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Signs of panic


Peter Clark

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I have been aware recently of increasing nervousness in the organ loft, but only under certain circumstances. Some of you know the instrument I play; it is in a fairly high west gallery. What I have been experiencing recently is what might be described as mild panic attacks but ONLY when I am on my own up there playing for weddings and funerals, causing me to make errors in the simplest (and lousiest) of hymns such as I Watch the Sunrise; I have also apparently been speeding up at such times. This has, unfortunately (or perhaps fortuitously), been noticed and commented upon by members of the congregation, but this has had a knock on effect so that I received a kind but pointed dressing down today when I was told that two people complained about my tempi at yesterday's Mass. I have also begun to experience slight feelings of unease at the sung Mass, whereas previously this had not been the case as the choir is there as well so I had human contact rather than being on my own.

 

Curiously, when I am doing my daily practice (usiually an hour or two) I am in a completely empty church and find myself totally relaxed.

 

If I am playing for a funeral or wedding and Jane is with me I am similarly relaxed.

 

To recap - on my own but with a congregation downstairs I get nervous.

 

On my own but nobody there except me I am OK.

 

Any reason for this? Have I thought myself into a psychogical problem?

 

Your thoughts would be very welcome because at this point I am getting quite worried.

 

Thanks

 

Peter

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Dear Peter:

 

Panic is something that can afflict us all and at the most unexpected moments. Deep breathing as well as very careful prep are your best bets. Deep breaths will calm you and the knowledge that you've prepared carefully is good amunition against these things.

 

Unless the affair is in a garden or in a private club, that is to say in a secular venue, avoid at all costs playing "I Watch the Sunrise."

 

God will bless your work.

 

Good luck.

 

emsgdh

 

 

 

I have been aware recently of increasing nervousness in the organ loft, but only under certain circumstances. Some of you know the instrument I play; it is in a fairly high west gallery. What I have been experiencing recently is what might be described as mild panic attacks but ONLY when I am on my own up there playing for weddings and funerals, causing me to make errors in the simplest (and lousiest) of hymns such as I Watch the Sunrise; I have also apparently been speeding up at such times. This has, unfortunately (or perhaps fortuitously), been noticed and commented upon by members of the congregation, but this has had a knock on effect so that I received a kind but pointed dressing down today when I was told that two people complained about my tempi at yesterday's Mass. I have also begun to experience slight feelings of unease at the sung Mass, whereas previously this had not been the case as the choir is there as well so I had human contact rather than being on my own.

 

Curiously, when I am doing my daily practice (usiually an hour or two) I am in a completely empty church and find myself totally relaxed.

 

If I am playing for a funeral or wedding and Jane is with me I am similarly relaxed.

 

To recap - on my own but with a congregation downstairs I get nervous.

 

On my own but nobody there except me I am OK.

 

Any reason for this? Have I thought myself into a psychogical problem?

 

Your thoughts would be very welcome because at this point I am getting quite worried.

 

Thanks

 

Peter

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Thanks for that - I have, in darker moments, had thoughts of throwng myself off the gallery - it is not good, this feeling of inadequacy. It having been suggested earlier today that I was not doing m job properly was a real blow.

P

 

but of course i won't

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My immediate reaction was to suggest slow, deep breathing so I second what has already been said. I wonder whether the height of the gallery has anything to do with it? You may know from other sources that I currently suffer from tinnitus which can also sometimes manifest itself in dizziness. Perhaps there is an element of stress-induced vertigo when you play for services whilst up there alone and which has been brought by something as yet unidentified? An organist friend of mine - not a member of this Board - is often told by members of his choir that if he is in a bad mood (notably when he has to play the Coventry Gloria and the Inwood Gathering Mass) he habitually gets louder and faster. Whilst I am not for one minute suggesting that you ever play whilst in a bad mood there may be a link to a root cause somewhere. It may, of course, have origins in matters totally disconnected from music or church.

 

For what it is worth, and some of you may want to laugh at this, I find the Paul McKenna self-hypnosis CDs helpful for all kinds of symptoms, especially those relating to confidence and relaxation. A few members will be aware of an area where I have found this extremely helpful to me personally. I find self-hypnosis that concentrates on overcoming specific problems unhelpful because they concentrate on the problem rather than the state you wish to achieve, if you see what I mean. I believe one member of this Board practices hypnosis professionally although not in your part of the country. On the other hand you might want to talk to your doctor or even a sympathetic priest (I suggest you go to one not connected with your own church).

