Optimum performance psychology

Linda ChattertonTue 12th March 2013

Whether performing well-known works or premiering new compositions, good psychological preparation is very important

As an American flautist who performs throughout the US and internationally, I am delighted and honoured to have the opportunity to play at the St Martin-in-the-Fields lunchtime concert series. Performing with me will be my excellent duo partner, pianist Matthew McCright. I grew up listening to recordings of the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields, and during my teenage years, my flute teacher had a large brass rubbing of a knight in his studio which he said he had done at St Martin’s (my eye always seemed to be drawn to that knight in lessons!); I am doubly pleased to be able to present a concert in a place that has such happy associations for me. After our London concert, we’ll be traveling to Ireland where we’ll be presenting the same programme in Dublin in the Kevin Barry Room of the National Concert Hall.

In addition to performing, one of my rewarding side projects is presenting workshops about performance anxiety and optimum performance. This arose from my own real anxiety as a young musician doing competitions, then as a professional honing my artistic and performance skills in an endeavor to create concert experiences that engage my audiences and ensure I am always deeply committed to the music I am sharing at that particular moment in time.

The question I (and probably most professional musicians) get asked a lot is: do you get nervous when you perform? Of course I do! I care about what I am doing, and I care about the music and the composers, and I care about the audience. I want to do a good job. Even if I were somehow to will myself into a sort of blissfully removed state of existence of dispensing music from the proverbial mountaintop, not only would I not enjoy my performance, my audience certainly would not. And I try never to get into the mindset of wanting to present a ‘perfect’ performance, which in my experience is the death knell for any sort of spontaneity, creativity and fun while performing.

There are a number of things I do to prepare for a performance. Most important for me is visualising my performance a number of days before the concert. I do this work away from my instrument, and usually before I go to sleep at night. In a nutshell, I get comfortable, start breathing deeply, and visualise my performance. While I may not be able to visualise the hall’s details if I’ve never been there before, I can create in my mind’s eye the sense of playing in a concert hall before an audience and feeling the energy of an audience. I can visualise the piano and my pianist next to me, the flute keys under my fingers, what I’ll be wearing. I then go through my performance – how I want to be feeling, the mood I want to create and share – with as much sensory and emotional detail as possible. These kinds of emotional details may not even be apparent to my actual audience, but what is important is that they resonate with me, so that I feel that I am completely committed to the performance I am giving.

I work with a lot of composers and present many new works every year. Collaborating with composers and premiering new works are immensely rewarding; it’s really quite extraordinary to play a piece on stage and realise that this is the first time it’s lived beyond the composer’s studio or the practice room. And as a musician who is a definitely not a composer, it’s gratifying for me to be at least a little part involved with the creation process. The challenging (or I could say exhilarating) part of a premiere performance is that anything could happen! Oftentimes we performers don’t get a finished piece until a month or two before the concert, and if the piece is technically demanding or if there are intricacies in the ensemble writing, this presents added challenges. Nor are there any recordings of the work out there to use as an aid in the learning process. From a performance standpoint, we obviously don’t have any previous performances to refer to as learning experiences, so that is a little unsettling. The upside is that we have the opportunity to really make the work our own, with repeated performances and without the distraction of many others’ previous interpretations.  And while I absolutely love the Mozart concertos, the Bach sonatas, and the beautiful French conservatory repertoire written for the flute in the late 19th-early 20th centuries, it is fantastic to be able to present and promote works that are being created in our own time as well. 

A memorable live performance, to me, is sharing an artistically and emotionally satisfying experience with others. I am very excited to be presenting a terrific recital programme next week in London and Dublin, and hope that some of you may be able to join me.

Linda Chatterton's picture

Linda Chatterton

Linda Chatterton is an American flautist, visiting the UK to perform debuts in London (St Martin-in-the-Fields, March 18, 2013) and Dublin (National Concert Hall, March 22, 2013), presenting music ranging from a Bach sonata to the world premiere of Brian Ciach’s ‘Kentucky Folk Pieces.’ Also on the programme will be Irish composer Ailís Ní Ríain’s ‘chainstitchembroidered’ which is a new piece inspired by Anthony Burgess’ ‘Bad-Tempered Electronic Keyboard’. Linda is also a mentor and speaks frequently in the USA about Optimum Performance Psychology.

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