Overcoming Fear: Performing Music in Public

There’s a movie I was just recommending yesterday: Defending Your Life, with Al Brooks and Meryl Streep. It’s a romantic comedy with a fairly simple, unique premise. Brooks dies, and he goes to the afterlife, where he discovers this life is one big test to find out if we can overcome fear or not. If we’re still afraid when we die, then we come back to this life and try again. If we aren’t then we move on to the next plane of existence. To prove whether or not you’ve overcome fear, you’re assigned a defender who will use snippets from your life to show what you’ve accomplished. Of course, there’s also a prosecutor, who uses snippets to show just how scared you still are.

It’s a fun movie–you should check it out.

If it were true, I think one of the prime examples that a prosecutor would use to prove just what a scaredy cat I am would be my district orchestra audition Junior year of high school. I played the bassoon, in case you were wondering. A fairly obscure instrument, yes. But there were still other bassoonists there to compete against. When it was my turn to go, I was just. so. nervous. My hands were shaking uncontrollably, my mouth was bone dry. and all ability to play the bassoon seemed to have left my mind. (Have I told this story before? Seems like I have . . .)

Anyway, the audition did not go well.

The scores came back a few weeks later, and when they did, they were posted publicly. Of all the players, I had one of the worst scores. Not just bassoonits–players, period. (And yet I somehow still made the cut. How? They had slots for 4 bassoonists. Guess how many people auditioned?)

When I think of bad nerves, I still remember that experience first, every time.

Why do I bring this up? Because yesterday I was asked on the spur of the moment to be the accompanist for sacrament meeting. Something like 180 people there, and it would be me, playing very much in public.

Note: I am not a good piano player. I can play okay as long as there aren’t too many sharps or flats, and not too many parts for me to keep track of. There’s a simplified hymn book I practice from, and I sometimes I play in priesthood, but that’s about all I’m comfortable doing. Organ? Forget it. I’m not my grandfather by any stretch of the imagination. This wouldn’t just be public performance. This would mean I’d have to play during the preparation of the sacrament, which (if you’re not Mormon) would mean that there would come a time when the entire room would be quiet–no one singing–and everyone would just be listening to me play.

I said yes.

Why? Because there was no one else at the moment willing to play. (Someone came a bit later and offered to fill in, but at that point, I’d agreed to do it, and I didn’t want to back down from the challenge. I was overcoming fear here, peoples.)

I made a few demands, of course. We switched the songs to ones I could play, and I used the piano, not the organ. How did I do?

Not too bad. I flubbed a few sections here and there, but when the time came when I was the only one the room making noise, I didn’t hit a wrong note. Not too bad. (Remember, though–I was playing like 2 notes at a time. Maybe 3. Nothing complex.) Still, for not having practiced at all in preparation for it, I think I did well.

The high school junior in me celebrated that victory.

Still–I’m not looking for opportunities to perform for that big an audience again anytime soon. Yikes.

How about you? Conquered any fears lately? I really enjoyed the comments on Facebook where people shared their obscurely happy moments. So much fun to see what other people have experienced. So please, if you don’t mind, do share.

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