As a piano student of Lili Kraus, I learned a rigorous technique, one that brings out the richest possible tones from the piano. The specific requirements were challenging: You must keep a loose wrist at all times, allowing a floating arm weight to drive microscopic finger stretches into the keys, all while leaping into and out of various hand positions for the music. When executed well, the performer can stun the crowd with how brilliant the piano can sound, but the performance can nevertheless leave the audience feeling empty.


In my own performances, sometimes I felt like I was made of wood, resulting in stiff performing; other times, I felt as though God put his finger on my head and everything flowed: I disappeared into the music, and so did my body and hands and fingers. I was, as people called it, in the zone, where nothing seemed to go wrong. During those magical times, I had no idea how I was playing the notes I was playing, but on recalling it later, I was using my fingers and hands and arms not at all as I had rehearsed.


At the time, I was stumbling on a gap between technical training and performance training, a gap no one had explained or even addressed. Whenever the topic came up, either in discussions or in the literature, the prevailing thoughts pointed to talent: you either had the talent to perform or you didn’t. But this maxim didn’t make much sense, either, because even with brilliant performers like Lili Kraus, some performances were far better than others. (See the case of the opera superstar here). Something more than technique, more than interpretation, more than professional competence—more even than talent—must be at work.


Luckily, at the early age of eighteen, I had stumbled not only on a question that fascinated me, but one that would lead me through many off shoots throughout my career, guiding me through the dimensions of excellence as it applies to all human endeavors, and ultimately the philosophy of beauty, grace, and communication I call zeriosantalios. I started this wide-ranging quest by asking a high-level question: Why do we humans even have musical performances? Why would one or a few people make a bunch of noises for another group? No other species seems to have quite the same behavior, yet we spend billions in our economy on it. I decided that musical performances—and any performance—must meet some profound, distinctly human need. Obviously, we can eliminate food, shelter, or procreation. We can eliminate the musical sounds, too, because, over the centuries, the sounds change, and audiences attend all kinds of music today. A plausible reason performances have flowered in our cultures must lie elsewhere.


I began reading psychology, philosophy, theology, and neuroscience, searching for techniques and pragmatic regimens that might lead to optimum performance. For myself, I treated each performance as a lab test, using myself as a guinea pig, each time trying a different set of exercises to prepare, especially when I found one that worked. After completing my bachelor’s degree, I shifted to singing, something I didn’t know anything about: being new and wholly ignorant about singing, I thought I could better discern the difference between technique and performance excellence, hopefully learning to distinguish the differences that matter.


Sometimes, an experiment was disastrous for the performance, but enlightening for me. Early on, while still a student, for example, I reasoned that if I was relaxed instead of tense, it would likely lead to better performance, since a tense state was certainly not conducive to peak performance—the kind of reasoning I later learned never works. I had read about Pavlov’s experiments that showed how to trigger physiological changes, like training a dog to salivate upon ringing a bell. I wondered whether I could train myself to achieve a relaxed state, one where my body had fluid and warm feelings, upon the triggers of the performance. I used the lights in the performance hall as the trigger for this state, like the bell tones in Pavlov’s experiments, rehearsing over and over the connection between them: seeing the bright lights, feeling the relaxed feelings. When I walked out on stage at the actual performance, I felt a warm flowing feeling pouring through my body when the spotlight hit me, a feeling I had never had before on stage. I was elated. The experiment worked as I intended: I had successfully introduced a distinctive state to occupy during the performance.


When my teacher came up with an astonished look on her face, asking what happened, I thought she was wondering how my performance could have gotten so much better. After all, I was totally relaxed. But she was astonished because I was singing as much as a third off pitch at times—a true disaster for a singer. And I was oblivious to it, happily singing onstage in a warm glow.


As embarrassing as this experiment was, I came to learn to love these failures. They taught me to continuously refine what was important. In these failures—and in the brilliant performances—across a wide variety of exercises and techniques, I finally developed a set of critical values and workable principles, writing them in the book, The Performer Prepares.


Ultimately, I answered the question of why we have performances in our human history in relation to states of being. We have plasticity in our states, from sleep to wakefulness, calmness to excitability, fear to awe, concentration to daydreaming—and every state in-between. But we need help exercising this plasticity. As an audience, we enter an empathetic loop with the performer—perhaps through the recently-discovered mirror neurons—following the performer as he takes himself through high quality states on stage, valuing the variability because we cannot perform this function easily by ourselves. In essence, we pay performers to guide us through different states, exercising the plasticity of our nervous system.


Broadening the range of our interior states probably has deep and ancient roots in our ability to survive, allowing for greater adaptability: perceiving the outlines of a tiger at night requires one state; spotting a healing plant in the jungle thicket requires another. The more states we occupy, the greater the range of our abilities to perceive and think. Just as we prized accuracy in throwing a spear and what it meant to our survival—a prize we heap today on accurate baseball or basketball stars—we prized richness in differentiating states—a prize we place today on rock and opera stars. In other words, a performer’s raison d’etre is rooted in our deep-seated urge to survive.


