Getting Fearless with Jeff Nelsen

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This week we had a surprise visitor to our horn studio class at Arizona State, Jeff Nelsen, formerly of the Canadian Brass and presently Associate Professor of horn at Indiana University. He was in town and an open time in his schedule lined up with our normal studio class time. So, without telling the studio who the guest was going to to be, the four people who by luck of the draw had signed up to play in class played for Prof. Nelsen.

Nelsen has been working for some years on a project related to fearlessness in horn playing, including a book project and a summer workshop (to be held this year from August 15-19, 2011). His masterclass touched on the topic of fearlessness in a number of ways. This article of ten tips toward fearless performance has a number of the points he covered and he also touched on the topic of the magic line, addressed further in this article in his website. One particular challenge he gave each performer was to define something they were 100% positive about in their performance. In the first article linked above this is described as “strength-collecting.”

Think of something you did right. After a performance, take a moment to note the things you did well, he said. “Don’t start out by thinking about all the things you did wrong. You have to have a low tolerance for destructive thinking,” he said. Once you have listed several things you liked about your performance, a process Nelsen called “strength-collecting,” then you can move on to critique and identify a few areas for improvement.

Earlier in the same article we read also this section which defines his approach to fearlessness as follows:

Helping people transcend their fears is Nelsen’s specialty. He teaches seminars on “Fearlessness,” which he describes as “a mental state of complete faith in the moment at hand and any task ahead.” Feeling fearful detracts from your performance, he said, by causing you to focus on yourself rather than your mission.

Recently I heard someone else speaking of flying a helicopter in bad weather, that you could either fly in fear or fly in faith. Some readers may prefer that as a thought in relation to the opposite of playing in fear. In either case horn players as a group spend too much time in deep self criticism and outright fear of their instruments. I look forward to the completion of his book project on the topic, and those interested in more in the meantime should check out his website and his summer workshop.

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