I was inspired to write this post after reading fellow blogger Talasi Guerra’s post on waging war on fear @ Braver than Before! Actually I summarised this in a comment to Talasi’s said post, and I thought why not write a more detailed version on my own blog? (Thanks for the idea, Talasi! 😛❤️)
If you’ve read my last week’s post about playing piano, you know that I, well, play the piano! It’s just a hobby, with my husband and (unwilling 😛) neighbours as audience, but sometimes when I practice, I get that random fantasy of performing a dramatic song in front of an audience and getting an incredible show of hands, followed by a gushing “What a great performance!!” after.
The problem? I have stage fright!
But I’ve Performed on Stage Before!
I suppose I was a bit better at managing stage fright when I was in high school. The school had a really old, untuned acoustic piano in the hall, tucked in the corner by the stage. I have a liking for testing pianos that aren’t my own, so sometimes after an indoor gym class or extra club activities there, I’d sit down and have a quick go at the piano. Despite it being old and severely untuned, I could still get a general feeling of my songs onto the keys. 🙂
Then the school counselor (whom I knew because I was in the Peers Guidance Club she manages) found out that I could play, and she nominated me to play an accompaniment song during the upcoming awards ceremony! Not only that; because we were going to have a VIP over, I was to play a solo performance! The horror!!
Luckily I had the perfect song for the awards ceremony accompaniment, so there wasn’t a need to learn any new songs (phew!), plus I knew a lot more other songs so I just needed to pick one for the solo performance. Also, because the piano was facing a wall, I wouldn’t be distracted!
Or so I thought.
During the full dress rehearsal (the teachers actually got the entire school to sit in the hall like the real thing), I was to perform. I did fine during the first half of the awards ceremony, so no problem there.
But, in the middle of the solo performance, something distracted me. I stopped playing because I forgot the next part (especially since I play with muscle memory rather than my mind). For a moment I just sat there without moving, trying to remember where I was.
I glanced at the teachers. Then at the hall full of students.
Eyes stared back at me in the silence.
I was embarrassed, worried. I bashed myself with, “Noooo! You ruined the whole thing!”
But then I remembered it was just a rehearsal. So I swallowed my embarrassment, took a deep breath and started the solo song from the beginning again. This time it ended without a hitch, all the way to the end of the second half of the awards ceremony! And no one spoke to me about the mishap; I suppose they understood the performance jitters.
When the actual event came a couple of days, thankfully there was no issue with my performance. In fact, the counselor told me later the VIP said it was a good! Confidence boost +1!
At a another school awards ceremony months later, all my performances went well without a single problem. After I graduated from high school, I heard the school board wanted to continue having a student pianist for award ceremonies, so I suppose I started a new trend at the schoool! But then again I doubt it, because our culture is such that we prefer someone else to volunteer. 😛
Years passed without another chance for me to perform in front of an audience, though at this point, I thought I was over stage fright!
Last October, my office department organised a social event, a buffet dinner at a hotel banquet hall. My sister (who also works in the same team) was roped into the event organising committee, and I volunteered as well (since she would have to go there earlier and we would have to carpool together anyway).
Days after, my boss (who was the committee chairperson and emcee) suggested in the passing that I should perform at the event (and I responded, “With what? Balancing plates on chopsticks?!”). He knew I could play the piano and I suppose was trying to get me to perform. During the meeting later on, he said the committee was looking volunteer performers, and in a lapse judgment (and probably filled with guilt), I took the plunge and volunteered to play the piano at the event!
Immediately after that meeting, I was already regretting it.
Right off the bat, there were hurdles; the hotel didn’t have a piano, so I had to look for someone who had an electronic keyboard. It turned out that another committee member had one, so I had her lend it to me, but due to a few schedule conflicts and other mishaps, I couldn’t pick up the keyboard until 1.5 weeks later. The delay wasn’t too bad, since I could practice on my own piano, and an electronic keyboard was quite similar to a piano.
Or so I thought.
After playing my usual songs on the electric keyboard, I thought the only similarity it had with my acoustic piano was, well, the keyboard. Aside from that, everything was different than what I was used to on an acoustic piano – the keys felt more like soft organ keys than piano ones, the sounds were artificial (since there weren’t strings in it), and the keyboard had less keys than my piano.