From this thesis, we can define excellence in performing: The performer must take himself through high-quality, carefully differentiated states while on stage. While some performers seem to do this naturally—the born performer—many people from different fields were putting pieces together to make it possible for anyone to develop heightened states and take them on stage. Such methods have been developed at Harvard, for instance, as approaches to heart health, as I’ve reported on and adapted for musicians. In every day life, we already teach state management, for instance, when we ask a child to sit still during class and run around afterward during recess, which has the features of developing a state for a specific time and place—the basic mechanics of performance skills according to this definition. We can extrapolate from this simple example, imagining how to build different kinds of states and how to organize them on stage. While ambitious, the goal becomes how to guide a performer to build high-quality, highly-differentiated states and occupy them during the performance, a goal with the expectation that it would be possible—and worthy—to aim directly at it as part of training excellence in performance.


Over the last thirty-five years, I worked with many performers, helping them reach heightened states, always with significant gains. I’ve extended these ideas from musical performances to work with athletes, dancers, attorneys, CEOs, even test-takers. Ultimately, I looked at the whole cycle of communication, from creator to receiver, and developed a complete philosophy and pragmatic methodology for building world-wide, communication platforms for conglomerates, a set of tools that collectively fall under The Celumbra Project.

Music Educators Journal

If you or one of your students are dissatisfied with your performance, and at a loss as to how to bring all your skill to the fore when playing, singing, or speaking before an audience, you will benefit from Robert Caldwell’s book The Performer Prepares. In fact, anyone who is involved in performing should have a copy of this publication to enhance his or her performance. Although that statement may seem to be an exaggeration, there is considerable justification for it in this comprehensive, well-conceived, and thorough manual….Beginning with the question, ‘What specifically is different about powerful performers?” Caldwell has compiled a large amount of helpful information to assist readers…this book’s value is demonstrated when the reader can open it to any page and discover a nugget of wisdom that can immediately be transferred into his or her own repertoire of performance skills. Read it, learn from it, and use it, and your (and your students’) performances will certainly improve significantly.

Music Educators Journal



Vladimir Ashkenazy

The Performer Prepares is well-researched and well-meant and servers recognition and a lot of attention. I think the book can and should be of definite help to many musicians who either aspire to perform or, having started to appear on stage, want to excel, be it through psychological exploration or just simply practical help.

Conductor, Pianist



The Discriminating Librarian

I was in a piano recital in seventh grade and that’s as close as I’ve ever gotten—or wanted to get—to giving a performance. And while, like most people, I believe that I can “recognize” a “great performance” when I see or hear one, I have no idea what it takes to be a great performer. Robert Caldwell addresses this issue in a new book called The Performer Prepares. Rather than follow a vague admonition “be more creative,” his new book discusses several practical techniques to develop imagination so that it is in line with the performer’s personality.

The Discriminating Librarian



Jean Herzberg

The Performer Prepares is the most complete and significant work on the inner preparation of a musical performance I have yet to encounter. This book begins where The Inner Game of Tennis ends. He gently and thoroughly leads the reader through the process of separation and re-integration of the different parts of the inner performer and of the performance. One feels the author is a warm and supportive teacher/friend who accompanies and encourages the reader at every step. The chapter on Stage Fright alone is worth the price of the book. This publication deserves a place on the bookshelf of every performer and studio teacher.

Voice Professor



Joan Wall

The Performer Prepares is an exciting, insightful book that shows performers how to attain ‘inspired performance’. Musicians who are interested in self-mastery can reach expanded levels of performance by using the practical, convincing, and encouraging suggestions offered by Robert Caldwell.

Professor Texas Woman’s University



Academic Library Book Review

Robert Caldwell offers a pragmatic approach to help musicians develop and master performance skills. Based on the author’s conviction that performance charisma can be learned and perfected, the strategies involve considerable material of value to musicians preparing for performance…could be adapted to other performing artists.

Academic Library Book Review



The American Music Teacher

Creating a convincing and inspired performance is the goal of the techniques Robert Caldwell describes in The Performer Prepares . . . we are provided with a unique hands-on approach to the subjective aspects of musical study: charisma, presence, nerves, stage fright tension and conviction. He has carefully laid out a map for traveling a treacherous road. This book is recommended as a useful resource for students and professionals.

The American Music Teacher



The American Music Teacher

The Performer Prepares: 100% Commitment videotape is a worthy adjunct to the book that will be of great interest to those who have read the book, and will encourage those who have not yet read it to do so.

The American Music Teacher



Carolyn Jones Campbell

The Performer Prepares by Robert Caldwell completely opens up that area of performance that every musician must face regardless of age – just how much they are going to commit to the recital or audition, how much they can manage their personal fears, doubts of their ability. And, when teachers work with Caldwell’s ideas as a regular part of each student’s learning process, gratifying and amazing things will happen in their studios.”

Composer/Piano Teacher



Alice Walker

When is a performance beautiful? Probing this important question, Caldwell illuminates the subtleties of managing musicianship, technique, interpretation, and imagination for the time on stage. This book is warm, supportive, and, most importantly, pragmatic: it belongs in every musician’s library.

Piano teacher

Frances Brooker

After I worked through the exercises, I cannot tell you the fine feelings I had on stage – I didn’t want to stop. I felt that I knew what I was doing, that I had something to express. Afterwards, people were telling me that they were surprised. They didn’t think I had that in me. It’s just that I had prepared in my own style, in my own way. I heartily recommend this book. It will help you get on top of your performances and create something special on stage.




Wilma Machover

The Performer Prepares Video —Milner is a most articulate subject, making the tape a worthy adjunct to the book.

Private teacher

You can preview before and after comparisons of singers when working with heightened states during the performance. These are taken from master classes I gave both early and later in my career, held at Texas Woman’s University and at the Berklee School of Music in Boston.

Preview Before & After Performance Work