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Re: Drinking and drug addiction is rife in the classical...
Atrys #2317833 08/20/14 04:25 PM
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Originally Posted by Atrys

Smoke weed.

Propranolol is safer, and there's no danger of me developing a psychiatric disorder from cannabis use (or ending up in prison....). Apart from which, cannabis might be sooooo calming that I'd play the Mephisto Waltz No.1 like it was Consolation No.3. (Not that I've ever played said Mephisto Waltz, but the weed might make me believe that I know it and can play it as well as Pletnev).

Actually, I've never taken a beta-blocker either. My piano exam days are long gone.


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
Re: Drinking and drug addiction is rife in the classical...
bennevis #2317836 08/20/14 04:30 PM
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Originally Posted by bennevis
Originally Posted by Atrys

Smoke weed.

Propranolol is safer, and there's no danger of me developing a psychiatric disorder from cannabis use (or ending up in prison....). Apart from which, cannabis might be sooooo calming that I'd play the Mephisto Waltz No.1 like it was Consolation No.3. (Not that I've ever played said Mephisto Waltz, but the weed might make me believe that I know it and can play it as well as Pletnev).

Actually, I've never taken a beta-blocker either. My piano exam days are long gone.

How do you do with public speaking?


Poetry is rhythm
Re: Drinking and drug addiction is rife in the classical...
phantomFive #2317841 08/20/14 04:40 PM
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Originally Posted by phantomFive
Originally Posted by bennevis
Originally Posted by Atrys

Smoke weed.

Propranolol is safer, and there's no danger of me developing a psychiatric disorder from cannabis use (or ending up in prison....). Apart from which, cannabis might be sooooo calming that I'd play the Mephisto Waltz No.1 like it was Consolation No.3. (Not that I've ever played said Mephisto Waltz, but the weed might make me believe that I know it and can play it as well as Pletnev).

Actually, I've never taken a beta-blocker either. My piano exam days are long gone.

How do you do with public speaking?

I've given lecture-recitals with no problems - I'm OK when I have a 'prop', like the piano. And again, only when I know that I know a lot more about what I'm talking about than the audience. So, I'm not having any musicologist in my audience grin.

But I won't do public speaking otherwise. Anyway, I don't attend weddings, or go to parties or that kind of stuff.


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
Re: Drinking and drug addiction is rife in the classical...
pianoloverus #2317864 08/20/14 05:34 PM
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In the last 2 years I went through some experiences that I think helped control my anxiety and stress response. My fingers don't even really shake when I go on stage anymore. I don't think it's because my adrenaline receptors don't work either, so there's gotta be an internal way to control the stress response I think.

That said, if drugs work just as well or better, why not lol.

Re: Drinking and drug addiction is rife in the classical...
pianoloverus #2317874 08/20/14 06:00 PM
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I took a beta blocker for my chamber workshop. I am not a nervous person by nature. It was a very strange phenomenon and it seems to be unique to piano. Something had to combat the out-of-control pounding of my heart and the cold sweat. Just thinking about playing for other people sent me into this state. My hands would shake and sweat and skate all over the keys. I still have it to a certain degree simply playing for my teacher. I don't feel my heart pounding as bad, but it's still going on in the background because if I stop playing, you can see my hands are shaking visibly.

I can't play for a recorder, either. I'm trying to hard to get something--anything!--recorded for me, or for PW. The flashing red dot is enough to interfere with my playing in all sorts of frustrating ways.

I have not bothered taking a beta blocker to get something recorded, though! Or my teacher. But the performance at the chamber workshop? I am glad I did it and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

I am not, however, a drug addict and have never had a problem with drugs. I am not an alcoholic nor have I ever been close to having a problem with alcohol. I'm not an addictive personality by nature. If anything, I'm fairly resistant to addictive behaviors.**

So, I find it a tad concerning that use of beta blockers is being conflated with alcoholism and its use as evidence of a pattern of destructive and self-abusive behaviors among musicians. I'm pretty sure that beta blockers do not induce a chemical dependence. I have no doubt that people who are prone to addictive behaviors could develop a bit of a psychological dependence on beta blockers, but you can't infer anything the other way: that is, you can't lump someone who would take a beta blocker in with people who exhibit problem behaviors simply because people with problem behaviors sometimes take beta blockers. It's sloppy to imply that use of something like beta-blockers is, without more, a concerning behavior.

