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Using Drugs to Calm Nerves

Taken from the Cello Chat Bulletin Board

Re:THE DRUG INDERAL (propranolol)

Posted by Wayne Burak on September 06, 1998 at 9:05 pm in answer to the following post:

I have a college audition comming up, it is really importatn to play my best. A friend of mine took some indoral (?) to make him less nervous. He gave me some and said it really helps. Does anybody do this? Is it ok? Does it work.

Mr. Burak's answer:

Yes, it works-but read all of this please.

Inderal is used to treat high blood pressure, angina pectoris, and irregular heart beats. It also has some preventative capabilities for migraine sufferers and heart attack patients. It belongs to a class of drugs known as beta-adrenergic blocking agents - or more commonly, beta blockers. These drugs work by controlling nerve impulses along certain neurological pathways. It of course has contra indications and should not be self administered in large doses- it could slow your heart down to very dangerously low speeds!!

Inderal is a prescription drug, and absolutely should not be mixed with others of it's class or alcohol. It is illegal to obtain Inderal without a prescription in the U.S. Also, without a prescription, don't even think of sending it in the mail! (also an offense) CAREFUL!

Traditionally, this drug has found it's way to many performance situations to calm nerves. Keep in mind that any pharmaceutical substance used to cover symptoms of worry, uneasiness, panic attacks, or jitters,never really solves the problem- it makes tolerating the immediate moment slightly more bearable. (This is why so many professional musicians have come to know beta blockers.) Over time, the amounts of a substance needed to attain a desired result usually increases, until a dependency is acquired. The classic example historically is the performer who takes a drink or two before playing a concert or substitutes another drug of choice before going "out there".

In some cases, Inderal causes excessive perspiration, clammy hands, and spaciness - so it's benefits have to be weighed against its liabilities.

My personal advice from the professional performance world:

Give yourself every advantage and opportunity to learn your program/audition list far in advance of it's show time. Check out your equipment! Get the bow rehaired, change your strings, and make sure the bridge heighth is OK. Dedicate MANY hours to learning all of the other accompanimental parts; piano, orchestral, etc. as well as yours. Videotape yourself and evaluate the performance. Visualize every day, a fine job done to your best effort. DO NOT change fingerings close to the big day - this is audition suicide. Play your program under every type of taxing situation you can - for critical picky observers, friends who are honest listeners, vocalists, teachers of non related areas, early in the morning, very late at night, tired, very hungry, very upset, cold, warm, and with distractions of whatever kinds annoy you. This is to simulate life in the real world. This is usually the type of preparation most students will not think of doing. Learning the correct notes and practicing in your room is only the beginning.

Also, a relaxation/destressing routine is essential to survival as performing professional cellist. Many of us do Yoga, Tai Chi, meditate, workout regularily, and eat well. All of this is part of long term healthy survival in the performance world. All of these disciplines help to build confidence and achieve a relaxed state of being.

Ideally, one should go out into an audition inviting the panel to enjoy with you, your love for the cello, music, and life. The world is drawn to people who are great at what they do, and enjoy what they do. Allow the enjoyment aspect to replace feelings of fear, worry, anxiety, etc.

Good luck.
Wayne Burak

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