Beta Blockers, Again

So, I’m back to the topic of beta blockers. Normally I wouldn’t write about the same thing, but it’s required for school, so bear with me as I analyze a couple of articles on beta blockers. 🙂

I read a pretty convincing article against the use of beta blockers today. It was titled In Praise of Flubs: The pursuit of perfection has taken all the personality out of recorded classical music. I came upon it on The American Scholar. While most articles I have read that disagree with the use of beta blockers for performance anxiety have a tone of judgment towards those who use them in music, this article seemed to have a sense of understanding. The author’s reasoning wasn’t based largely on ethical matters as so many others have.

The author, Sudip Bose, happens to be a violinist himself, playing from a younger age until he was in college. He played solos often and experienced stage fright in “varying degrees.” Right from the start, Bose lets the reader know that he has experienced performance anxiety himself. Often times, I feel as though people who disagree with the use of beta blockers, haven’t felt the need to use the medication themselves, because they don’t experience the same level of anxiety when performing as some do.

Bose goes on to discuss the importance of a little bit of nerves when performing, which I completely agree with. When in small amounts, adrenaline can go a long way in making a performance shine. As I’ve mentioned, rather than analyzing the ethical side of things, Bose focuses more on the listener and how they may be affected by the performer’s use of beta blockers. He contrasts the live performance with a studio recording. Obviously the live performance will have more adrenaline and will therefore seem more exciting and fresh, perhaps even more emotional, however the recordings are bound to be flawless, a documentation of technical perfection.


From what I gathered, Bose seems to be less against beta blockers than the concept of the recording: perfection. Bose misses a time when any and all mistakes were recorded alongside all the amazing musical moments on vinyl. He also talks about Vladimir Horowitz, who prior to my research on beta blockers, I knew very little about. It turns out that as a pianist, Horowitz suffered from performance anxiety.  He underwent a twelve year hiatus from live performance, returning in 1965 at Carnegie Hall. Bose recounts this concert, mentioning the fact that Horowitz made several mistakes throughout, but most notably in the very first phrase of the performance. But does this make Horowitz any less of a musicians? According to Bose, no. In fact, it makes him more of one.

“Perfection might awe us, but mistakes are more comforting. It’s good to know, after all, that our gods, despite their best intentions, can fall to earth from time to time.” -Sudip Bose


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