Clammy hands and a shaky voice
There is a small area deep in your brain that becomes very active when you experience powerful emotions. Because this area is in contact with many other areas of the brain that help you to perform a wide range of activities, you notice that you are doing things with more energy or are suddenly able to do more things than you could before. For example, you literally jump for joy when you receive good news. Or you slam the door in anger, when the news is bad. If you want to win a race desperately enough, you can run faster than you ever thought you could. This hidden source of energy bursts loose, but is sometimes difficult to control. Unfortunately, with some other emotions, such as fear, the effect is different. Now your body no longer does what you want it to do: you feel as though you are paralyzed and hardly dare to move. Sometimes you feel changes taking place in your body that you can no longer fully control: your heart beats faster, your intestines become more active, you are shaky on your legs, and your hands begin to sweat. The reason for all this is usually a specific thought or feeling. You think that you are going to make a mistake and so you become nervous. Or you think that tonight, for whatever reason, you are not going to sing up to your normal standard and so you start to doubt yourself. Because your whole body needs to work in unison when you sing, you can ‘sense’ this doubt in your breathing, voice, legs, lips, etc. It is almost as if you have forgotten how to sing.
The best solution is to focus on another thought or feeling. What can possibly happen if I don’t sing well? How serious is it really, if I forget my text for a few moments? Am I a worse singer because I take an extra breath here and there? The answers to these questions are usually reassuring: the world is not going to end if you sing badly. But because you usually get the negative, paralyzing thoughts in stressful situations (for example, immediately before a performance), it is useful to summon up the comforting antidote-thoughts on a regular basis in normal situations. It is not the performance itself that creates the stress, but how you think and feel about it and the way you deal with it. The ability to calm yourself down in stress situations is like anything else: you learn it through practice. When debilitating emotions raise their ugly head, you need to be able to recognize them and put them back in their proper place quickly and efficiently. This is part of being a good choir singer. And because we cannot always see the emotions being experienced by others, it is also a good idea to talk to other choir members about this problem. The lessons we learn together are the lessons we remember the most.
In practice, more than half of the choir leaders devote attention in rehearsals to correcting mistakes, voice warm-up, harmony, correct breathing, posture, articulation, singing exercises, tonality and discipline. Only 10% of choir leaders discuss dealing with stress and do a voice warm-down.
It is advisable during rehearsals or immediately before a concert to give your choir members tips about how they can best control their nerves. This is particularly important for new members of the choir, but even your more experienced singers will get a boost of energy if you give them a few encouraging words!