Communicate with confidence

by Rik Noyce, D.M.A.

As a University professor and life coach, I often find both students and clients searching for the seemingly illusive state of confidence – wanting to know how to summon it, maximize it, and maintain it. 

But, what is confidence? Why do so many budding performers feel its absence? What are we actually seeking when we look for confidence, and what is it we are actually looking to bring to our musical performances?

I am a bit of an etymology enthusiast and find the derivation and history of words to be not only intriguing, but incredibly enlightening. There are so many words with which we are familiar and use regularly, but we may only understand superficially. A depth of understanding can have profound effect, not only on how we understand and speak, but what we create as artists.

Definitions of confidence

So, let’s take a look at the word confidence. At its core, confidence has Latin roots meaning “to trust” and may be defined as: 

  1. the feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something
  2. a consciousness of one’s powers or reliance on one’s circumstances
  3. a feeling of self-assurance arising from appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities 
  4. the telling of private matters or secrets with mutual trust

These may not be surprising definitions to you, but closer exploration and reframing, I believe, elucidates several interesting possibilities for performing artists to consider. 

Performance preparation process

Most commonly known and accepted are the first two definitions. To experience confidence, we must be able to trust or rely upon something – particularly ourselves. For performing artists, this likely includes knowing our music, our accompanist, even the performance environment.

Assuming you have honestly and properly prepared, you have likely played your piece many, many times. You know the theme. You know that difficult “black note” section. You know that run that has a tricky fingering.  You have studied the work, practiced it slowly, coached it with teachers and clinicians, performed it in casual settings such as studio class or for family. You are ready! So then, why do so many lack confidence when it comes to the final performance? 

Live performance experience

Having practiced and prepared for a jury, concert, recital, or recording session, why would we not trust ourselves? What about these experiences is unknown or untrustworthy?

There are any number of reasonable answers to these questions, but overwhelmingly, the common thread has to do with the sudden addition of an audience. There is something about looking out from stage (assuming you even look up from your music stand) and seeing that jury panel of esteemed faculty, or one’s family, or peers and/or other artists, that seems intimidating, starts the inner disparaging dialogue, and drags our focus away from that place of confidence. 

That now, disrupted, focus which had been founded in confidence, misses attention to the theme you know so well, so you suddenly (and possibly for the first time ever) forget the G-sharp … that “black note” part seems unfamiliar and you somehow find yourself in the middle of the section playing on autopilot, not sure where you are or even if the right notes are coming out … and then the tricky fingering section arrives, and despite an effort to pull everything together, you’re still stunned from the last unplanned event and your fingers have no idea what to do. The piece concludes.

You have somehow survived, but leave stage feeling unfulfilled, unhappy, and not sure what happened. Most covertly important, though, you have unwittingly watered the seed of self-doubt and now have even more empirical evidence that you are not a confident performer. 

Deeper meanings of the word confidence

This is where the etymology aficionado in me jumps to life and sees opportunity through understanding and employing the other, deeper meanings of the word confidence.  

The third definition mentioned above speaks about appreciating one’s own abilities and qualities. If we were to look at this objectively, we might have a different experience from the previously described scenario. The truth of the matter is more likely that the 12-minute Handel sonata you just performed was not all a disaster. More likely, there were moments in which you produced a truly beautiful tone appropriate to the Baroque style.  You probably had several inspired moments where your ornamentation was not only stylistically correct, but thoughtful and unique. Perhaps your articulation was clean and clear. It is more than plausible that much of the performance was, in fact, quite good. 

This recognition and appreciation of your abilities and the unique qualities you brought to this performance are important and intrinsic to the performance. You played that ornamentation.  Your preparations made the theme come alive with a new twist on articulation and melodic emphasis.  

Appreciating what you bring to the table in a performance is a gateway to success and confidence. You may know that you are an accomplished flutist, but you do not play the Prokofiev Sonata for Flute and Piano the way, say, Emmanuel Pahud does.  However, your different interpretation and execution does not immediately diminish your contribution to the art of performance, or how someone in the audience may be moved, simply because it is not what can be heard on a well-known recording. 

