She wants to teach artists to overcome stage fright

Francisca Skoogh dreams of establishing an interdisciplinary centre for “performance science” at Lund University. She is both a pianist and a psychologist, and conducts research on her own relationship with the stage and stage performance anxiety. She is also a new member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music.

The concept on which Francisca Skoogh’s upcoming thesis is partly based has no real Swedish equivalent.

“In English it’s called MPA – Music Performance Anxiety – and refers to emotions linked to performance. For musicians, the Swedish equivalent for stage fright would first come to mind”, she says.

Surveys and previous mappings have shown that performance anxiety is common. In an orchestra, up to 30 per cent of the musicians suppress their anxiety with the help of beta blockers – a type of medicine that prevents palpitations. Francisca Skoogh often hears about how soloists, performing alone on stage, lose focus and feel insecure on stage. She does not have to go beyond her own perceptions and experiences to confirm those emotions.

She believes that one reason for performance anxiety could be the great respect for the old masters whose musical pieces are played by today’s classical musicians time and time again….

“Beethoven’s fifth symphony is to be played as it has always been played, but with new life. Not so much that your own personal touch overshadows the original work, however. This creates enormous pressure.”

Francisca Skoogh calls for training in a reflective approach to performance on stage, something that she thinks should be included already during studies and could act as a form of vaccination against MPA. The centre she wants to establish would be based on that specifically, and such centres already exist in other countries.

“At the Royal College of Music and Imperial College London there are such centres that are also intended for dancers and other professionals who perform in some way.”

She has noted some interest among her colleagues for such a centre which currently does not exist in Sweden, and would thus make Lund University a national forerunner. Especially young professional pianists seem to support the idea.

“But given how widespread performance anxiety and pressure actually is, very little is being said”, she says.

Francisca Skoogh thinks that classical music is a fantastic art form, but it is becoming less popular and something has to be done. She highlights Helsingborg’s concert hall as a good example of how to work with old and new pieces in a creative and modern way.

As she now takes her place as one of 170 Swedish members of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, she is setting foot on historical territory. The academy was instituted by Gustav III in 1771 and is composed of the Swedish members as well as 60 international and four honorary members. Women now account for 30 per cent of the members, as the result of the academy’s deliberate efforts for many years.

“I’m happy to have been elected as I would love to be involved and help influence through my dual expertise”, she says.

Read more about the Royal Swedish Academy of Music