“Somebody’s Watching Me”: Observation and Performance Anxiety
Update (10/20/16): After discussions with folks who are way less apathetic about sports than I am, we decided to cancel Sunday’s jam. Our next one will be 11/20, same time (which doesn’t conflict with the game that day). See you then!
Note: This post is partially in preparation for the next Jazz Night School Jam Session at Bad Albert’s in Ballard (Sunday, 10/23, 6:30pm-8:30pm).
Two quirky things you should know about me: First, I love 80s pop music (I went to too many 80s nights in college…) Second, sometimes, when someone says something, instead of mentally thinking a response, I just have a song start looping in my head. When my students describe how they get performance anxiety because they are being “watched,” I immediately think of Rockwell’s 1984 hit,”Somebody’s Watching Me” (aka, the brother/uncle of LMFAO gets his dad – Motown founder Berry Gordy – to get MJ to sing the verse on his song).
The song and its hilariously cheesy video perfectly capture the paranoia and anxiety that occurs when you feel hyper-scrutinized. Traditional music education tends to emphasize not only observation, but high-stakes evaluation (auditions, competitions, juries, etc.) I love teaching at JNS because there’s not that emphasis on high-stress observation – sure, you want to self-assess your playing, but you still need the opportunity for low-stakes experimentation and learning.
This Sunday, we’ll be having the jam session during the last part of the Seattle Seahawks game. While some people might be turned off by this distraction, I think it might actually be good for many people who are still getting started out at jam sessions. Other patrons’ attention will be occupied with sports viewing.
This points to a larger irony in musicianship: we get freaked out about people watching and scrutinizing us, when most people are distracted by and focused on their own issues – whether a football game or family crisis. By keeping this in mind (as well as the fact that most musicians/audiences want to see others succeed), it can help calm nerves a little bit.
Eventually, you get to the point where you worry about not drawing in audiences enough (especially as a bassist – an instrument notorious for getting talked-over during solos). In the meantime, just acknowledge the fear, breathe/relax as needed, and take as many risks as possible (the more you see it’s not the end of the world if you make a mistake, the less you get scared of making another one).
Do you struggle with performance anxiety and feeling scrutinized? If so, are there any other strategies not mentioned here that you’ve used to combat this?