Racing heart, sweating palms, shaking hands, rasping breath, thumping head, dry mouth – me. Me waiting to take my Grade One piano exam. All twenty-two years of me. A classic case of stage fright.
Like most children I took music lessons; recorder, piano, cornet, guitar. And, like most children, I gave it up – as most people are wont to throw away something and then all too late, realise its worth. So this year I made a resolution and in February I began piano lessons, take two. I was dubious about how long I would remain serious in this pursuit as resolutions (mine anyway) are easily made and even easier broken. However, it is so far so good and last weekend, along with a majority of primary schoolers, I took my first exam.
But I forgot something. A music exam is essentially a performance and I am an acute sufferer of a chronic condition that is so accurately described as ‘stage fright’. On sudden realisation of this, perfectly on cue and centre stage, enter the debilitating symptoms. At the time where it most matters, I find myself unable to perform.
Stage fright is a strange and unpredictable affliction. At the best of times, its presence can spur you on; time flies and before you know it everything’s over and you find that you’ve enjoyed yourself – a blossoming romance. At the worst of times, you are frozen to the spot, mind blank and just at the point where you would like time to skip forward so that you can race through this horrid experience and get the phase of regret and self-loathing over and done with, you find that time has stopped still – a blind date gone bad. Strangest and most worrying of all is when you expect it and it fails to arrive. The opposite is also true.
I don’t think it is a generalisation to state that all performers have to battle with varying degrees of stage fright at some point. It comes as part and parcel with the role. To be a performer is to allow yourself to be vulnerable and to take risks, which are frightening prospects in themselves. A true performer does this, however, in order to share or give something to the audience regardless of whether or not they value that gift. How truly wonderful – performance as an act of generosity! Don’t get me wrong, performers are not a selfless breed, the sacrifices made are duly rewarded but all the same, this is tonic to sober us when we catch ourselves feeling all too cynical.
Battle on my fellow sufferers. Look fear in the face and tell tales of survival, not defeat.