I've been performing in front of live audiences since the age of 12. I've played for family, friends, school functions, choral programs, big stage shows, cafes, pubs, festivals, and international audiences of over 2000. And while I have banked all these stage hours, I still get nervous to get on stage.
This past week was a buzz with the CD finalization, promotion correspondence and meetings, new student preparation, lesson planning for summer programs, etc. I had very little sleep and downtime.
The week started with my student's voice recital on Sunday. What a remarkable experience it was to witness the growth of my young singers/performers. Many of my students were performing for the first time ever. There were little nervous eyes staring back at me during our warm-up/pep talk before the recital. I remember quoting my past teachers and the wise words they spoke to me before going on stage…
My choral teacher, Mrs. Robbins, said, "Bend your knees.. Breathe!. You do not want to faint."
Chuck Soumar, vocal coach for Morton High School productions and from the band The Ides Of March, told me before the opening night of Fiorello, "Sing like you will never have another opportunity to sing again in your lifetime."
Kind and honest words from Tom Rusnak, my theatre teacher, rang out, "Trust yourself. It's all there."
My students rocked the recital! I am so proud of their journey! It was amazing to see them wrangle their nerves, find their breath, and sing out!
Last night at the Northwest FolkLife Festival, I had such a case of nerves.
I was knock kneed, short of breath, and my mind was a flutter. One of my reset buttons when my nerves get jumbled is to mutter internally 'surrender'.
First song... "Surrender"... still short of breath.. can't hear my guitar, ... insert about 4,000 other worries and silly concerns....
Second song... "Surrender"... still jumbly.. still knock kneed... was kicking myself for eating those Might O doughnuts an hour before the show.. Perhaps I was all jazzed up on sugar! Oye!
Third song.. "Surrender".... a bit better. The tune was an old standby for us. It was pretty solid.
Fourth song... the new song... the one I was most tangled about. My hands were shaking; my heart was snuggling up with my tonsils. Deep breath "Surrender.. Surrender.. Surrender..". I ebbed and flowed. The song is deeply personal and that alone is sometimes an uphill endurance adventure. To allow yourself to become vulnerable in front of 50+ strangers is a tough one. By end I think I was surfacing back in the land of the normal.
After the show, many friends and fans greeted us with "well Done" and "great job". We made some great contacts, sold CDs. I am very proud of the band and their performance. They rocked it. I am also my worst critic and felt that I cheated them in some way for being out of the performance for so long. It was my dear friend, Dan Niven, who I believe is truly an angel, that told me, in essence, to relax and to assume the theatrical light. He was so right! I suppose sometimes smiling with your upper teeth while your heart is on Mister Toady's wild ride can be complicated. :D
There are days when the freckle-faced, 15 year old, "Sandy" who is getting ready for opening night of Guys and Dolls peeks through my thirty something eyes. She makes me remember that getting lost in my head isn't going to get me through the show; it keeps me from the magic. It is humbling to have these kinds of experiences. Keeps my ego in check, keeps me in the moment, and reminds me to surrender and let it happen.
"Trust... it's all there!"