Is there anxiety in the music world? Of course there is. It's a performance art, and while some performance arts attract born performers who use that desire to become artists, some performance arts tend to attract artists who then must become performers. It stands to reason that some of them may experience lingering and deep-seated anxiety that doesn't just go away with exposure. But that, in and of itself, is not a problem (other than to the person experiencing the anxiety, of course). It's just a the reality of the profession. No, the risk to the profession is whether or not there's a higher than normal tendency among musicians to solve the reality of that professional problem in destructive ways.

It's a fine question. I just don't think it's being answered responsibly here. It sounds as if this article and the associated documentary is just lumping all manners of solutions to the problem into the "bad" category and that's sloppy and irresponsible. It sounds like everything that might involve an external agent is simply defined as destructive, but that's just not true. Heck, coupled with cognitive behavioral therapy, I could see a truly suffering musician turning to a full-on anxiolytic drug, even a one that carries a risk of dependence, and still be acting responsibly.

Not to make a distinction between alcoholism and beta blockers seems like a sloppy conclusion at best, and intentionally sensationalized at worst. It does a disservice to those who are afflicted with anxiety by stigmatizing a wide variety of behaviors, only some of which are of actual concern.

**In fact, as it turns out I make a pretty good poker player. My judgment stays the same whether I win or lose--and I can pick off the gamblers pretty easily. When it's time to go, I stand up and go. My problem with gambling is that I just can't be bothered to go play very often.

Re: Drinking and drug addiction is rife in the classical...
TwoSnowflakes #2317882 08/20/14 06:54 PM
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Originally Posted by TwoSnowflakes


I am not, however, a drug addict and have never had a problem with drugs. I am not an alcoholic nor have I ever been close to having a problem with alcohol. I'm not an addictive personality by nature. If anything, I'm fairly resistant to addictive behaviors.**

So, I find it a tad concerning that use of beta blockers is being conflated with alcoholism and its use as evidence of a pattern of destructive and self-abusive behaviors among musicians. I'm pretty sure that beta blockers do not induce a chemical dependence.

Most certainly, use of beta-blockers, unlike other drugs like alcohol, opiates, nicotine, cocaine, cannabis, 'minor tranquillizers'/benzodiazepines or sleeping pills, doesn't lead to dependency, no matter how long they're used for, or how regularly. (Otherwise, the zillions around the world who use them for medical conditions like hypertension, heart failure or cardiac rhythm abnormalities - usually for life - would all be junkies......).

I find it strange that people who wouldn't refuse a beer or a cigarette have qualms about taking a beta-blocker to stop them shaking in performance. Alcohol dulls the brain and slows your reaction time (which is why it's so dangerous to drink & drive); beta blockers do neither - you remain mentally as alert as ever. All you lose are the unwanted side-effects of anxiety, the loss of control.

I don't drink alcohol at all, because I dislike its effect on my brain (which I prize very highly wink ), and I certainly don't smoke or touch illicit drugs (including weed), but if I ever have to do another piano exam, I'd take a beta-blocker without a second thought.


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
Re: Drinking and drug addiction is rife in the classical...
bennevis #2317888 08/20/14 07:15 PM
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Originally Posted by bennevis

I certainly don't smoke [weed]

For shame!

I think every pianist should.

Great mix.


"A good intention but fixed and resolute - bent on high and holy ends, we shall find means to them on every side and at every moment; and even obstacles and opposition will but make us 'like the fabled specter-ships,' which sail the fastest in the very teeth of the wind."
R. W. Emerson
Re: Drinking and drug addiction is rife in the classical...
phantomFive #2317892 08/20/14 07:42 PM
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Originally Posted by phantomFive
Originally Posted by bennevis
Originally Posted by Atrys

Smoke weed.

