[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Re: [F_MINOR] Drugging in the classical music world

This seems to be about Stage Fright, maybe my experiences provide a little insight. I've acted a lot, beginning in college. I always loved it, but the moment that the audience began to have lots of people in it -- before opening night, during rehearsals -- I got stage fright, clearly a big, obvious dose.

It never interfered with my doing a sufficiently good job in a straight dramatic or comedic role. But in college or amateur theater (or Broadway or the West End), it's musical comedies that pay the rent and the utility bills, and if you want to keep acting, you also have to sing and dance. Sartre don't pay the bills. "Oklahoma!" pays the bills.

Singing and dancing about tripled the Stage Terror for me. I'm loud (an important Musical Virtue) and can stay on key (I usually got the second comedic lead, which required a solo), but I'm untrained in singing and had Zero Confidence. Dancing in front of 250 strangers was worse -- my confidenc e was considerably Less Than Zero.

But I realized that Stage Fright isn't something to be avoided or cured or medicated. Stage Fright is the high-octane fuel that charges a performer to give the best, most inspired, high-energy performance he/she is capable of giving. The thrill of conquering it each night is delicious, indescribable, like a powerful, forbidden drug.
And I'm certain that's the same for a pianist or any musical performer.

I can't, of course, speak to paralytic or totally dysfunctional stage fright, and the literature of great performers seems filled with that condition. A lot of alcohol has gone down the throats of a lot of great performers past and present as they stood in the wings waiting for their cue. Sometimes you can see the mismatch and tension of a fundamentally shy personality who's chosen, or whom talent has chosen, to live a violently public creative life -- Janis Joplin seems to fit this situation.
Billie Holiday and her heroin addiction I mention only as an example -- a talent and sensibility so enormous that even her final recorded club appearances, woozy and hazy and laden with illness, are powerful, and the applause they earned is sincere and deserved. (Her signature costume was a fresh gardenia, and her heroin was smuggled into her dressing room with each night's new flower.) Her life, from childhood, was ghastly, persecuted and abused, and she found it impossible to take professional interaction with strangers "straight."

Now and then, I felt something in rehearsals or performances was "wrong" -- when I couldn't feel the anxiety and tingle of stage fright. I knew my lines, my blocking, interaction with the other performers was going well -- but my nervous system was just feeling too normal and calm. Under these conditions, my worry was that I wouldn't be able to do the best creative job I was capable of, that I'd be dissatis fied with my performance.

So my experiences were that stage fright is, normally, an important and beneficial creative force to performers. Speaking only for myself, I would have been very reluctant to take a pill or a snort to diminish or "get a grip" on it. The on-stage tingle was more than enough drug for me, and that feeling was a lot of why I wanted to act, sing and dance in front of 250 potentially hostile strangers again and again. It's a unique emotional experience that's, overall, far more thrill than dread -- the fun mixed with the terror of a roller-coaster is the only experience I can compare it with. There is no drug that can emulate the feelings of Love and Romance, and I don't think there's a drug that can truly or reliably help an artist with Truth, Beauty or Inspiration.
Glenn Gould's early choice to leave the live concert stage for the relative privacy and intimacy of the recording studio may/must/might have been partially a way to cope with a difficult case of stage fright and un-ease with being surrounded by an adulating, touchy-feely public. My experiences with stage fright make me wonder what he substituted after leaving the live stage to maintain that amazing creative tingle. Did he write or speak in interviews about this problem? A lot of great musicians don't always tingle, but I can't recall anyone here describe any GG studio recording as emotionally or creatively boring or uninspired, and I don't think that's entirely because we're such fans.

Elmer, formerly a Loud, Nervous Ham

> [Original Message]
> From: barbara stagno <bstagno@OPTONLINE.NET>
> Date: 10/19/2004 10:43:30 PM
> Subject: Re: [F_MINOR] Drugging in the classical music world
> In the days when he gave concerts, did he ever swallow pills just before
> going on
> > stage? Somehow, I can't imagine him gobbling a  banana!
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Kate Clunies-Ross" <goldbergs@BTINTERNET.COM>
> Sent: Tuesday, October 19, 2004 6:01 PM
> Subject: Re: [F_MINOR] Drugging in the classical music world
> I think it's pretty clear that Glenn was taking various tranquilizers from
> an early stage in his career and continued taking them from there on out.
> This quote comes from a radio interview he did with Vin cent Tovell in 1959:
> [GG begins by talking about how unselfconscious he felt while performing as
> a teen] "It was all part of a game, really.... In those days, one was
> blissfully unaware of the responsibility. I just wish I could feel that way
> again. Now, you accomplish the same thing by sedatives."
> (Tovell, "At Home With Glenn Gould") (I got it from Payzant)
> I, and probably others, have wondered how he managed to maintain that
> amazing technique -- with incredible clarity and lightning speed -- while
> taking sedatives. It would seem logical that his body acclimated to the
> drugs over time. Eventually 10 mg of Valium becomes nothing to someone who
> has taken it all the time, whereas it would knock most of us out, or at
> least render us incapable of decent piano playing.
> Also, if a person has a sufficient amount of anxiety, it counteracts the
> effects of the drug, and this may have been the case as well.
> In any case, I agree he wasn't up to munching a banana before a concert. I
> doubt I would be either. If you're really nervous, you feel like throwing
> up!
> Barbara

Signoff instructions, and user preference interface

F_minor Website