Someone asked a great question recently:
"I see you use the phrase "No Cowards!" frequently. What does it mean, and where did it come from?"
General George S. Patton once said, "Courage is fear hanging on a minute longer." That sentiment is as applicable to musicians as it is to soldiers. Being a musician takes courage. You perform in front of an audience. When things do not go well or the unexpected happens, you cannot just "stop." You have to stick it out and keep going with grace. Often - particularly in smaller ensembles like those that we have - you will be covering a part by yourself. You cannot give in to fear and be successful by any measure as a musician.
Musicians must overcome fear in many areas. Auditions cause stress for any musician - from the least experienced to the professional. Some struggle with anxiety when performing - either by themselves or in a large group. My daughter's former flute teacher - who has a PhD in flute performance - struggles with this and actually did her dissertation on overcoming performance anxiety! Whether you are auditioning for an All-State ensemble, or for a side-by-side concert, or simply for placement in an HSMA ensemble, auditions can be a fearful time for many students.
Competition is another area where musicians have to overcome fear. Performing at a Solo & Ensemble event, or something similar, provides a lot of pressure on a student. Performing in the face of these fears is what musicians do, on a regular basis.
Timid musicians do not do as well. They tend to be out-of-tune. Their tone does not blend well. They actually make more mistakes. And guess what? A wrong note hit timidly . . . is still a wrong note. If you do hit a wrong note, at least make it the best-sounding wrong note you can!
At HSMA, we have a saying: "We don't expect more of you than you are capable of. But, we do expect all you are capable of." Sometimes that is actually more than you think it is. If you give in to fear, you will never know what you are capable of accomplishing.
You can be a "No Cowards!" student by putting to use the following techniques:
- Be as prepared as possible. When someone is in a stressful situation, training, conditioning or habits tend to take over. The better you have prepared yourself, the more likely you will do well. Make use of all the resources available to you to help you prepare – your private teacher and your HSMA conductors, for example.
- Understand that, when you have done your best, there is no more. Many musicians are perfectionists who will dwell on the one note that was out-of-tune rather than the 300+ that were exquisite. Clearly, we want to perform as flawlessly as possible. Nevertheless, if you have done your best, do not be consumed by what did not go as you wanted it to. Use those things as opportunity to improve for the future rather than feeling defeated about them in the present.
- Motivation is everything. We have another saying at HSMA: We strive to do the right thing, the right way, for the right reason, and leave the results up to the Lord. Are you performing for the acclaim of your peers, or judges, or parents? If so, you have a right to be fearful, because that can be a fickle standard. If you are motivated to do the very best you can as a testimony to the gift of music that God has given you, He will honor that.
- Become acclimated to handling the stress of performing by . . . performing a lot! Participate in various competitions and festivals. Take auditions. This will not make these situations any less fearful, but you will learn how to deal with the stress and fear in a way that will allow you to perform at your best under all circumstances.
- Recognize that everyone else is just as nervous as you are. Some have learned to deal with it better than others, but they are still in a fearful situation. You are not the only one who is concerned with doing their best.
At HSMA, we do not want you to give in to fear, nor do we advocate that you avoid fearful situations. Rather, we encourage you to "[hang] on a minute longer."