Oberlin Blogs

So, my Junior Recital is tomorrow...

March 3, 2023

Ben Smith ’24

Portrait of myself in a black dress shirt with my flute in front of a gradient blue background, a recital poster of sorts.An opportunity to share music for an audience of friends, family, and mentors,

A celebration of your progress and your artistry,

The culmination of hours spent on a project all on your own accord...

Pretty exciting, right?


As someone who struggles with performance anxiety, I can go on and on about the ~inspiring quality~ of solo recitals, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say part of me is a little freaked out by them too. Seeing my upperclassmen friends do their recitals created some of the most inspiring experiences during my first year at Oberlin. Even now, I always get a little emotional seeing my friends performing. But back in my first year, I could not fathom myself getting through a recital of my own… but even though I couldn’t imagine myself actually doing a recital, I always tossed around ideas in my head of what my recital could look like. The repertoire, the clothing, the posters… Y’know, just some what ifs. The idea of having a recital of my own in my third year at Oberlin--it seemed simultaneously far away yet too close for comfort. And well, here I am less than 24 hours away from my junior recital. 

I’ve mentioned performance anxiety in some of my past blogs, but I never felt like I could delve into it because I was in the midst of really struggling with it. At this point--the day before my recital--I sort of pictured myself being at this place of having victoriously made it onto the other side of this whole ordeal. Alas, as with most things, it’s a process. Some days feel good, some days feel average, and some days feel like I’ve made no progress at all. Peaks and valleys abound, that’s the way dealing with performance anxiety has felt for me. Besides, it’s not always been the mental anguish that really gets me. During my first year, this was not true. I was seriously struggling with the mental aspect of performing. But performance anxiety has shifted to being a more physical challenge than a mental one. My body has reacted in all sorts of ways when performing; my hands have routinely gone numb, my mouth has gone completely dry, my legs have felt incapable of moving an inch, and just recently my lips have begun to shake. Not all of these things happen every time I perform. I no longer experience hand numbness or feel immobilized when playing--thank you body mapping--but the way in which my body responds has continued to feel a bit out of control. I’ve thought about beta-blockers. Maybe one day I’ll look into pursuing a prescription and seeing if that helps combat some of this, but that day will not come before this recital. It’s a process, so I’m not in a rush.

As the day of my recital has drawn nearer, I’ve reckoned that the only thing I am in control of is myself, which includes the preparation of the repertoire and the preparation of my own mentality, the latter of which has been the real challenge. With auditions, I’ve found the best way for me to feel prepared comes through extensive trial runs: mock auditions that simulate the experience. This simultaneously gives me the mental and physical endurance to manage performing (not practicing) the repertoire. Two months ago, I thought my recital might not require this sort of work. The nature of a recital is quite different from an audition--the whole idea of a recital is that it should be fun. Besides, I got to call all the shots in this recital: the repertoire, the date and time, the recital hall, the friends I am playing alongside, the outfit, the posters. Despite this, a month ago I was reminded that I have to put in a lot of time in the practice room and do a lot of mental rehashing to make performing feel fun--even now. Although I love sharing music and the idea of performing, I’ve got some baggage that affects that enjoyment. I believe it’s something I can work through, but at this point it wouldn't be quite right to not acknowledge that it exists. 

Recital poster of myself and clarinetist Alex Swers as Pokémon gym leaders in the generation 5 art style.
Speaking of posters... 
Pokémon card of myself as a Pokémon trainer that was used as a recital poser.
They're by far the best part :-) 

And if I’m honest, this past week leading up to the recital has been a little stressful. My final studio class performance on Monday was less than desirable and some of my rehearsals for the recital since then haven’t been going so smoothly. I wondered how I could go from feeling prepared to lacking confidence in the span of a week. But two days ago I had a lesson with my flute professor that really gave me some much needed perspective. Here at Oberlin, recitals are not meant to create pressure. You’re not graded for how well you perform and, even if you completely flop, the fact remains that there are zero repercussions. In a way, the performance itself does not matter, you just have to get up there and do it--which is a pretty unique experience. I can’t think of many times where I’ve had to perform without any added pressure until... wait

My last five performances... was the pressure from myself or from the actual situation? 

I’ll leave you with that. I know what my answer is to that question now, but for the longest time this never crossed my mind. If you find yourself in any sort of mental space adjacent to mine, it might be worth a check-in every now and again. Where is the pressure coming from anyway?

If you’ve somehow stumbled upon this in the limited hours before the recital, you can watch the livestream on March 4th at 2:30pm EST.

And as always, thank you for reading <3

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