The other day I decided to listen to recordings of piano pieces I played ten years ago. When I performed them, I was getting my music degree and was still terrified of playing the piano in front of people. I remember having been so mortified about being unable to express through my performances what I was feeling and thinking about the music.
I was amazed to listen to the recordings. They sounded fine. Some of them were good.
I couldn’t really understand it, because I’d listened before and never thought they were worthwhile. But as a piano teacher, ten years out, I heard them and found them more than acceptable. I am sufficiently divorced from the experience of playing them to actually hear them.
The fantastic lesson in this is that how we actually feel at the moment we’re playing may be undetectable to an audience. That seems absolutely impossible to anyone that’s ever had stage fright. The experience of hating yourself while you play is so ridiculously visceral that you honestly can’t imagine everyone else isn’t at least picking up on it.
But there I was, listening to that music. It sounded as good as the music of all those other players that I used to listen to. What do you do with that kind of revelation?
In his phenomenal book, Several short sentences about writing, Verlyn Klinkenborg says, “The only link between you and the reader is the sentence you’re making. There’s no sign of your intention apart from the sentences themselves.”
That means just because I’m ecstatic while writing doesn’t mean the reader will be ecstatic about what I wrote. It also means that just because I understand what I meant by those two words doesn’t mean the reader will understand. In short, I focus on what the reader will see, and I do my best to pick the correct words to match what I want to say.
If I am performing live, part of my presentation includes the expressions on my face, and the way I carry myself. I may influence my audience with bravado and stellar posture, or I may turn them off by being slovenly. However I intersect with them is what they will know about me, and I can to a large extent decide that, especially through the things I have prepared in my music making.
The other side of stage fright, that terrible feeling that everybody can read my mind and knows what a loser I am, is the terrible realization that few people know or even care what I’m feeling. It means that I am actually alone up there. The good news is, if I can connect through the music, I will no longer be alone.
The connection will come through the music making, and not through some psychic projection of my interior monologue. I have a job to do, and the power to do it. That’s all I really need to think about.
Do you agree? Or do you believe we as performers are much more vulnerable than I’ve given us credit for? The only way I can connect with you is through your reply, so please leave a comment!