By Raffi Wright
Continuing our preview posts highlighting new offerings for Summer@Eastman 2022, Summer@Eastman Marketing Assistant Raffi Wright sat down with Gaelen McCormick to discuss one of the two courses Gaelen will be teaching this summer: Peak Performance Skills – ONLINE.
In this six-week online course, students will explore the audition process, learn how to optimize audition preparation and performance, and discover new ways to succeed when the pressure is on.
Here are some highlights of our time talking together:
RW: What are some audition challenges facing performers today that they may not be aware of?
GM: Many people think that performance anxiety is something you either have or don’t have. They think they might get over it by simply performing a lot more, and that is one approach to this. But I think more people are not aware that performance anxiety is a very natural, almost prehistoric response to stress, and that you can learn to work with your stress response. This can come in handy in all kinds of ways, not just on stage!
RW: Why is audition strategy important? How will this class help students prepare more constructively?
GM: Having a strategy for how to handle your stress response is vital to being able to control the situation. We know we cannot control the outcome of the audition, only the way that we perform under stress. So why do people think that doing what they have always done will yield a different result? It is important to have a game plan for how to play optimally, and what to do if you get derailed. All is not lost if some mistakes happen on stage.
RW: How is this class organized? What activities are involved (in addition to all the practicing)?
GM: This course is organized around the book Performance Success, by Dr. Don Greene. Dr. Greene has a background in sports psychology and has worked with elite athletes, including Olympic athletes! He was brought into the music world through symphonic players and now works often with the Juilliard School, New World Symphony, and our Eastman school course in audition strategies. We will work through exercises in Greene’s book, and many of them are not musical! Often, we are facing our personal stress response, and asking ourselves to take a new direction. And just like learning a new fingering or a new articulation, we need to practice these new directions we will take in responding to stress. I find many of the activities are enjoyable to do, and some are simply outrageous – the “performing under adverse conditions” session is intended to give us a worst-case scenario. Before you freak out about reading that last line, just know that everyone has benefited from this scenario, and no harm will befall you in doing that particular exercise.
RW: What are you most excited for about this course?
GM: I always feel privileged in teaching this course to see people have an A-HA! moment. It could be uncovering some faulty information from their deep past which holds them back from believing that they can succeed. It may simply be uncovering the words they say to themselves as they are practicing and performing, words which were not consciously heard but which can be undermining their own ability. Everyone in these classes has discovered tools to help them move forward and be more successful in performance and in auditioning.
RW: What do you hope participants gain from this experience?
GM: Participants will gain many tools to use at different times in their performance careers. As humans we are constantly changing and our reaction to stress is also something which is changing over time. As you get a handle on the way you react now, this may be different in 10 or 20 years, but the tools in this course are there to serve you as you grow and change as an artist.
RW: Is there anything else you would like to share either about yourself or this course?
GM: Personally, I struggled with performance anxiety for a long time. I tried using beta blockers, with mixed results. I was starting to feel that I would never win the “big audition,” and that somehow, I was damaged goods as a performer. Reading Dr. Greene’s book was such a huge ray of sunlight for me, and I am so grateful to be able to share his work and techniques with others.
Peak Performance Skills – ONLINE is open to high school, collegiate, and adult musicians. Participants may register as performers (full participation, including the final mock audition) or as auditors (auditors may observe all sessions but will not participate in the mock audition experience). Registration opens soon; visit the course page for details.