How to Overcome Stage Anxiety – An Advice from Cellist Josephine Knight

Stage anxiety is one of the most common problems that performers should, or maybe some have already overcome. Janet Johnson from the United States was concerned about this so asks “How to overcome stage anxiety?”

Ms. Josephine Knight, a British professor in the Royal Academy of Music and a cellist, took the challenge to answer the question.

Knight first stated the big difference between anxiety and nerves. She said that nerves are naturally a part of the life of a musician. She noted that performers would always want to do their best as they perform so they care much about it and being nervous is part of playing their best. What is more tricky and complicated is anxiety. Anxiety is equivalent to uncertainty and worry. You can take away anxiety if you take away the uncertainty.

According to Knight, she had students who would like to discuss nerves. But it was interesting for her to discover that once they have established their technical foundations and activated their knowledge and ideas about music, they seldom talk about nerves anymore. She said that if you don’t have a grey area in the process of achieving your best, but only have a clear thought, you can be able to channel those nerves and make them positives. Ultimately, this will allow you to be one with the music and be free. She added that you should train your mind to focus because your mind can play tricks on you, giving you perhaps fear of messing up and failing.

Knight said that she would discuss preparation tactics with her students very often; making sure they have implemented the formulas, practiced intelligently and having a clear musical intent. Once you feel that you are in control, and know that you are well prepared, it will become your positive mantra to make your performance successful.

Another thing that proved to be helpful was picturing yourself on the stage or at the center of the venue. According to Knight, this would give you an increase in heart rate which will enable your mind to get used to that experience which according to her will remove any shock.

Knight remembered the time when she was at the Royal Albert Hall in London giving her BBC Proms concerto debut with the seating capacity of 6,500 people, and it was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3. She said she would provide time to go to the hall and play one morning to give herself a taste of what it is to feel being in such a vast space and fill it with sound. Drawing her bow in such a vast hall makes her realize the enormous difference between practicing in a room. She said it was invaluable for her to hear the sound drifting away into that vast area before an important concert happens. She added that walking down through the narrow and dark part of the corridor before entering the grand stage is an experience that which musicians, conductors and orchestras from the past up to the present had been through. And perhaps they too had the same nerves and anticipation, which is for her, very humbling and inspiring.

Knight strongly stated that for her, to practice well and to prepare herself both physically and mentally enables her to relish the entire performance along with its essential aspects. She said when she gets nervous, she would think and concentrate on how she could communicate musically to the people and avoid being tied up to the technicalities which she said had been covered during her practice. Added to that, she said that the food you eat and the way you exercise also make a difference in the way you feel. She said that on the day of a performance, she would always have a fixed routine, just like other musicians who love to have a routine. She said that if she has followed the routine correctly or not, no one would know the difference. The important thing according to her is that she always has allotted time for sleep during performance day. Having a banana and a honey sandwich is what she prefers to eat before the concert. Finally, she would like to take 5-6 minutes of jogging in place for about half an hour before entering the stage as this would improve blood circulation by raising her heart rate which helps increase the oxygen in the brain and warm the fingers.

She said that in the end, it’s about emotionally feeling something which you can share with your audience.

At present, Professor Josephine Knight is at the Royal Academy of Music in London, serving the Alfredo Piatti Chair of Cello.  She had been with the leading orchestras in the UK and in Europe, performing concertos along with them. She also appeared in the BBC Proms as a soloist and has recorded CDs for EMI, Deutsche Grammophon, and Chandos.