Propranolol is safer, and there's no danger of me developing a psychiatric disorder from cannabis use (or ending up in prison....). Apart from which, cannabis might be sooooo calming that I'd play the Mephisto Waltz No.1 like it was Consolation No.3. (Not that I've ever played said Mephisto Waltz, but the weed might make me believe that I know it and can play it as well as Pletnev).

Actually, I've never taken a beta-blocker either. My piano exam days are long gone.

How do you do with public speaking?


Public speaking doesn't bother me at all (it once did, but I've gotten more comfortable doing it after a lot of practice).

Playing piano -- even for a handful of tone-deaf neighborhood children -- often gives me classic stage-fright symptoms. Here too, though, practice at it seems to produce some improvement.


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Re: Drinking and drug addiction is rife in the classical...
ClsscLib #2317898 08/20/14 08:06 PM
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Originally Posted by ClsscLib

Playing piano -- even for a handful of tone-deaf neighborhood children -- often gives me classic stage-fright symptoms. Here too, though, practice at it seems to produce some improvement.

I get a kind of visceral thrill out of playing for complete strangers in public, as when playing on the public pianos in shopping malls, train stations etc - it doesn't even bother me when people crowd around and start videoing me on their cell phones. (If those videos end up on YouTube, that's OK, because I know nothing about them....).

For all I know, one of them might even be a professional classical pianist who knows the music very well, but because I don't know that, I'm OK. But if that person was to introduce himself to me, I won't be able to resume playing - because I know that there's a musician listening.

Such is the strange way the brain works......


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
Re: Drinking and drug addiction is rife in the classical...
pianoloverus #2317905 08/20/14 08:22 PM
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I get VERY frightened before recitals, but I find it adds to the performance... if there's not that element of anxiety, it feels like practice to me. I hate it, but I need it. laugh

Re: Drinking and drug addiction is rife in the classical...
Francisco Scalco #2317934 08/20/14 09:52 PM
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Originally Posted by Francisco Scalco
I get VERY frightened before recitals, but I find it adds to the performance... if there's not that element of anxiety, it feels like practice to me. I hate it, but I need it. laugh


I'm with you there. I would need the fear factor to perform. Well probably different reasons. If I'm not performing in public my mind wonders about trivial details of life like"why is my dog barking? Wait did I feed them yet etc".

I am more anxious in the days approaching the performance. I throw up, have stomachache, etc. and lose weight which I don't mind. But it's not a pleasant way to lose weight though.

Re: Drinking and drug addiction is rife in the classical...
Francisco Scalco #2317943 08/20/14 10:38 PM
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Originally Posted by Francisco Scalco
I get VERY frightened before recitals, but I find it adds to the performance... if there's not that element of anxiety, it feels like practice to me. I hate it, but I need it. laugh

I used to be like that, it helped me focus. It got kind of bad when my hands started shaking so much I had trouble playing the right notes. I said, "That's enough, I better get over this nervousness."

I've messed up so many times and so badly in public performances, I don't care who is listening to me anymore. If I mess up, "well, I did it again."


Poetry is rhythm
Re: Drinking and drug addiction is rife in the classical...
bennevis #2317950 08/20/14 11:06 PM
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Originally Posted by bennevis

I find it strange that people who wouldn't refuse a beer or a cigarette have qualms about taking a beta-blocker to stop them shaking in performance. Alcohol dulls the brain and slows your reaction time (which is why it's so dangerous to drink & drive); beta blockers do neither - you remain mentally as alert as ever. All you lose are the unwanted side-effects of anxiety, the loss of control.

I don't drink alcohol at all, because I dislike its effect on my brain (which I prize very highly wink ), and I certainly don't smoke or touch illicit drugs (including weed), but if I ever have to do another piano exam, I'd take a beta-blocker without a second thought.


