Ondřej Vrabec became teacher of horn at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague!!! He will conduct two performances at the Leoš Janáček Music Marathon in October!!! A brand new CD of Benda Chamber Orchestra will be baptised on 16th of October. It contains virtuoso concerto for 2 horns by F. X. Pokorný recorded by Ondřej Vrabec and Hana Sapáková!!!    

How to survive stagefright...

Hi Ondrej, I would like to find out, by means of your Horn clinic, how do you fight stagefright before the concert (e.g. in the sold - out Rudolfinum) and what is your advice (as regards psyche) for the colleagues preparing for international competitions. Thank you for your answer in advance! Josef


Dear Josef, you didn't choose an easy question to christen the horn clinic. Stagefright is an eternal topic. As unpredictable as destiny. It comes uninvited and it leaves one in desolation, when he or she expects it to come. There are many guaranteed instructions, even publications. However if only one of those ways were universally valid, you would have never asked such a question. Unfortunatelly, stagefright is a natural physical reaction and so it will probably be with us forever. My principal advice thus is: learn to live with your stagefright. It can be useful - it energizes, it sharpens the senses, it creates the needed "vibration of air" on the concert stage... But above all it serves as a catalyst of the instrument control, because as a merciless judge it exposes every your mistake in the technique of the play. So that you understand me: if the player's sound wobbles during the concert performance, it is not the fault of stagefright but of a bad breathing technique. As regards stagefright, each of us has the starting position and the finishing line placed somewhere else, because of our different dispositions. However we all run in the same direction - the elimination of the influence of stagefright on the play is the primary task.

Recommendations coming from my own experience are necessarily subjective - to search a purposeful procedure, I would have to know the particularities of the stagefright in your case. Here are some of the arms that have proved useful in my fight with stagefright:

The most perfect preparation possible before the concert. When practising I try to simulate concert conditions and to check all the possibilities that may occur during a concert. Besides a thorough practice for instance I overplay the whole concert (solo) program without a break and several times over, to check how the individual elements will come out with tired lip muscles and concentration. The knowledge that I can withstand multiple versions of the work comes in handy on the hot stage in front of the assembled orchestra. I always practise delicate and stamina demanding elements, phrases and passages in a much wider dynamic range than in which they are prescribed. This enables me to learn the behaviour of the instrument even in the most extreme pitches. First of all you thus realize almost tangibly how the correct use of the breathing system in all its complexity is significant for facility of the play, convincing phrasing and last but not least for the overall physical relaxedness during the play (which is usually complicated by stagefright). Remember how significant breathing is in yoga and other techniques! Not even mentioning its influence on the concentration...

To simplify it, you need to keep conquering new reserves when practising, to expand the limits of your play, you need never to settle for the status quo.

A healthy amount of routine plays a positive role in subduing manifestations of stagefright during the years of playing experience. If you have played the same piece several times in your life with intervals, in addition to the growth of your interpretative skills, your ability to focus mental effort in the right direction will increase. Yet it is necessary to say that it is something of a two - edged sword: if you play a piece with bravura several evenings in a row (e.g. during a concert tour), it is not so improbable to falter during the next performance (if you're in a bad mood), as you try to perform at least equally well as in the previous days. Stagefright is something of a disguised ambition and it is essential to restrict it so that it is effective. That is why I try not to expect my performance to always have the same shape. The slightest detail deviating from my image of perfection would otherwise needlessly distract me. I always leave a small space for momentary inspiration and I build on the tone of the whole.

A well prepared player notwithstanding has a difficult task if he or she aims for a perfect perfomance - to fight a successful battle against his or her own psyche. Everyone has to find their individual way because the enemy is tricky, powerful and it doesn't know good morals. What helps me personally is to behave on stage a bit like a mad daredevil racing along the motorway on a motorbike. As well as he I mustn't bring myself to admit that anything could happen and that I'm risking all the time. To play timidly = to make mistakes. I don't admit to myself that I fear a difficult solo, I try to look forward to it as much as possible. No doubt there's something of a player's self - display in it. It can't be helped, an actor with a fear of people wouldn't probably set foot on the stage either...On the other hand, it would be useless to risk where one is not perfectly prepared. To carry to extremes some pianissimo for instance, you must know that you can really play it...

If you understand the process of interpretation as a gradual construction of a house, when you build with individual bricks (tones, timbres, dynamics etc.) and you rejoice in each finished floor (a phrase, a whole movement) you are surely in a better peace of mind than when you let yourself be driven by an image of an ideal whole, which you constructed while practising and which you checked out many times in the safety of your home but now under the influence of stagefright and resulting distraction your ideal whole is loosing entire chunks...It seems ridiculous but a possible flaw will thus seem more acceptable to you that way. When Baťa could increase his sales by making all prices of his shoes end in the number nine, why shouldn't work this analogy of an advice given by psychologists to married women (you must see your husband as a Neanderthal man who is cultivated by every your advice and is approaching step by step the image of a gentleman. Not the other way round...)?

How do you evade the thoughts that are sometimes running through our heads during a concert: "Why does that man in the first row frowns so, doesn't he like the way I play? Oh no, the hall is full of hornists, they are only waiting for my first mistake! Now the most difficult passage is about to come and I'm certainly going to mess it up! Etc., etc. - fill in your own versions of sentences:-)? Try to loose yourself in music, communicate by every tone, every phrase, every crescendo a story, emotion, desire, melancholy, sadness, joy...Close your eyes and let yourself be carried away, modulate, inspire, improvise...Music is not made of exactly played out tones corresponding to timbre, dynamics and pitch. Many musicians (or rather craftsmen) understand it so and they embitter life of those who are searching for much more. Not everybody is given capability of such a perception - a matematician hardly ever puts an immortal soul into a painting or a poem. And there are too many matematicians among musicians...They do not suffer from stagefright since there is nothing difficult about keeping an eye on purity of intonation and other basic elements of performance (perfect in their eyes)...As concerns competitions, you usually make do with this approach, the majority of jurors do not want to hear more from you for that matter - that is why human maturation is there...Faster, higher, stronger!! But where did the soul go? Each music competition (forgive me this opinion), indisputable advantages nothwithstanding, develops a sporting approach rather than artistic creativity. It is necessary to stress that this approach may catapult you to a vertiginous height, but it will not make an artist out of you. Make music the sense of your life. A real musician is like a cardiologist - they open human hearts. You don't need any diploma to give out beauty. My advice is: do not take competitions deadly seriously. If you follow this path, I guarantee that you will have no time for stagefright! I wish you many successes


Ondřej Vrabec