 

It sounds far too patronising and futile to suggest that you try to immerse yourself totally in the music so I won't.

 

You know where to find my e-mail address/phone numbers if you want to discuss this further with me. I could also put you in contact with another organist whose name you will know well and who has himself suffered from things like depression in the past.

 

Malcolm

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Anxiety is never, ever a good sign and needs prompt professional treatment. You should certainly go talk to your GP; you have nothing to lose by doing so. You need to get to the bottom of what is causing it.

 

A couple of thoughts to be going on with, which may or may not be relevant. If you were formerly able under normal circumstances to play hymns in time and without mistakes, then, believe me, you will still be head and shoulders above the average organist to be procured by the average church these days. In this part of the world you would be adjudged positively brilliant and would be eagerly sought. If (big if) yours is a self-confidence issue, then there is no logical reason for it. I realise things may well not be as simple as this though.

 

Also I would venture to suggest that it is probably not unusual for any musician to go through the odd bad patch - singers singing off pitch; oboists losing their lip, pianists with memory issues, etc, etc. For a musician to give the best possible musical performance, every physical and mental faculty needs to be in peak condition. Very few can keep that up 100% of the time, so is it really surprising if one sometimes finds one's self performing below par? However, since you describe the anxiety as causing the mistakes rather than vice versa, this may not be directly relevant.

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Anxiety is never, ever a good sign and needs prompt professional treatment. You should certainly go talk to your GP; you have nothing to lose by doing so. You need to get to the bottom of what is causing it.

 

A couple of thoughts to be going on with, which may or may not be relevant. If you were formerly able under normal circumstances to play hymns in time and without mistakes, then, believe me, you will still be head and shoulders above the average organist to be procured by the average church these days. In this part of the world you would be adjudged positively brilliant and would be eagerly sought. If (big if) yours is a self-confidence issue, then there is no logical reason for it. I realise things may well not be as simple as this though.

 

Also I would venture to suggest that it is probably not unusual for any musician to go through the odd bad patch - singers singing off pitch; oboists losing their lip, pianists with memory issues, etc, etc. For a musician to give the best possible musical performance, every physical and mental faculty needs to be in peak condition. Very few can keep that up 100% of the time, so is it really surprising if one sometimes finds one's self performing below par? However, since you describe the anxiety as causing the mistakes rather than vice versa, this may not be directly relevant.

 

Once again, very grateful for your comments.

 

Best as ever

 

 

Peter

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Guest Roffensis

For years I hated anyone anyone near me when doing recitals. I still stick to one habit even now, in that I never play anything from a score if it is a strange organ I am trying, because I always foul. I just lose concentration, which I interpret more a security thing.

 

As to having no one near me, what I did was insist a friend was always by me at home when learning pieces. I would say "spell check me, will you" and as much as I hated it I became totally desensitised to it :D .

 

During hymns, on occaision I have made the most silly mistakes :blink: , so I understand you exactly, but one can usually cover up, and if it is any consolation, I have heard the finest fall foul also.

 

Even now at recitals I physically shake, but always make myself do at least two a year, just to keep my foot in and give myself a good dose of stress!! :lol: Adrenaline always takes me along on the day, but I hate the feeling beforehand!! Ultimately, we are using our brains in a very complex way, and the slightest thing can knock us?

 

My church is very reverberant, even more so than it was a year ago ans they repainted it, so I can hear all kinds at the end during my voluntary to distract me, from the roof and other directions, and even better is when someone comes up ie a funeral director, and starts a pointless conversation while I am playing. These days I take my hands off the keys and say "what?" and they scuttle off!! :lol:

 

Try not to worry Peter, we all do it at times!!

 

Richard

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Just a further thought that we all, perhaps, could bear in mind. Recently I was talking to our local Rural Dean about my tinnitus (don't we all just love talking about our health?) and he immediately commented that it sounded to him as if it was stress induced. This is the second time he has said something like this to me; the first time was a number of years ago. I remember things like that.

