|Still image of Marlene Dietrich in Alfred Hitchcock's movie, Stage Fright,|
from Wikimedia Commons
In general I love performing but every so often I have a reoccurring nightmare that may or may not sound familiar in which I find myself being nudged onstage, holding an instrument I've never played, to play a piece I know I can't play.
Well, silly me - this past week I voluntarily chose to make this nightmare of mine a reality with quite an amusing but educational result.
Let me set the stage for you...
I play piano for a local cello studio that I absolutely love. With lots of wonderfully enthusiastic students, both young and old(er), it's a place where encouragement and support are always freely given. At the end of every school year a big recital is put together that is centered around some sort of theme with this year's being French music. Of course I accompany all those that are playing solos but I also use this occasion to pull my own cello out of the closet, not only to join in on the ensemble numbers, but also to play a solo myself. I always leave learning my piece to the last week which tends to make me a bit nervous, but it's a slight discomfort that I'm willing, even eager to bear in an effort to give back to this studio that gives me so much throughout the year.
This year I took everything a little too far. My husband, a wonderful singer, declared that he really wanted to take part in this year's event so we decided he would sing Reynaldo Hahn's exquisite song, "A Chloris" in addition to me playing the cello solo I had already picked out for myself. Well, for some reason I didn't think it would be right for me to just accompany him from the piano (it was a cello recital, after all) so brilliant me decided that I'd arrange it for three cellos. I quickly realized, however, that having a cello on the top line of the piano part would get in my husband's way so brilliant me declared, "I can play it on the flute!"
Oh my heavens. I have no idea what I was thinking and I often wonder if I'm a bit off-kilter to come up with such a wacky idea. You see, I don't really play the flute. I own a flute, yes. I have taught myself (sort of) to play, yes. But have I ever played for anyone other than myself, my daughter, or my husband? NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!! Have I ever performed on the flute? On stage? In front of people? I think you know that answer to that.
But as soon as my brilliant idea came out of my mouth my husband readily agreed and even seemed a bit excited. Oh dear.
I made the arrangement, I practiced (a little bit,) and the next day we all rehearsed - it actually went pretty well. I got some good tips about vibrato and breathing from some of my twitter and Facebook friends over the next few days and I was feeling like this might actually turn out all right. In fact, I was thinking that it might even be kind of fun.
Then the performance day arrived. It was an absolutely crazy day and we didn't have a chance to run through the Hahn until 15 minutes prior to concert time. That's when my gum-drop sweet visions of becoming an official flute player quickly soured into a nightmare. Halfway through the run-through I couldn't get any notes out of the flute. Nothing. Nada. It was like the bad case flutingytis, if there is such a thing. Being a pianist and a cellist, I had never experienced anything like this. You can always get a note out of either of those instruments - it might not sound very good, but still. And this was one of those cases when my knowledge about performance anxiety didn't help at all. All I could think about was the terror I knew I was feeling.
Backstage, the cellists asked for me to play an "A" so they could tune to me but I could barely get anything out which just made matters even worse. At one point I looked at my husband and said, "I really, really can't do this."
But guess what? I didn't have a choice.
So we walked out on stage and did it. Let me rephrase that - they did it and I came along for the ride, adding some notes here and there to the best of my ability. As a seasoned performer and one that writes about dealing with performance anxiety all the time on this blog and elsewhere, this was all quite humbling. When I walked off stage, I was devastated, frustrated, embarrassed, and a bit mad. My poor husband got quite the icy reproach that he didn't deserve since it was my idea in the first place. But after a few minutes of cooling down, I managed to turn myself around and to see the lemonade in my handful of lemons. Being the generous person I am, I'll share some of my lemonade with all of you, in the hope that something sweet will come out of this experience that might otherwise be humiliating. Here's what I learned:
- I was made viscerally aware of what it feels like to be glued to the floor in terror prior to walking on-stage and how helpless one can feel when something goes terribly wrong right beforehand. Hopefully this will come in handy when I'm accompanying someone in the same boat.
- I learned how dangerous it can be to practice a lot the night before, especially considering how out of shape/inexperienced I am. That night I tweeted and posted on Facebook that my lips were tingling - I think that was a sign that I had, perhaps, overdone it.
- I realized what a blessing it is that I feel so comfortable at the piano and it confirmed for me that piano truly is my instrument! I was talking to an adult cello student after the concert about this and she told me her story - that she started off as a pianist but never felt quite right at that instrument. As soon as she switched to cello she felt right at home and has never looked back to making that switch. So perhaps we all have instruments that are simply "meant to be" for us and there's nothing wrong with that.
- I learned how important it is for a musician that uses breath to be well hydrated before walking out onto the stage. In the craziness and busyness of the afternoon I didn't allow myself the time to drink any water nor did I realize I should be thinking about that. As a pianist I can play with the flu, with a migraine, dehydrated, and starving...I don't think anyone can do that with the flute.
- I was reminded of how much harder on myself I am than anyone else, especially the people in this audience and in this cello studio is. I was absolutely convinced that I had made an utter fool of myself and I think there are some that realized that was a shaky performance. But for the most part my performance received many compliments that completely blew me away. I even had several people say that they had always pictured me as a flutist. Ha! That made me chuckle.
Will I ever pull out my flute again? Probably. I like playing it too much.
Will I ever perform in public again? Not any time too soon. But I am kind of crazy so you never know.
Do I regret having performed yesterday? I did at first. But now? Nah. I happen to really like lemonade.