Paralyzed By Fear - Part Three - Performing

Posted by Steven Russell on Sunday, November 23, 2014

In a recent post I wrote about my early developing fears of performing at piano recitals when I was young. Soon after that post I performed in a concert with a friend. I decided to use the event to study my fear, and to attempt to overcome it, at least in some way.

 I've known my friend Craig for seven years. He does much the same thing as I do, direct the music program at a church full time. We met at a summer workshop. Other than that workshop I really haven't interacted with him musically. We see each other every year at conventions, and chat often on Facebook.  This concert was a way for us to finally perform together. We had met twice to rehearse together. The concert consisted of him playing the organ, which is his primary instrument, at which he is very good, me playing the organ, which is not my primary instrument, at which I am passably good, but nowhere near as good as Craig, me singing while he played, us playing a duet at the organ, which was a lot of fun, and us playing a duet at the piano. An oboist friend of his played as well. 

The pieces where I sang and Craig and the oboist played were delightful to do. I spend so much of my time teaching and leading other performers that it was nice to perform with other people who do mostly music for a living. I have to say I had no anxiety doing those. I will admit that I worried constantly that ragweed would get the best of me, and that the day before I'd have to tell Craig that we'd have to cut my singing out of the program. But at the performance I did nothing but enjoy performing, and revel in the high level of art we were creating.

The organ duet was another issue. My wrists and finger action have been in a slow decline over the last eight years. I cannot play things at the difficulty level I once could. My wrists cramp. My fingers start to numb. My hands get cold. This was happening during our practice right before the concert. I turned to Craig and said what was happening. It happened to be at a place where I was using only my right hand, and had to crook my wrist in an uncomfortable way. He said, "Can't you switch between left and right hand?" It was one of those moments where you feel like an idiot, but the idea is too good to let it pass. What a sensible solution. Right before my right hand started to cramp I just switched and played with my left for a while. I got through that piece rather well. I was nervous right before the concert started. That piece was right near the beginning. I thought people would certainly know my weaknesses right out of the gate. But as the piece concluded and I hadn't made much of a mess of it, I launched into my most difficult solo piece. My heart was still pounding, but it was the best I had ever played it.

After that, as I sat listening to Craig play beautifully, effortlessly, I looked around the audience. People smiling. Enjoying an afternoon of music. I decided to make them my friends too. They weren't there to judge me. No more than Craig did at my moment of weakness earlier on. The rest of the concert was fun. My singing seemed more expressive. My playing light. Effortless in general.

 At the reception two women came up to me and told me that I made them cry. Out of reflex I said, "Was I that bad?" They said, "No your singing." They were moved by my singing and my artistry.

 Ah to only go back to Mrs. Benish's living room piano recital and be able to undo the knots in my stomach and overcome the feelings of dread.

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