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Taking off the mask: embracing vulnerability on stage

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Many musicians think that experiencing and showing vulnerability is a weakness. I see it differently. To share our music with the world, without any assurance of acceptance or appreciation, is to be vulnerable; to be real, to choose courage over comfort, to take off your mask, is vulnerability. The exposure and risk we face, are not optional. In my own musical journey, I discovered that I cannot escape vulnerability on stage. What if embracing our vulnerability is key to convincing, yet authentic performances? This research is not about finding the magic solution for performance anxiety. It is not about avoiding vulnerability, but about embracing it. Embracing vulnerability starts with defining, recognizing and understanding it. That is exactly where this research started: a literature review was done and experts in the field of psychology were interviewed. This led to the design of strategies that can help embracing vulnerability when performing and when preparing a performance. These strategies are used in an intervention over 13 performances that have been documented with audio/video recordings, a journal and a self-questionnaire. Results show that performance preparation is a crucial element in dealing with vulnerability. Also, embracing vulnerability led to more experiences of ‘flow’, enhanced focus and increased trust in my abilities to perform music. Besides, I felt more authentic as a performer. These findings, although subjective, provide insights and strategies that could be of great benefit to other musicians.

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