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In Performance: a musician takes stage fright to school



Michael Goode knows stage fright: the dry mouth, the sweaty palms, the shaky hands and shivering legs. He's suffered from bouts of performance anxiety all his life, but it became unbearable about ten years ago, while he was playing trumpet in the Danville Symphony Orchestra downstate. "We were playing Tchaikovsky's Capriccio Italien," he says. "I started to get nervous, started to get the shakes. It really terrified me. I told myself, 'I've got to solve this or get out of the business.'"

That quest eventually led Goode to the University of Chicago, where he put together an interdisciplinary program in "psychoneuromusicology" to study stage fright and the psychology of performing. In 2003 he self-published the results of his research as Stage Fright in Music Performance and Its Relation to the Unconscious.

Looking back, Goode doesn't think his anxiety is surprising. When he was in fourth grade a colleague of his father's gave him and his older brother a used trumpet. "My parents really despised music in all its forms," he says. "My parents used to get in shouting matches in parent-teacher conferences with my band director in high school. He would tell them I should consider going into music. And they would shout back it wasn't any of his business."

Goode was enthralled by the instrument, even though his music teacher thought he was better suited to the trombone. When Goode balked at switching, he says, the teacher "was so angry I had defied him he put me in the last chair for all three years I studied with him. When I changed schools in the seventh grade and they put me in the first chair trumpet, I was astonished. I didn't think I played that well."

In college at the University of Illinois, he majored in Spanish and Latin American literature, music, and business. He was still insecure about his talent, but he played music whenever he could. He even started a band, the Students, that performed around central and southern Illinois--Goode played lead guitar and sang.

After graduating in the early 90s he tried to juggle day jobs with gigs in the evening and on weekends. But even though he was playing both rock and classical (in small local symphonies) he couldn't make a living. Instead, he went into business outside Urbana as an organic fruit and vegetable wholesaler. He hoped he'd still be able to play on the side, but the job ate up all of his spare time, and for several years Goode gave up music altogether.

Then, in 1993, he was run out of the veggie business by a competitor. He was tying up loose ends in his office one day he when found his old trumpet "just sitting in the filing cabinet gathering dust." He got a twinge and decided to give music another go--though when he first tried to play again, the sound made him wince. For about a month all he could bear to do was "buzz the mouthpiece for 30 seconds a day," but eventually he called up the local junior college hoping to get into the community orchestra associated with it. "I prayed they wouldn't ask me to audition," he says. "I knew I couldn't pass an audition."

Luckily the orchestra leader welcomed Goode in without hearing him play. Encouraged, he started taking lessons again, and after about six months wound up at the Danville Symphony, where he had his epiphany. Inspired by a motivational tape called "The Inner Game of Confidence," by W. Timothy Gallwey, he started exploring his psyche, reading self-help books--Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way, Maxwell Maltz's Psycho-Cybernetics, and Betty Edwards's Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain--and getting Rolfed. "I did it because I hurt my arm playing rugby, but it also removes emotional blockages," he says. "I was able to release a lot of stuff that way. I watched John Bradshaw's tapes [on the dynamics of dysfunctional families]. I looked into everything. I discovered the more you know about yourself and your childhood upbringing the easier it was to deal with stage fright."

By 1994 Goode was commuting every weekend from Peoria, where his wife had a full-time job, to study with Chicago Symphony Orchestra tuba master Arnold Jacobs and trumpeter Adolph "Bud" Herseth, the bookends of the CSO's legendary brass section. Jacobs's encouragement was a boon--he once wrote a letter to the Aspen Music Festival and School recommending Goode as "more talented than nearly all the students I've ever had"--and Goode credits both that and Herseth's theories of the psychology of playing with helping turn him around. "[Herseth] knew how to explain what is in his head when he plays and what is in the head of a great player when he plays," says Goode, adding that playing well isn't a matter of hitting the right notes, but of maintaining the right state of mind. "When you play well, you hear the music a split second before you play the note. You think of a beautiful sound and then reproduce it."

He started studying stage fright in earnest in 1997, when he enrolled at the University of Chicago's Graham School of General Studies. He'd heard that CSO director Daniel Barenboim believed that every musician who auditioned for the orchestra should have an advanced degree of some sort, because "he thought that would impart a degree of professionalism." As he worked on his thesis he was surprised at how many people wanted to talk to him about his topic. Not just musicians, but also actors, artists, and writers, all of whom suffered some kind of performance anxiety.

The solution for all, he says, lies in the unconscious: "The trick is in getting our conscious thoughts to be exactly like our unconscious thoughts. When the two are aligned, there is no stage fright."

Today Goode lives in Oak Park and is assistant principal third trumpet in the Ravinia Festival Orchestra; he also performs with the Bismarck-Mandan Symphony Orchestra in North Dakota. In the last year he hasn't had as much time to play as he'd like, because he's been traveling the country leading workshops on stage fright and creativity, but he's got an audition with the CSO lined up for early September.

Goode will talk and sign copies of his book at Barnes & Noble, 1701 Sherman in Evanston (847-328-0883), at 7:30 PM on Monday, August 2; see for more.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Yvette Marie Dostatni.

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