Friday, June 19, 2009

Performance Anxiety

"Play Ikau..."
"Play Feelings..."
"Play Nadia's Theme..."

I grew up with a mediocre piano instructor and a limited array of sheet music at my disposal. I rarely played in front of strangers and when I did, it was often filled with distress and a feeling of oppression. They were largely on occasions when my parents would "encourage" me to perform in front of others.

Yes, this is about, performance anxiety.

So I surprised myself when I assented to playing for the Taize service at church last night. It's not as though I don't want to participate. For the past twenty years, though, my public performances have been in music. I've sung on a Hollywood stage, at Disney Hall, in downtown L.A. churches, and in Pasadena churches. OK, so I did Dead Parrot with Michael Palin at the Royal Festival Hall in London in an ad lib fashion during a book signing. But that's it. No piano.

I attend Taize services because I can relax and meditate, pray and reflect. It's certainly not what I experienced last night.

The chapel was hot, as the cold wet spell in Pasadena finally gave way to more typical warm temperatures. I was uncomfortable hot. My palms got sweaty and my glasses got steamy.

And boy was I stressed. For the first few songs, I kept losing my place in the simple chant music. It's not by all means rocket science, but it surprised me how anxious I was.

I finally calmed down, played more straight-forward, without flourish, and all straightened up. Soon I was able to allow the music and the meditation soothe me.

Will I do it again? Sure. I think I won't be as stressed as before. But after watching another season of American Idol where people sang as they played, and thinking of all the musician singers I've loved all these years, I've come to thoroughly appreciate the talent people have out there. What a joy and gift to be able to play multiple instruments (yes, the voicebox is an instrument that must be mastered) in front of strangers.

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