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Nervousness can take its toll on performers of all levels. So how do the high-level competitors at this year’s Cliburn International Piano Competition deal with pre-concert jitters?
Each has ways of preparing to make that long walk from backstage to the spotlight.
Eating a banana is a common stomach settler. More than a few will say a prayer.
And if the heat is really on, some reach deep into their bag of tricks.
Kyu Yeon Kim is a competitor from South Korea who made the semifinals.
KIM: Sometimes if I’m really nervous, I have some poem that I use to read before the performance. It’s a really old Korean poem, and when I read that, I feel more comfortable.”
If there were one tried-and-true method to calming one’s nerves, Louise Canafax would have discovered it by now.
She has been a part of all 13 Cliburn Competitions and is best known as the backstage mother.
Canafax is the last person the competitors interact with before stepping onstage.
And she says she’s seen everything from stoic focus to full-on panic attacks.
CANAFAX: “Some of them like to walk. Some of them want to sit. Some of them want to talk and talk and talk and talk. It’s just nerves.”
Some players say having the jitters can actually lead to a better performance.
Evgeni Bozhanov is a competitor from Bulgaria who is one of six Cliburn finalists.
Josè Feghali agrees.
And he should know.
He won the gold medal at the 1985 Cliburn Competition. Now, he’s the artist-in-residence at TCU.
FEGHALI: “I think that in general if one is not nervous at all, that’s not a good thing. Because you need that kind of edge, you need that kind of adrenaline pumping a little bit to get you into a real performance mode.”
While the world’s brightest young pianists duke it out at Bass Hall, Feghali has been teaching other budding musicians at this year’s Piano Texas academy in Fort Worth. The academy is a joint venture put on by the Cliburn Foundation, the TCU school of music and the Fort Worth Symphony Association.
But Feghali says he has one piece of advice that applies to everyone from Cliburn competitors to actors in a school play. And that is: focus on the positive act of connecting with an audience rather than worrying over potential mistakes.
FEGHALI: “We are privileged to be performing works that are absolutely incredible and written by geniuses. That kind of respect and love for the music should come first and foremost. And right before the performance, I think that is a kind of mental state and spiritual state that one should have.”
And if a knotted up stomach is making that level of focus difficult, there are always bananas.