You may wonder what baking a cake and giving a performance could possibly have in common, and I have to admit that I never thought about it until the other day. There is something helpful to be learned about yourself in everything you do.
Recently I read an article about a remarkable dessert called the "Cherpumple." You can learn more about this incredible concoction here: http://www. charlesphoenix.com/thanksgiving-cherpumple-turducken- desserts/
Upon seeing this tasty treat, I became determined to make it. If it turned out well, it would allow me to have my cake (and pie) and eat it too— all at the same time. Three layers of different pies all baked into three layers of different cakes and topped off with cream cheese frosting. What a production I would create! Surely the end result would bring "oohs" and "ahhs" and applause.
The batter overflowed and made a mess as it baked, but I persisted. I kept telling myself that the end result would be worth it. Success was within sight and taste. I only needed to apply frosting—the icing on the cake.
This is when my Cherpumple began to break down—well, actually melt down. As I slathered the icing on this monstrous confection, the top layer began to slide off. I tried to hold it together with additional frosting. The next layer began to slip onto the plate and then fell onto the kitchen counter. The harder I tried, the more the Cherpumple fell apart.
I realized that the end result was not going to be what I wanted. I also realized that I'd had a wonderful time trying to make this challenging recipe. While originally I had been giving myself the message that this concoction should turn out a certain way and that I must not mess it up, I realized that these self-instructions added to my focus on the end result. I realized that I had enjoyed each step, the anticipation of what came next, the challenge of doing something different, the joy of expanding my culinary repertoire, and the story I could tell about my baking experience.
Let's move from my kitchen into your music room. You (or your student) are practicing for an upcoming recital. You are preparing challenging new repertoire. You focus on the performance and the audience reaction. Of course, you want your playing to go well—no meltdowns on stage. You think about how the music should be played at the recital. You tell yourself that you must not make a mistake. You also notice your anxiety mounting as the performance date nears.
Just as I did with the Cherpumple, you get wrapped up in the wish for a "perfect" outcome, particularly when you give yourself the message that everything should go perfectly. Giving yourself commands like I should and I must is the language of anxiety. Neglected is the pleasure you receive in the process of preparation and your joy about making and sharing music—the language of lowering anxiety.
Disappointments can happen despite our best efforts and hard work. There is no such thing as a "perfect" performance. It is helpful for teachers to develop some music and mental strategies in preparation for getting back on track should there be a technical or memory slip. I call this a "jam plan." One thing I have found particularly helpful is to remind myself that I am sharing music (or a dessert). It is not necessary to "prove" anything. The attitude of sharing rather than proving can significantly lower anxiety.
We learn a great deal from our mistakes. It is helpful to remember that if we only focus on the end result, we not only put added pressure on ourselves (anxiety!), but we also overlook the hours of pleasure that are the process of performance preparation and sharing our best efforts with others. I hope you enjoy your journey and remember to not focus only on the destination. Remember that stressed spelled backwards is desserts.