Due to uncontrolled nervousness I had frequent and major memory slips. On one occasion I even had to leave the stage and get the music in order to complete my performance.
Following that humiliating experience I decided I had to do something about my stage fright or quit performing altogether. But I had no idea what to try.
As luck would have it I was writing a paper on hypnosis at the time for my psychology class. After doing a bit of the research I wondered if auto hypnosis might help me in overcoming my problem.
I began practicing slow breathing to get myself in a relaxed state. Once I was there, I imagined myself walking out on stage to give a performance.
Immediately my breathing would quicken, my heart rate sore, so I’d let go the image and return to deep breathing to bring me back to my state of peace.
It took a couple of weeks of practice but I finally got to the point where I could imagine myself walking out on stage and experience no change in my breathing or pulse.
I then moved on to visualizing myself playing a piece of music – the Bach Chaconne I was currently working on. I imagined this as vividly as possible, feeling the strings beneath my fingers, the bow in my hand.
The difference between this visualized performance and an actual one was that in my mind I could play the piece perfectly. I could feel my energies perfectly directed, nothing wasted, calm and focused.
I’d been doing this practice once a day for about a month when my teacher asked me to play the piece at a Master Class he was giving in his studio.
The Bach Chaconne is a massive unaccompanied movement filled with chords and intricate passages, in my case posing a huge potential for memory slips. Performing it was going to be a challenge indeed.
When the day came, I stood before my fellow students, closed my eyes and began to play. At once I became deeply absorbed in the music, to the point I didn’t even know how I played – all I heard was what I imagined, just like in one of my practice sessions.
When I finished and lifted my bow from the string, my heart dropped. No-one was clapping. Not even ‘sympathy’ applause. My performance must have been truly awful!
To my total shook, when I opened my eyes, I found myself standing at the back of the studio facing the wall, my audience behind me. It wasn’t until I turned around that I saw them all sitting there in stunned silence.
They told me I’d been slowly walking around the room as I played. (A good thing to learn before I performed the piece in a hall so I’d know not to walk off the stage!) At one point they feared I might walk into the grand piano but I seemed so ‘entranced’ they didn’t want to interrupt me.
That was my first taste of the power of visualization. I have used the technique many times since, not just for music but in relation to writing as well. When pitching a manuscript to an editor at a conference I prepare by visualizing myself talking in a relaxed and confident way.
It never fails to ease my jitters.