How will I go? Top tips for returning to in person rehearsals

Going back to in person rehearsals? Congratulations! Excited? Scared? Me too! Here's how to manage yourself and mentally prepare for going back, without burning out

Just like online learning was a massive challenge and drain for all of us, so is going back. For many, it's been a LONG time since we were last on a podium. You might be asking yourself:

Will I remember how to conduct?

What if I'm anxious?

What if I'm exhausted?

Am I the only one feeling like this?

Am I a bad person for not wanting to go back?

All these questions are completely normal and understandable. I've been seeing many people voice these concerns online in professional groups recently. You are not alone.

Here's my advice for getting yourself mentally prepared for going back.

Acknowledge and Accept Your Feelings

However you're feeling, accept it. Totally jazzed and revved up? Scared as hell? Both? All completely normal. Beating yourself up for not feeling 'how you think you should feel' isn't going to help you. Recognise and accept how you feel. It's likely there will be moments of both elation and misery. And both will pass.

Emotions, after all, are tunnels, not caves. We need to move through them.

Learn how by picking up the awesome book Burnout: Complete Your Stress Cycle by Psychologist Emily Nagoski and Conductor Amelia Nagoski or listening to the basics on Brené Brown's podcast.

Realise that the rollercoaster you're going through - everyone else is on one too. If you're working with young people, the highs and lows are even more amplified.

Name Your Feelings

Research shows that being able to identify our feelings helps us make better choices around what we do next. I use the Feeling Wheel in rehearsal and during score study all the time to describe musical characters. You can also use it to more accurately identify your own feelings (as can your musicians).

For more on this, check out Susan David's book Emotional Agility, and her discussion with Brené Brown.

Be prepared for tired

Getting back is tiring. If you've been online you've had one kind of stress on your mind and body (zoom fatigue, anyone?). Now you're stepping back into the arena, you might experience:

  • Physical tiredness from being on your feet all day or conducting hours at a time
  • Aural fatigue from things being louder than ever
  • Mental fatigue from having to concentrate in a different way
  • Social fatigue at suddenly being 'on' all the time in the presence of others
  • Emotional fatigue from dealing with uncertainty, a rollercoaster of feelings, and being worried about how things will go.

I've said it three times and I'll say it again.

This. Is. Normal.

So, take a deep breath and know that you're not a freak, or a bad person, or a bad teacher for feeling these things. They're real. And it makes complete sense that we feel them right now. Our entire selves are undergoing a massive contextual shift. Sure, it might be back to something similar to something we've done before.

Don't berate yourself by saying 'I should be fine, I've done this before'. You haven't gone back from online to in person before. You haven't been in a context exactly like this before. No one has.

(If you have, like me, 'come back' before...hopefully you've realised that it wasn't anything like Pre-COVID so you've given yourself some slack!)

Put your own oxygen mask on first

As we go back we need to really take care of ourselves as well as our students. In fact, we need to tend to our own needs first, in order to be the best conductors we can be.

If we're not functioning well we're liable to be less tolerant, less aware, less competent and less flexible. And now, more than ever, our musicians need tolerance, awareness, competence and flexibility from us.

If you're looking for some self-care tips there's...well, the entire internet to help this article I wrote on self-care for conductors (not just for holidays).

If you need help, reach out to your trusted inner circle or a national helpline. We're all in this together. It's a difficult time and there is no shame in seeking help. In fact, we CAN'T survive on our own. We're wired to connect and lean on each other. (Check out the Burnout book, above, for more gems on this).

And finally, something so important it's just a heading all on its own:

Be Kind To Yourself and Others

If you do nothing else, do that.


Enjoy going back to rehearsals - it is such a privilege to make music with others!

Read the other articles in the series of Tips for Returning to In-Person Rehearsals

What will it sound like?

What will rehearsals be like?

How can I plan for success?

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