Tension

“That which manifests itself as anxiety when she is at home in her study or in the wings is not impotence, but quite the opposite. It is her elasticity which makes her anxious, just because there is no pressure on her. In the tension of the theatre this anxiety marvelously manifests itself as potency”.

-Soren Kierkegaard, Crisis in the Life of an Actress

There is often consolation in feeling nervous before a music performance. It is considered a positive thing: that one really cares about what one is presenting. The crux of this narrative is reframing anxiety. It does not take it away but, rather, directs it in another way.

What Kierkegaard espouses is similar. The weight of anxiousness comes from the lightness of one’s finessed skill. A skilled player can manifest nervousness into a powerful performance. Kierkegaard goes as far to say that this conversion of energy is inherent in performance, calling it the “tension of the theatre”.

That insight is quite astounding when pondered. Performance creates an environment where nervousness is converted into beauty. Put in another way, nervousness is the potential energy of artistic creation within music.

There is consolation from this too. One’s own musical ability is overbearing to the self and causes inner turmoil. It is not that a musician is untalented that she is nervous but because she is talented that stress is impressed on her being before playing.

The tension of musical performance, as expounded by Kierkegaard, is at once empowering and forgiving. Perhaps it is a narrative to consider as a musician at any level.

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