Should we be ourselves when we perform?

Performing in front of people can be a nerve wracking experience and one quick fix strategy of dealing with these nerves can be to pretend to be somebody else. When I first became a teacher, the thought of going into the room as myself was a little scary with some classes. The fear that I would be eaten alive was foremost in my mind! On a training day with an NLP expert, the lead trainer suggested that when you were planning a class, it was a good idea to plan the session like a person who you admired for his/her strength was going to be teaching it. Immediately I thought of Arnold Schwarzanegger and thought of him saying,” Asta La Vista, baby!” and thought of him brandishing his Uzi 9 millimetre in front of my most difficult year 9 music class. It made me smile and immediately lifted the block of what I was going to be planning for them. The lesson went well and I did take on certain characteristics. Did it last? Well, some of what I had tried did last and some didn’t. I needed to keep adding bits to my repertoire and find what worked best for me as a teacher.
As my dear friend Kate says, each time we step in front of a class, we take on a persona of “me” the teacher.
So, should we be ourselves when we perform music? This is the question we all should ask as performers and to some extent it depends on the nature of our music and the nature of the performance. If I am singing “pretty vacant” by the sex pistols, I can assure you, I am not going to do the song justice if I perform it as myself!
As Twisted Rootz, a musician and mc from bath said to me the other day, many artists have alter egos such as Beyonce has her stage persona she calls Sasha Fierce. This may serve to separate the stage from our own lives but does it produce a barrier between us and the audience? I think that as long as we believe in what we are doing and find ways to find understanding in what we perform whether it is a Schubert lieder or a sex pistols number then we can bring something to our performance that our audience will want to hear.

Acting is a question of absorbing other people’s personalities and adding some
of your own experience.
Jean Paul Sarte.

Alice Cooper is probably one of rock music’s most Out there performers who has ever graced the stage and yet his life style off the stage was far more extreme than on stage. While he was rehearsing or performing, he never drank and only abused his body when he was not performing. He never did a show drunk and the Alice Cooper on stage was a more focused version of himself than his real persona. Quite an interesting paradox. He now no longer drinks off or on stage and has been dry for a number of years.
It looks like the persona worked for him and will work for many people.
I think the main point I am trying to make is that there is honesty and integrity in the music and the message is clear and powerful. Take time to know your material and know and bond with your audience. Find the best way to do this for you whether it is I’m leopard skins or your usual day wear!


About clivemusic

I have taught music, enabling musicians to be confident about performing for over 20 years. I also train teachers and trainers to be confident in the classroom. Keyboard, piano and composing, arranging and singing are my musical loves. I love performing and play Jazz with a Quartet and also sing and direct my own Barbershop Quartet called The Sherlock Combs. I used to be an incredibly nervous performer, suffering from stage fright and through teaching music and learning many mind training techniques, come with me on a journey to confident performing.
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2 Responses to Should we be ourselves when we perform?

  1. Adam Clark says:

    The acting teacher Sanford Meisner said “Acting is behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances.” Rather than adopting a character per se i find this is a useful way into connecting to the emotional core of my material – I may not be singing about my own ‘real’ life experiences but that doesn’t preclude a genuine emotional experience, which I think is a platform for communicating that to an audience.


    • clivemusic says:

      I think this way of looking at performing is probably a more flexible and easier way of looking at it. Having resonance and empathy towards a song’s characters and subject matter is more important. I guess it is like listening when a friend is telling you about difficult circumstances that you have not experienced yourself but you are able to share and relay and recount the emotions with others in your own sensitive way. In fact it may even be more effective than if the person telling others about their woes was talking to the audience. I love your quote and it has got me thinking! Thank you for the great thoughts. A good thought always leaves us with more questions and this one has done that!


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