Nerves can be a blessing and a curse. Certainly a degree of nervous energy can give an excitement to your playing – and can mean you have more reserves at your disposal when you need them on stage.
It does depend on the level of fear, however. There’s good nervous energy – the kind where you feel excited, like paying to ride a roller coaster. But outright fear is bad – where you would rather be anywhere else but on stage! You definitely want to avoid that kind of stress, and the best way is through preparation – the more prepared you are, the less of that kind of fear you will experience.
When performing, I will often find myself battling my own mind. Negative thoughts enter my consciousness and I have to push them away with positive thoughts. To turn around the negativity, I visualise positive scenarios. Sometimes visualising a passage going correctly before it happens can really help – just like a basketball player, as he takes the shot, imagining the ball going through the net.
There have been psychological studies, which have found that going through the physical process of making yourself smile actually tricks your body into feeling happiness. It seems like the cart before the horse, but I have read that it works. So by the same token, if you can project an image of confidence on stage, you will start feeling more confident within yourself.
But I’m not a psychologist – my parents were, but I’m not. So none of this is scientific!
Joshua Bell performs and directs Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields on 11 November 2015 in Barbican, London.
Photo: Phil Knott