You and me both. I dislike the feeling of being...altered in any way. I like feeling like me, and alcohol makes me feel different. So do cigarettes, and drugs. I have finally admitted I don't really like to drink. I want to be the kind of person who has a glass of wine when I come home from work, but I don't really like the feeling it gives me, which gives me little incentive to learn to like the taste. I have a drink now and again, and under the right circumstances it is not a wholly unpleasant experience, but I simply don't like to drink very much.

The problem with articles like these is that it has the effect of lumping reasonable options in with unreasonable ones, and making people who need help feel like they are personal failures when whatever version of "calm down and you'll get used to it" doesn't work.

What are they supposed to do when articles like these make it seem like everything else is taboo or a personal failing and there's no difference between alcoholism and a drug like a beta blocker?

If beta-blockers are already past the threshold of qualifying as evidence of an industry-wide abusive behavior, I shudder to think how any use of, say...I don't know, a real anti-anxiety medication would be viewed, even if short term of use of such a medication were a part of a legitimate professional anxiety treatment. If we agree that performance anxiety is a real thing that can't always be fixed by just getting a better hold of oneself, then I certainly would support the musician who goes that route than one who eschews all those "dangerous drugs" categorically but drinks heavily because he or she feels there are no better options. When someone is suffering, something has to give.

I suppose it is obvious that I'm keenly sympathetic towards those who have yet to find a way to overcome debilitating performance anxiety. I've actually somewhat surprised myself by how strongly I've reacted to this thread. I suppose my acute experience with it earlier this summer was more profound than I realized. I'm lucky that my experience with it, despite being profound, is not posing a major life obstacle, doesn't impact me professionally, and I don't suffer from anxiety in any other area of my life. If I choose not to address it, all I have to do is...refrain from performing. Given how often my piano playing has proved necessary, or even useful, well, let's just say that if I were never to perform again, the world of music would manage to go on with its bad self just fine without me.

Last edited by TwoSnowflakes; 08/21/14 07:39 AM. Reason: For length.
Re: Drinking and drug addiction is rife in the classical...
MarkH #2317954 08/20/14 11:19 PM
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Originally Posted by MarkH
Noobpianist90 - your assertion that performance anxiety stems from improper breathing is glib and dismissive of the complex psychological and physiological symptoms that people who suffer from it experience.
I apologize if it sounded that way. I was merely speaking from personal experience.

Re: Drinking and drug addiction is rife in the classical...
TwoSnowflakes #2318040 08/21/14 05:36 AM
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Originally Posted by TwoSnowflakes
I dislike the feeling of being...altered in any way.


Interesting. To me, the whole appeal of music, especially classical music, is based on the feeling of being "altered".

Re: Drinking and drug addiction is rife in the classical...
TwoSnowflakes #2318065 08/21/14 07:23 AM
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Originally Posted by TwoSnowflakes
If we agree that performance anxiety is a real thing that can't always be fixed by just getting a better hold of oneself, then I certainly would support the musician who goes that route than one who eschews all those "dangerous drugs" categorically but drinks heavily because he or she feels there are no better options. When someone is suffering, something has to give.

Sorry to have blathered on for so long, but I suppose it is obvious that I'm keenly sympathetic towards those who have yet to find a way to overcome debilitating performance anxiety. I've actually somewhat surprised myself by how strongly I've reacted to this thread. I suppose my acute experience with it earlier this summer was more profound than I realized. I'm lucky that my experience with it, despite being profound, is not posing a major life obstacle, doesn't impact me professionally, and I don't suffer from anxiety in any other area of my life. If I choose not to address it, all I have to do is...refrain from performing. Given how often my piano playing has proved necessary, or even useful, well, let's just say that if I were never to perform again, the world of music would manage to go on with its bad self just fine without me.

Performance anxiety is probably a lot, lot more common among professional musicians than we will ever find out, or know - because it's something of a taboo subject even now, in the age of TV 'public confessions'. Even quite a few people here in PW think it's a sign of 'weakness', that always can, and should, be overcome by anything from 'breathing exercises' to will power to meditation to hypnosis to.....

