Classical pianist discovers method to ease performance anxiety

Sep 4, 2018

Paula Bobb plays her toy piano
Credit Beth Adams

A classical pianist and teacher at the Hochstein School has found a unique way to conquer her lifelong struggle with performance anxiety.

"The thing is, I love to play the piano,” said Paula Bobb at her home in Brighton. “I love to play the piano...it just fed my soul.”

She loves it so much she was willing to endure years of crippling stage fright every time she performed in public, starting when she was just five-and-a-half years old.

No matter how long or hard she practiced, or how prepared she felt, Paula just could not shake the anxiety.

"It was simple torturous,” she recalled. “My hands were always cold and clammy, and I could practice for an hour before, and it made no difference, because inside of me, I was a total wreck."

Anyone who didn't love the piano as much might have given up. And for the first year of college, Paula did. But she had such a strong urge to start again that she found a way to fake her way through the terror and get through performances. But it was not a fun experience.

“And I did try medication, which may work for some people, but for me, it made things worse,” she explained, “And so, I was desperate."

Then, she discovered something that worked - a form of acupressure called Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT).

“Sometimes it's described as emotional acupuncture or something like that, Paula said. “Essentially, you are toning your nervous system by activating the body's natural calming response. You're able to do that by simply tapping on certain acupuncture points."

And while you’re tapping these various points, the person doing the tapping is talking about what's making them anxious.  They can either do this by themselves or with a trained practioner.  "So we would say something like, 'even though I feel this anxiety. Even though I'm afraid I'm going to bomb this performance and I feel very anxious because of that, I deeply and completely accept myself.' "

Paula admits people are very skeptical about this technique that even looks stranger than it sounds.

"For some reason, we're so readily able to accept this two inch little cell phone thing that we can call overseas within seconds.  That, we have no problem accepting. But it's hard for accept that really, we have such a complex computer system, so to speak, in our body - the brain. And our body has so much wisdom and heal and to make adjustments but we can't...it's hard to buy into that."

But for Paula, practicing EFT has made a difference in her anxiety level when she performs on the piano.

"I'm not gonna say that I perform without anxiety,” she explained, “but I perform without the torment and without feeling torturous about it."

Bobb trained to become an EFT practitioner. She now helps students and others to use the technique to overcome physical, emotional, and mental blocks. She said clients are looking for relief for everything from shoulder pain and backaches to obsessive worrying and panic attacks.

In this video, Paula demonstrates Emotional Freedom Techniques. Learn more about her practice at http://www.thecomfortableperformer.com/ and about her music at http://tickletheivoriesmusic.com/

In addition to the traditional piano, Paula enjoyes playing toy pianos. She said the light, whimsical sound awakens the spirit of childhood within her.  She will be performing on the toy piano on Friday, September 7 at 12:15 p.m. at Cobblestone Arts Center as part of its free lunchtime concert series.