There is a story of a centipede who encounters a frog. Seeing how nimbly the centipede moves, the frog grows curious. He asks the centipede how she walks so swiftly with those hundred legs. When the centipede thinks about it she freezes up and collapses, unable to move her legs.
In his essay “The Art of Failure”, Malcolm Gladwell observes that choking up is the act of thinking too much. In that instance we return to an explicit mode of operating, going through the steps that we didn’t have to think about anymore.
Like the centipede, we’ve choked in performance. At the root of it is that stupid frog. He’s in our heads asking us those questions: “Gee…how do know what section you go to next?” “What’s the fingering of that trill anyway?” “What’s the next line in the chorus? It has to rhyme with ‘eye’ right?” These questions are asked so quickly that the moment we think, we choke.
Is it possible to get rid of this frog in our heads? Probably not. Could we lead the frog to ask different questions, perhaps about our musicality rather than technique? Could one choke on over thinking musicality? Totally. Hmm…
Well, the first step is knowing the frog exists. Unless we can find someway to get rid of or change the frog, the next possible step is learning to just live with it.