There are probably quite a number of great musicians who find that they cannot have concert careers because of it; and others whose careers have nose-dived because of one too many train wrecks in concerts. Increasing use of beta-blockers in recent years (with the help of understanding doctors) have helped to reduce the numbers, but their use remain a secretive affair, not without good reason, as we've seen.

In previous posts on this subject, people have pointed out that performance anxiety doesn't necessarily improve with practice (or maturity, or age) - in many cases, it gets worse. Some famous performers still got on with it regardless - Clifford Curzon's concerts that were train wrecks became more common as he got older, for example (not to mention sudden cancellations). Do we really think that these great pianists (including Horowitz and others) haven't already tried things like relaxation techniques, meditation, yoga, hypnosis, whatever - already? Would they tell the world if they did? (Like movie actors who have cosmetic surgery? wink )


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
Re: Drinking and drug addiction is rife in the classical...
wr #2318072 08/21/14 07:35 AM
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Originally Posted by wr
Originally Posted by TwoSnowflakes
I dislike the feeling of being...altered in any way.


Interesting. To me, the whole appeal of music, especially classical music, is based on the feeling of being "altered".


I suppose I feel the same way about music. Music changes me, too. Like falling in love, it takes over my emotions and I don't always get a choice in how I react to it. Strictly speaking, then, it alters me but of course I welcome this.

So maybe there's a better way to capture what it is about the ...alteration from drugs or alcohol that is disruptive to me.

Re: Drinking and drug addiction is rife in the classical...
pianoloverus #2318098 08/21/14 10:30 AM
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The NYT article mentions Ruth Ann McClain lost her job as a teacher due to recommending the use of beta blockers to her students.


Poetry is rhythm
Re: Drinking and drug addiction is rife in the classical...
pianoloverus #2318128 08/21/14 11:50 AM
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I've taken them at different points in my life. They do tend to help (although it may partly be a placebo). Beta Blockers will lessen (Though not rid completely), the pounding heart and sweaty, shaky, hands. Xanax (which I also tried once), actually changes your brain state so that you feel less excited and agitated while you are playing (Which Beta blockers don't, they only handle your physical symptoms). Keyword being LESS excited - not "DON'T FEEL" excitement.

Re: Drinking and drug addiction is rife in the classical...
Opus_Maximus #2318135 08/21/14 12:03 PM
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Originally Posted by Opus_Maximus
I've taken them at different points in my life. They do tend to help (although it may partly be a placebo). Beta Blockers will lessen (Though not rid completely), the pounding heart and sweaty, shaky, hands. Xanax (which I also tried once), actually changes your brain state so that you feel less excited and agitated while you are playing (Which Beta blockers don't, they only handle your physical symptoms). Keyword being LESS excited - not "DON'T FEEL" excitement.


That's the thing. I can't stand how sweaty and shaky I get, and all I can hear is my heart pounding. And that's a terrible feedback circuit. It just increases my panic.

The only other time in my life I experienced situational anxiety was a fear of flying. I had a bad flight once and after that I had trouble on planes. I took Xanax for two flights, and it worked. While the Xanax was working, I'd deliberately think about how I feel calm, and try to link the feeling of being calm with the experience of being on an airplane while I had it. I just kept concentrating on looking at the flight attendants and thinking about how they are just at their jobs today. This is a mundane day for them, just like every other one. I'm also having a mundane boring day, look how mundane everything is and how bored I am. Oh is it bumpy now? How annoying. It's like they need to repave the road up here!

It worked. After two flights and two Xanax total I had the new thoughts kind of fixed in there and now I'm calm on airplanes. If I get even a little nervous, I just start observing the flight attendants again and imagining how this is a boring day at the office. If they're not upset or feeling urgency then neither should I be.

Like I said, I do not like medications, but they have their uses. I just tend to use the minimal amount necessary to achieve whatever outcome I want, and then we're done.

Xanax seems like a bad idea for piano (I don't care whether or not I'm lethargic on an airplane), but obviously if that's the only way, then I guess it has its purpose. I didn't take enough of it or long enough to actually think about what its side effects were.

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