Avoiding Performance Anxiety
Tips for reducing nervousness before & during a performance
Eating Bananas Before Performing? What's that all about?
Other Foods & Drinks
Other (non-food-related) Stress Reducers
This may not seem like a common topic, but you'd be surprised how many people have heard and asked about it.
The rumour: That eating a banana before a concert can help ease nerves and diminish the shakes.
The facts: Well, we haven't exactly done any lab tests. But according to many people, it does work; how effective it is depends on your body chemistry and state of mind. The more you believe it works, the more it seems to work. Is it a panacea? Maybe. But it is apparently based on the bananas containing potassium and "beta-blockers". It's also been suggested that since the pulp of the banana is creamy & mild, it might act as a soothing agent to an agitated stomach.
Most people suggest eating one or two bananas about 1/2 hour before performing. If you have a long gig (2 hours or more), you can try eating another banana during break-time about half-way through. For some people, this helps to reduce shaking hands and other stage-fright symptoms (shaking, sweaty hands are one of the most common symptoms associated with stage fright). When I've tried it, the main effect I noticed was that I felt a little more relaxed than usual.
Some people claim drinking grape juice has an effect similar to bananas. People have also suggested chocolate, but an equal number say to avoid anything with sugar and/or caffeine, or any other stimulants. As with most food and body chemistry related things, it will depend on how these things affect you personally. For instance, for me, drinking a cup of coffee during a gig will often have a calming effect, since I associate coffee with pleasant relaxing times and the taste makes me feel good. Also, I drink coffee fairly regularly so the caffeine doesn't effect me as strongly; I find it just gives me a handy boost if I'm feeling tired. However, I would not suggest it generally before or during a gig, for two main reasons: if you're already tense and edgy, it will probably make you more so, and since it is also a diuretic it will dry you out; not a good thing if you have to play for a while without a water break, or if you are under hot stage lights! The same goes for alcohol. It is probably far wiser to stick to water, juice, or pop, and save the beer for afterwards. Similarly, having some trail mix or fruit on hand will give you a much healthier energy boost than candy or other sugary things.
Other tricks for reducing nervousness include: stretching out stiff muscles, breathing slowly and regularly (try taking several big, deep breaths just before you start to play), and visualizing yourself playing well and beautifully. You can also try giving yourself a mental pep-talk; try telling yourself "I am going to play perfectly and wonderfully, and everyone will love it" and "It really doesn't matter if I make a mistake; the harp sounds so nice anyhow that no one will care, and probably no one will notice anyhow". And of course, nothing beats good old fashioned practice. Being well prepared is probably the most important factor in determining whether a gig will go well or not. There are, naturally, things that can occur that are beyond your control, but if you are prepared ahead of time you will be better equipped to deal with them. For instance, if you know a piece so well you can do it in your sleep, it is much easier to start or stop in the middle of it, or go back to the beginning and repeat it if necessary. Similarly, if you always keep a stash of clothes pins and/or paper clips on you, you will be better able to deal with that unexpected, gusting wind that blows up just as you are about to start playing for a ceremony. If you are new to performing in public, be sure to talk to an experienced performer first. Just simply knowing what to expect can go a long way to lessening anxiety. And most important of all - remember to keep your harp in tune! This seems like a given, but it's amazing how many harps I've come across that were not tuned regularly. The only time a harp sounds truly bad is when it's obviously out of tune. Sometimes weather or other circumstances will play havoc with it, but keeping it regularly tuned, and always tuning before a performance (and during breaks if possible) will make your harping experience much more enjoyable for you, and the audience!
The main thing is, to remember that it really is very hard for a harp not to sound nice (as long as it's in tune!). And most people will be so enchanted with the idea of being able to listen to real live harp music, that it's likely they will forgive any mistakes they do notice.
For more info on performance anxiety, check out this page: Coping With Performance Anxiety