Get Out of the Way-Performance Anxiety

“Get out of the way!”

I was shocked to hear those words coming from someone who had always been supportive of me.

I was never one to get overly nervous when performing.  I had confidence in myself, and a lot of pride to go along with it.

Until one particular time in my life…

When I was in college I transferred from ASU to UNLV-Reno.  Not because I particularly liked Reno, but because one of the biggest bigwig harp instructors in the United  States was teaching there and she asked me to come study with her. Not going to pass that opportunity up-no way.  Studying with Suzanne Balderston was AMAZING! She passed away a few years ago, but what she taught me will be with me forever.

Music majors are required to do lots of things they receive little or no credit for.  One of those things is to perform in a certain number of concerts through the semester.  Often, colleges and universities have regularly scheduled performance opportunities for students, and your instructor will sign you up to perform at the event.  Many music professors and students attend these performances, so when you are performing, you are doing so in front of people who are very educated as to what you are doing-a little (lot) intimidating.

Ms. Balderston signed me and another harpist up for one of these performances and we were playing a duet:

Sixth French Suite by Johann Sebastian Bach.  I was assigned to be Harp 1, which meant I was playing the higher part and my hands felt like there were above my ears when I was playing, and I had running 16th notes, played at a very fast tempo.  We had only had the music for about 3 weeks and I did not feel prepared to perform. No matter how much I practiced, I was never able to feel confident about my part.

The day of the performance arrived and I had a sinking feeling.  The kind of feeling that sits in the bottom of your stomach and let’s you know just how much you are dreading what’s coming, but you have no power to stop it. I didn’t let that feeling down-I royally bombed, and I felt bad.  Really bad.  Ms. Balderston was not able to be there to see the royal stinkiness, and for that I was grateful, but rest assured, she was filled in by the faculty members who witnessed my humiliation.  When I saw her later that afternoon I thought she would give me a hug and tell me I would do better next time-we had that kind of close relationship.

Nope.

The first words out of her mouth, “HOW DARE YOU!”  I was speechless…

She continued, “How dare you come between God, the composer, and the audience!” Still speechless…

“Do you believe in God?” she asked.  I nodded.

“Well God inspired these composers to create this music-how dare you let your pride get in the way of that inspiration. GET OUT OF THE WAY.”

I thought a long time about it then and in the years since.  As a musician I have had to determine why I perform and what I want to communicate through the pieces I choose to learn, practice, and share with others. If I truly believe God has inspired the music I choose, then who am I to get in the way of communicating that to His children?

I wish I could say in the years since this happened that I have not had any more performance bombs, but that would not be true.  Those bombs have all happened when I let my pride get in the way of the music. Now every time I perform, I over prepare.  I ask God and contemplate what He wants me to say through the music, then I

Get Out of the Way.

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