Music Graduate Student Studying Effects of Performance Anxiety

Posted on 7/12/2018 2:37:42 PM

Katie Kohlenburg in front of a screen that has the IUP logoAs an undergraduate student at another college, Katie Kohlenburg had an experience that changed her life.

During an audition for a music program, Kohlenburg was told by the judges that she should pursue other academic disciplines because music wasn’t best suited for her. She was crushed, but she took their advice and enrolled in a different program.

The rejection did more than send Kohlenburg into a different major. It also gave her a sense of uneasiness any time she played music, and that feeling of anxiety only grew.

“I was always a little nervous in high school,” she said. “But it got worse after I auditioned for college. I didn’t know what I was experiencing. I thought something was wrong with me.”

Now a graduate student at IUP, Kohlenburg is working on a master’s degree in music performance. To enhance her studies, she is spending her summer learning about performance anxiety as part of the annual Research Experiences for Summer Scholars program. Kohlenburg will use her research to help her write her master’s thesis.

A native of Clarion, Pennsylvania, Kohlenburg is a graduate of Keystone High School.

Now in its fifth year, the RESS program allows IUP students the opportunity to do research in a field of their choosing under the guidance of a faculty member. This summer, there are 30 students participating in the program. The summer’s events are capped with a keynote speaker and a poster session in August. 

Although performance anxiety is something Kohlenburg is familiar with because of her own experiences, she said her research so far has shown that many people might have it, but they don’t always know exactly what it is.

“Not a lot of people understand what [performance anxiety] is,” Kohlenburg said. “There’s more material out there about sports psychology and test anxiety, but not much about this.”

According to her research, performance anxiety can manifest itself in many ways, ranging from physical to mental to emotional. But what she hopes to find is a pathway to easing the anxiety that can disrupt someone’s life.

“People think there’s something wrong—that they don’t belong in their field,” she said. “But it’s anxiety. It doesn’t mean they should give up. I really hope this can help others. It’s critical for performers to understand what anxiety is to learn how to cope with it.”