For those of you who are musicians that play at a competitive level, most you totally get this already. In fact, ANYone who does ANYthing at a high competitive level likely gets this. When I asked these kids what stresses them out most about playing the piano, here are a few of their responses:
"I have a fear of big crowds."
"The pressure to always be improving."
"Not playing a right note."
"The domino effect. One thing goes wrong and the rest falls behind it."
"Being judged or critiqued."
"Never feeling prepared enough."
Sound familiar to you? It does to me. As a guitarist, singer, public speaker and person who has come to terms (most of the time) with performance anxiety, all of these responses have resonated with me at one point in time or another.
To be fair, there were also two kids that said "nothing stresses me out about it." That represents about 5% of the total responses and is wonderful to hear. However, a large majority of these students have some level of stress and anxiety around the instrument that they spend a significant amount of their time with every week.
Another favorite practice was one I call "Take a Minute to Have a Seat." I literally asked the kids to take a full minute to sit down in a chair. To do the practice yourself, start off by standing in front of a chair. Set a timer for one minute and begin slowly sitting down, noticing what it's like to sit down in a more conscious - if not hilariously awkward - way. Check in with your timer and try to wait until the entire minute has passed until you are finally completely seated. What are your thoughts like? What feelings come up? How does your body respond to sitting down in this way?
For camp, I added a little excitement to the activity and gave each group a "secret challenge." I asked them to do this exercise in another one of their sessions at camp without telling the instructor what they were doing. One group accepted the challenge and didn't let on until they had taken a full minute to sit at their keyboards! It was a great way to let everyone know that mindfulness isn't about taking ourselves too seriously, and that we can practice it wherever we are and with whatever we are doing. Because to me, mindfulness is essentially being fully present, aware of where we are and what we're doing, with an interested an accepting attitude. And who of us couldn't use a little more of that?
"Mindfulness is being fully present, aware of where we are and what we're doing, with an interested and accepting attitude."
At the end of the week, I received several letters from the students that moved me and reinforced the fact that these practices change our lives in important ways. Here are a few of my favorites:
"Thank you for teaching us about mindfulness! I suffer from anxiety and it kind of gets in the way of my life. But the tactics you gave me will definitely help me not only with piano but in my life as well."
"Thank you so much for teaching mindfulness this week. I'm [active in another competitive sport] so I get REALLY nervous before I go to a competition. Some of the exercises that you taught me might help me not get so nervous."
"Thank you so much for doing mindfulness class! I loved it! It was awesome to relax for a couple of min.! I have been having trouble sleeping lately because I could not calm down. Mindfulness helped me a lot!"
"Thank you so much for coming to camp and helping us with mindfulness. It really helped me with performance anxiety."
"Charles Gosset is a natural while working with all ages, children and adults. He provides a service desperately needed in today’s busy, noisy, hi-tech environment. Today’s students simply don’t know how to quiet their minds, and redirect their thoughts. Charles has helped our students become 'mindful' of their environment, and quiet thoughts that get in the way of their studies, and performances. Our students talk very highly of his class, and of the 'new' tools they have learned. They have described his classes as 'life changing!' I agree!!"
Terri Hlubek, NCTM
Director, Kamp Keyboard
"Charles Gosset is an incredibly perceptive man who gently helps individuals dig in to their potential. He has helped my piano students that attended Kamp Keyboard with their performance anxiety through practical exercises and meaningful discussions on awareness of the body and mind. He provides the perfect environment for individuals to open up and explore how their minds work in order to be aware in various situations as well as how to accept our human responses to them. He is great for all age ranges and backgrounds and makes everyone feel welcome and safe to grow. I would definitely recommend Charles to professional musicians and athletes as well as children with any kind of anxieties related to performing and group participation."
Vivace Piano Studio
"The mindfulness and performance enhancement sessions Charles led at Kamp Keyboard were well received by our piano students. He was able to share practical ways to combat stressful situations that we all go through as musicians, and even just as human beings. There is a positive energy about Charles, and it’s one that puts everyone at ease in his sessions. This helped the students feel comfortable to share their experiences with each other - there is no wrong answer! I was fortunate enough to sit in on these sessions with the students. I learned many helpful tools about being mindful and dealing with stress that I’m able to use in my daily life, and have also been able to share with my students. I would definitely recommend Charles to people of all ages, and experiences!"
Voice & Piano Instructor
Studio Z Music Lessons
"Charles Gosset is a man full of compassion, understanding, empathy, grace and love for people. His ease with working with individuals of all ages is a rare ability. I have attended a pilgrimage retreat led by Charles and found it to be a peaceful time allowing me to reconnect to Divine. I have also witnessed Charles interacting with students. It gives me great joy to see how well he connects with them. The meditation and breathing exercises he shares with students have been a wonderful lifeline for many. The reflection time he brings to his classes allows the students to be still and to learn how to be comfortable in who they are in that very moment. The skills that he is sharing with the students not only helps them during practice and performance sessions, but he shares ways that these skills are useful in every area of their life. Mark 10:21 says that when a young man asked a question of Jesus that Jesus looked on the man, loved him and then spoke. I believe that Charles Gosset approaches every relationship with that same approach – he sees, he loves and then speaks."
Melissa Johansen, NCTM
Kamp Keyboard Administrator
Johanaen Piano Studio