Knowing that it is impossible to recreate in live performance an existing recording ought to give you confidence to share what abilities as a musician you have cultivated as well as the qualities of performance that are unique to you. After all, this is at the core of why you chose to play the Prokofiev, not to copy Emmanuel Pahud.

Finally, let us consider the fourth definition and possibly reframe it so as to open up the possibility of confidence. When one speaks in confidence with someone, one tells the other about private matters – or perhaps secrets – with a mutual trust. There is, of course, trust that the receiver will keep such matters to themselves.

However, there is also imbedded in that mutual trust the simple notion that the information or secret will be received – that you can tell this person this information. Not only are you capable of communicating what you want, the person listening is willing and capable of hearing what you have to say. This is a tremendous mutual respect and typically unspoken agreement between people. Consider the appropriateness of employing a similar application to performing.

If an ineradicable quality of confidence is others’ willingness and ability to hear what you have to say, does this not speak directly to what we do as performers? Isn’t this why you find yourself on stage in the first place?

Art, particularly music, doesn’t happen in a bubble. It isn’t conceived or composed this way; neither is it meant to be heard in this manner. Music is in response to, and part of, life around us. It requires sharing. It requires receipt.   

So what, then, is being shared? 

When you play the Prokofiev, have you simply been put to task to play the written notes in the correct rhythms at the right time? Few people would say so. I’m immediately reminded of my first university teacher who used to tell me, “You don’t score points or get paid to play the right notes at the right time. That’s your basic job.” 

What, then, are we actually doing when we perform? Where is the art in music making? 

Reframe perspective

I contend it all rests in the sharing of one’s unique point of view, passion, and inspiration. It’s that inner stuff that makes you, you.  It’s what makes it your Prokofiev rather than a thinly veiled attempt to mimic another’s. If this is so, aren’t you then speaking a personal truth … a secret … a confidence? And, if we consider the fourth definition, mustn’t we also then trust those who are present to be able and willing to hear what we are saying (or playing)?

I believe this reframing perspective truly is a game changer.  Rather than seeing the faculty at a jury or an audience at your recital as needing to be impressed with your staccato eighth notes and warp-speed technique, trust that they are willing and able to hear what you have to say… they are able to hear you speak in confidence. The staccato eighth notes and warp-speed technique is merely the language in which you chose to communicate your confidences

In so doing, how would it be possible for you to perform with anything other than a full sense of confidence?

Rik Noyce | Whole Musician Founding Faculty | Youtube

Altus Flutes Performing Artist

Born and raised in Boston MA, he began musical studies at the New England Conservatory Extension Division and later earned his Bachelor of Music in Performance from the Hartt School of Music. After spending time performing in the New England area, he moved to southern California to continue his studies and establish his career in that area.

Rik holds a Doctorate of Musical Arts from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas School of Music, and a Master of Music with highest distinction from California State University, Northridge. He has served on both the Oral History and Archives Committees for the National Flute Association and on the Advisory Board for the Los Angeles Flute Guild.

Dr. Noyce currently serves as Senior Lecturer Loyola Marymount University as well as Lecturer in Music and Humanities and Supervisor of Classical Winds and Brass at California State University, Dominguez Hills. He has previously served as a Guest Professor of Flute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas School of music, and as a faculty member at the California State University, Northridge Department of Music.

In great demand as a recitalist and collaborative chamber musician, Altus Flutes Performing Artist, Dr. Rik Noyce, is known for his rich, expressive tone, exceptional musicality, and passion for chamber collaborations. An advocate of contemporary composition, he has commissioned and premiered numerous new works for flute, alto flute, and piccolo. He has held principal positions with numerous orchestras and wind ensembles, and performs throughout the United States, Canada, Central America, and Europe.