Focus on Helen Spielman
Published in the Seattle Flute Society Newsletter, February 2009 in conjunction with Helen’s Performance Anxiety from Inside Out workshop at Seattle Pacific University.
How did you get started in music and with playing the flute?
I’ve actually had four careers so far. I began playing the flute in elementary school, but although I adored my lessons and playing in orchestras, I knew from the time I was twelve that I wanted to teach blind children. I continued studying the flute throughout my adolescence and in college, even holding a paid chair in a semi-professional orchestra in my twenties after obtaining my Masters Degree in Special Education. After teaching visually impaired children for thirteen years, I became nationally certified in counseling and worked as Director of Bereavement Counseling for Hospice. When I became unhappy due to newly imposed bureaucratic Medicare regulations, I’d mutter to myself, “Gee, I could teach the flute and be happier than I am now.” So I put an ad in the paper, and got one student. After a year and a half, I never advertised again, and have had a busy, lively studio for 19 years. And although I still love teaching, I also began to do performance anxiety coaching about six years ago.
How did you get into the field of performance anxiety?
I didn’t seek out this field – it came looking for me. I’d always had an interest because so many of my students, especially the adults, experienced stage fright, and I loved to incorporate the alleviation of their fears into their flute lessons. I’d also struggled with severe performance anxiety myself, starting from my earliest memory in fourth grade when I became humiliated while giving a presentation in front of my class. By the time I was in college, I couldn’t raise my hand to ask or answer a question in class. I never played a flute solo, although I could easily play in ensembles. Later, I confronted my fears and succeeded in becoming a joyful flute soloist and a public speaker, finding a freedom on stage I never imagined possible. I spent much time and energy researching the field of performance anxiety.