 

If someone who normally performs well - at anything, not necessarily music - suddenly shows an obvious dip in performance the good thing to do is gently to ask them if they can think what may be causing it and offer to help or put them in contact with someone who can help. Criticism without a positive offer to help overcome the problem is useless. This shows that you care about them as people as well as someone who does a job, paid or otherwise. As well as being pastorally good in a church context, and whats good friends would do anyway, it is what gets taught on office mangement courses and, goodness knows, I have sat through enough of those in my time.

 

Malcolm

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Guest Patrick Coleman
Thanks for that - I have, in darker moments, had thoughts of throwng myself off the gallery

 

but of course i won't

 

 

The position of the console in your gallery is quite vertiginous - I would suggest that thoughts such as these are quite normal. You are of course welcome to try playing our instrument where the detached console is among the congregation. This might help to sift out the extent to which the situation is due to the context or to your own confidence.

 

Bertha awaits - but not much longer!

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From a very young age I have been led to believe that certain characteristics are implied by the name Bertha. I shall now consult NPOR to see if these characteristics are likely to apply to the Bertha referred to here.

 

Malcolm

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Guest Patrick Coleman
From a very young age I have been led to believe that certain characteristics are implied by the name Bertha. I shall now consult NPOR to see if these characteristics are likely to apply to the Bertha referred to here.

 

Malcolm

 

NPOR is inaccurate - the correct details may be found on the parish website (tillerychurches.com) under Looking to the Future. I have failed in my efforts to get the NPOR entry updated and we have now agreed that since the situation is about to change drastically it isn't worth the effort! Bertha will remain through Easter and up to the Confirmations on 18th April. She will then come out when the Walker organ is ready to go in.

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May I be allowed to offer some advice that was given to me sometime ago by soprano soloist, who has a superb voice but suffers something terrible with nerves.

She takes one Paracetomol half an hour before her performance.

I have tried this, as like most organists somtimes get "worked up" before a performance. It works for me!

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Bananas and paracetemol it shall be! The first recital I ever gave, some 30-odd years ago was done on a small scotch and several cigarettes. Now I've just about quit smoking (I confess to the odd fag now and then but not a word) other relaxants seem appropriate. GP tomorrow (followed by a funeral!).

 

Thanks again, people

 

Peter

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Bananas and paracetemol it shall be! The first recital I ever gave, some 30-odd years ago was done on a small scotch and several cigarettes. Now I've just about quit smoking (I confess to the odd fag now and then but not a word) other relaxants seem appropriate. GP tomorrow (followed by a funeral!).

Good luck in everything, Peter.

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If someone who normally performs well - at anything, not necessarily music - suddenly shows an obvious dip in performance the good thing to do is gently to ask them if they can think what may be causing it and offer to help or put them in contact with someone who can help. Criticism without a positive offer to help overcome the problem is useless. This shows that you care about them as people as well as someone who does a job, paid or otherwise. As well as being pastorally good in a church context, and whats good friends would do anyway, it is what gets taught on office mangement courses and, goodness knows, I have sat through enough of those in my time.

This is very true: I thought it was disgraceful (but sadly not surprising) that the official reaction to the situation involved any kind of "dressing down", however mild!

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I had another "pep talk" this morning from one of our priests; I explained that I had sought advice on the problem and that information was well recieved - he said it was "courageous" of me to do this. I also had a lengthy conversation last night with an organist, well known to many here, who provided sound advice. With members' permission I should like to show this thread to the clergy - on an anoymous basis so no names will be revealed.

 

Once again many thanks for kind, helpful and comforting responses, including of course those by PM &c.

 

 

Best as ever

 

Peter

 

ps funeral today was fine except there was a pedal cypher so manuals only! Not my church but one up the road. The organ has a "great melodic bass" feature which can convey the impression of pedals in that it delivers the octave below on the lowest note played on the great. I should have played the GTB Paganini! :blink:

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Personally, I don't have a problem with your showing posts to your priest - and that includes the private ones I have sent you. I know that the organist you spoke to last evening feels he did some good for you and that is encouraging. Obviously, I don't know details.

 

Malcolm

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Personally, I don't have a problem with your showing posts to your priest - and that includes the private ones I have sent you. I know that the organist you spoke to last evening feels he did some good for you and that is encouraging. Obviously, I don't know details.

 

Malcolm

 

Yes he was very helpful - brilliantly so. He seemed to tap into my concerns with uncanny insight,

 

Peter

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