Capital Connection, 3rd Installment: Managing Nerves

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capital3Sunday took me back down to London for the third of my quick-succession visits to Capital Connection. This time we had a little longer to spend together, so we could start and end the afternoon getting into the detail of repertoire, with a presentation/discussion session on performance psychology sandwiched in the middle.

This session was based upon the one I prepared for a LABBS education day back in April, but with a longer time-frame to play with we were able to unfold the content out into longer exercises and discussion sessions en route. For instance, instead of just introducing the distinction between outcome, process and personal goals, we could spend some time discussing what kind of goals would fit in each category for the chorus at the moment.

Useful insights to come out of this discussion included the standard advice that goals need to be realistic - not only to avoid setting yourself up for disappointment, but also actually to be something that you can believe in and commit to. At the same time, they need to be susceptible to failure - it is the sense that you can do this if, but only if, you extend yourself that makes goals psychologically satisfying and effective.

In order that this session was not simply a theoretical exercise, I had devised a practical dimension to bring all our discussions of adrenaline and its effects into focus. Before the session started, we collected slips of paper with everyone's name on in a hat (including mine, indeed - I don't ask people to do things that I wouldn't). Then, just before the part where we discussed the sympathetic nervous system, I announced that later on, I would be picking a name out of the hat, and that person would sing us a solo.

I was quite delighted with this as a method to get everyone experiencing that rush of adrenaline into the blood stream at the same time. You could see it in the body language, hear it in the voices. And this common experience also gave us something to work with for visualisation exercises.

Normally, when introducing the idea of mental rehearsal of a performance, the actual event you evoke is quite distant, and it can be hard for people to focus on it in the midst of all the distractions of the kind of group session where you introduce ideas. This time, though, the impending solo to be visualised was going to happen in the same room, to the same people sitting there doing the exercise together. This physical and time proximity made it much easier to imagine, and the immediate realism also brought a much more specific level of engagement to the exercise.

Indeed, it wasn't just an exercise here. If it had just been a matter of introducing the technique, we probably would only have done it once. But since someone was actually going to have to do something significantly out of their comfort zone by the end of the session, the three visualisation sessions became part of my plan to ease them in, to help them get accustomed to the idea, to mitigate the fear of the unknown. And of course, since it might have been any of us, we all got the benefit.

(And in fact we had two solos, and both were lovely. It is a blessing to be sung to.)

And I couldn't help notice, in the session of singing that ended the afternoon, how the voices were sounding in good very fettle, and the brains were showing a flexibility and capacity for retention beyond that which you might have expected at that point in the day. Adrenaline in moderation is something to be celebrated rather than avoided.

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