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Rituals and Superstitions

Very superstitious, writing’s on the wall….

Fight or Flight (of Stairs)

As I’m sure many of you are, I’m currently watching Sky Arts’ Battle of the Brass Bands. I know there have been mixed reviews, but I’m really enjoying it so far. I like the fact that it shows both sides of banding- the musical side with contest preparations etc and the ‘people’ side with the views and experiences of the players. Something I’ve found particularly interesting about the programme is watching players prepare for performances and how different our individual preparations are.

One preparation method, I’ve seen in the program that I want to try is, what I’m going to call, the ‘Tom Hutchinson Method‘. This consists of running up and down the stairs a few times (considering my clumsiness, I’ll be doing this carefully), so both your breathing and your heart rate have increased (similar to how you may feel if the nerves kick in on the contest stage) before playing the test piece or part of the piece that puts you under the most pressure. Phase two of this method is donning your band uniform and running through the piece with an image of the performance venue on your stand. Some people may call this madness, but I can definitely see the logic in it. Performing (especially at contests) is an unnatural situation- you’re in an unfamiliar acoustic, in a band uniform (which aren’t always comfortable) playing to an audience and a bloke/gal in a box who is judging your every note. Unconventional it may be, but I think getting yourself in the right frame of mind by acclimatising yourself to this unnatural situation as much as you can, is inspired. Being the Principal cornet of the number one band in the world, he must be doing something right- maybe this is the secret to his success?


Anyway, as I watched the programme I started thinking about my own little quirky ‘rituals’ and habits I have when preparing for a performance. Don’t worry by ‘ritual’ I don’t mean sacrificing a chicken whilst chanting to the tune of The Floral Dance, in the hope of pleasing the banding gods. Having said that, Cory have won a lot of contests recently…maybe they do take part in some kind of banding voodoo- who knows? I digress. I’ve talked about contest prep before on the blog (click here to read) but this time I’m talking about the little quirky things I do before heading out on stage.

So here are my 5 banding ‘rituals’ I do before a performance.

1 Battle Playlist

This ritual started at the Spring Festival this year. You know when a boxer walks into a ring with badass music blaring (Eye of the Tiger etc) to get him pumped up for the fight. Same kind of thing. Not that I’m getting myself worked up to physically punch the competition in the face, I’m sure that would be frowned upon. It’s a really good way to blast away that initial anxiety on a contest morning. Stick it on whilst you faff about looking for your bow tie or have a boogie when polishing your band shoes.

Need inspiration for your own playlist? Click below to listen to my banding ‘Battle Playlist’.

2. Pancakes

Contest pancakes have sort of become a tradition whenever I stay with my friends Natalie and Daffodil (Matt), who have put me up (or put up with me, rather) for many a contest weekend. The secret for winning your section at Brighouse March and Hymn contest? Pancakes with Nutella. Chow down enough of those and you’ll be so full there won’t be room for nerves!

3. Tap the Mute

I think this is more of a superstition than something that’s actually useful. I’ve been terrified of dropping a mute during a performance, long before the time I actually dropped a mute (sorry, Helen Williams- click here to read that story). So, from being a kid I developed the habit of tapping my mute against my knee after I’ve put it in my instrument. This does sound logical, to be fair, but in reality the tap isn’t hard enough to ensure the mute stays in the instrument, so doesn’t actually serve any purpose. However after 10+ years of developing this habit, I’ve noticed I become a little panicky if I don’t do it. It’s like my mute will know I haven’t done ‘the tap’ and will therefore decide to fall out of my instrument to spite me. I think I may have mute OCD.

4. Lights, Camera, Action!

I do a lot of filming/ audio recording during my practise sessions. Not just to hear how I sound (although that is also useful) but to induce nerves just a little bit. Even though there is no physical audience there, just knowing your performance is being ‘watched’ adds a little edge of nerves. Also, it’s nice to share a bit of playing that you’re proud of on social media. #brassbandinfluencer

A post shared by Liv Appleton (@liv.appleton) on Apr 4, 2019 at 2:19am PDT

5. Positive Affirmations

Positive affirmations are a great way to get your mind in the zone before any performance. They’re usually a short statement that you repeat to yourself in order to focus your mind. My cornet teacher taught me quite a few of these for performance situations. The one I use the most, whenever I’m nervous is:

‘I have nothing to prove. I already believe in myself. I wish to be nothing other than myself.’

This one has been useful, not just in banding, but in loads of situations where I’ve felt nervous: job interviews, exams, recitals, auditions, first dates…

Living with anxiety, I tend to overthink a lot and this can lead me to not concentrate or try too hard and this is where mistakes are made. This particular affirmation is great because it’s grounding. I do look a little bonkers muttering affirmations as I stroll around the house or straightening my bow tie in the mirror in a contest venue’s toilets- but it does the job.

The only other thing I say to myself before I go on stage (apart from ‘please don’t trip over anything, Liv’) isn’t really an affirmation and I don’t know where it came from or when, but it’s now become a firm tradition. Just as we’re lining up to go on, I say ‘Give ’em hell.’ It’s odd I know and I genuinely can’t remember when I started doing it or why, but it just gives me that final push of confidence to go out there and smash it. Again, it’s become one of those things that if I don’t say it, I worry about having a bad performance- utterly bonkers!

Performers- we’re weird, aren’t we?!

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