Panel presents documentary on performance anxiety

On Thursday, Jan. 5, the Warch Campus Center Cinema displayed “Composed,” a documentary by John Beder. The film showcased the realities of performance anxiety for classical musicians and was sponsored by visiting chamber collective Decoda, the Athletic and Conservatory Engagement Committee (ACE) and Lawrence’s chapter of Sigma Alpha Iota (SAI). The content can easily be applied to any type of performance, and the event was well attended by both athletes and musicians alike. After the film, a Q&A panel was held by Beder.

The documentary presented performance anxiety through the stories of musicians. The film stated that 98 percent of performers have had performance anxiety at least once. A theme was that most musicians experience this anxiety, yet it is widely hidden because people feel uncomfortable discussing it.

The first half of the film focused on musicians’ tales of anxiety. Some of these included visible shaking, feeling nauseous and forgetting how to play a song right before an audition. One musician quit playing for nearly a year because his performance anxiety upset him so much. Though it was sometimes morosely relatable, several self-deprecating one-liners by the musicians provided comic relief, and at moments the audience could not help but laugh.

The rest of the documentary focused on solutions for performance anxiety. The film stressed that one must find the solution that works for them. Some musicians recommended meditation and deep breathing before playing. A suggestion that particularly resonated with me was to imagine one’s favorite memory of playing music as one begins to play. One musician said that every time he picks up his trumpet, he can picture that happy moment because he has conditioned himself to do so.

Another widely used but generally unspoken solution is to take beta blockers. For many musicians, beta blockers can be used to calm themselves down. Though some musicians view this as taboo, it can be an effective way of controlling anxiety. For other musicians, it does not work as well.

Afterwards, during the panel, Beder was intelligent and well spoken. He, along with the three visiting musicians from Decoda and Director of Athletics Christyn Abaray answered several questions from the audience. This Q&A session helped relate “Composed” to the world of sports while also containing preciously insightful stories about a love of playing music. The audience was advised that after one has practiced, one must forget all of it and play with joy.

The entire documentary was highly informative and comforting for anyone who experiences performance anxiety. The film was extremely well made, and it reminded the audience that they are not alone in their struggles.