The biggest issue: the keyboard didn’t have a sustain pedal.
To me, that was like piano horror. Without going into a long explanation to non-pianists; in a nutshell, the type of songs I play sound way better with the sustain pedal than without. Some pianists would argue that I should play without the pedal and my skill would improve… but to heck with skill! I just wanna play for fun!
I tried playing all the songs I knew on the keyboard without the pedal. I tried adjusting my style of playing, in hopes of getting it to sound at least a little similar to my usual style. But by the end of my hours of testing, the muscles on my hands were tired and I was grumpy, because I didn’t enjoy playing on the keyboard at all.
I had to decide really quickly – I had about 2.5 weeks remaining to practice before the event – so it was either; a) I suck it up and play my songs anyway; or b) I learn new (jumpy) songs that didn’t require the sustain pedal.
The problem with option a? My motivation was at rock bottom; I had no desire to play anything if I didn’t enjoy it.
The problem with option b? It usually took me months to learn a new song at my own pace.
Still, I thought it would be cool to be able to learn a new medley, which is basically a few songs strung into one, so I decided to try leaning 6 songs in 2.5 weeks! All 6 songs are soundtracks from an old game series called Super Mario Bros (you can see my love for video game soundtracks there, eh? :D), I’ve wanted to learn for a while!
This is one of the songs I learned, the main theme for Super Mario Bros:
Even with a video game song medley, there were many times throughout that I thought of quitting. I swayed between refusing to practice and practicing 6 hours a day, all the while thinking my playing was horrible on the electronic keyboard. When I tried to record a sample play for the committee to listen, my playing became even worse and I had to retake over 20 times in order to get a good 1-minute recording. I became grumpy most of the days, and my husband (gently) told me so.
But in the end I preservered! I clocked over 40 hours of practice over 2.5 weeks, stumbling more than a toddler.
When the event finally arrived, I couldn’t eat much throughout the day. I made a mental note to myself to at least practice a few times by the time the event started, at least to get used to the sound of the electronic keyboard through the speakers, but I only got to play 2 short exercises and a round of the whole 7-minute medley before it was time for me sit at the registration table (I was in charge of registration too).
By the time it was 9 PM and my turn to play on stage, my stomach ached pretty badly from bloatedness and probably indigestion from dinner. I was full of nothing but jitters when I got onto the stage, my fingers cold and stiff (they’re particularly sensitive to cold air).
When I performed, I was such a nervous wreck that I didn’t really feel the songs in my heart. But my fingers moved almost on their own, as my eyes focused on the keyboard and my mind tried to remember how the songs went. I made quite a few mistakes, inwardly groaned at each one of them and hoped they didn’t notice it.
When I was done, the loud claps said I did well. When I sat down, a colleague I knew said, “I thought you were going to play classical, but you played Super Mario songs!” After the dinner, a few others came to me and said, “What a great performance!”
And that just made my day. 😄
So, in the end, it still turns out I still have stage fright. A terrible one, too. I have a tendency towards low self-esteem, so I suppose that’s what fuelled it.
But it looks like I’m not the only one with the problem; even famous artists have it!
And we introverts aren’t all doomed:
Why introverts make great actors and orators
Before they became celebrities, famous introverts were just quirky kids who lived inside their stories, and made speeches to their stuffed animals. Later, they were the ones who would skip a party to practice a speech. Or stay up all hours to perfect a dance choreography.
Introverted excellence – whether that be in the spotlight, or the lamplight – is usually the result of solitary obsession.
~From Introvert Spring: STAGE FRIGHT! Can Introverts Handle The Spotlight?
I suppose that’s how I made it through my piano performances. 🙂
Lesson learned, though? I’m never volunteering myself to performing at an event ever again! (Unless they have a shiny grand piano for me. :D)
A Short Self-Compassionate Letter
I’m so proud of you! You went beyond your comfort zone and worked hard at practising even when you were severely demotivated! It doesn’t matter that your performance wasn’t as good as you think, it doesn’t matter that you made a few mistakes, and it doesn’t matter that you didn’t feel the songs in your heart. All it matters is that you took the plunge, went all the way and emerged victorious! You did well and I’m proud of you. 😀