Stage Fright Steals the Show

“I was walk-” The music continued and my mind blanked. I forgot the words to a song. Oh crap, I thought and this was being filmed too. My body went red hot and my face flushed. Okay, next chord, don’t act like you forgot the words. “I walking up the front-”

My guitar instructor and bassist Brian interrupted, “Wait, wait,” beats of silence as I continue to play the guitar. “Okay, now,”

“I was walking up….” I started to mumble, the words just weren’t coming to me, it was as though my brain had turned itself off to leave me stranded in an empty desert, and Brian saved me, “After everything that day,” I could feel the sweat on my face as I recovered from my mistake. How could this ever happen to me? I’ve never forgotten something once I memorized it. From the poem I recited on stage in second grade to singing “What a Wonderful World” in fourth grade I’d never forgotten something like this.

How do I explain what happened that night? I can’t. Stage fright had finally come out from wherever she was hiding, like a monster under the bed, and she bit me in the ass. Every single time I had bragged about never having forgotten the words or music, or being nervous enough to do so had finally come back around.

I had been looking forward to performing on stage for as long as I could remember. From being a little girl singing “Indian Outlaw” and “Any Man of Mine”, to being in a Christmas play at school, I had thrived on performing and enjoyed the thrill. When I got up on stage, it was like there was nothing else. There was such a rush each time I stepped up and was able to perform a song flawlessly.
My journey to this stage performance started out in a dusty room in Germany. I remember the first time I met my old piano teacher, I thought he would be a mean old man. Truly, he was the nicest, most patient music teacher I have ever had. As a five year old, I began my journey to musicianship by learning what is perhaps, the most fundamental instrument in modern music. At the time I didn’t want to learn music, I was too focused on being a kid, and only gave half an effort at learning to play music. My piano lessons went on until I moved back to the United States for middle school.

When I started band in middle school I learned how to play the clarinet, and by the end of middle school ended up first chair with a whistling solo in one piece, I was overjoyed. My dream of becoming a professional musician seemed to be on the horizon, with only high school, and then a little college afterwards standing in the way. As soon as I could, I bought myself a saxophone, the other instrument I had wanted to play and taught myself. The world of jazz music now beckoned to me. However, there was still more that I wanted to learn however: a stringed instrument.
I formally took up guitar about halfway through my junior year of high school, when I wanted the challenge of mastering another instrument. Finally, I was learning to play the coolest instrument ever. The studio where I learned had a recital every quarter and, starting just a week before the next one, I was to wait until April to play at my first guitar recital. After dabbling in electric guitar, and deciding that I enjoyed playing my acoustic more, I started to focus on learning the basics of country music. During those four months, I played everything from the twelve bar blues to Sugarland until I found a song that I wanted to play.

“Our Song” by Taylor Swift was one that I had enjoyed since it came out and had been one of my first attempts at teaching myself a song on guitar. My instructor Brian seemed to think that I would be able to pull off both playing the guitar and singing and so began my lessons in earnest. I lived and breathed both that song and country music for those four months. Every break I had in school, I was pulling out my guitar and practicing. This, I knew, would be my key to starting out performing in various places. From the little studio where I was being taught guitar, to open mic nights wherever I might go to college, to hopefully being the next Carrie Underwood or Miranda Lambert.

I can’t even tell you how many times I played through that song with the recording in the background. I could now harmonize with Taylor Swift without even trying. I began to think that I knew the song and that I would be able to sing it when I would go on stage. With this confidence, I practiced the weekend before the recital all day, until my fingers were sore from playing the guitar. Finally, it was the Sunday of my recital.
Tonight was the night. I was about to go on stage and start my dream of being a country singer. It was my first guitar recital, and, even as a performer who had started on stage in second grade, my nerves were there. Good, I can channel them into creating a great performance and use that on stage. As the last of the electric guitar performers, my brother, was cheered off stage I took my earbuds out and gave him a high five, nervously tuning my guitar one last time.

I looked around the room that usually held a drum set, several guitars, and was brightly light. Tonight it was cramped, tightly packed with guitar cases from fellow performers, spare strings, and even a discarded microphone. It looks like the holding room for a giant superstar band was my only thought. As I shook off my introspection, I put the guitar strap on, adjusted my shirt and walked on stage. With nerves that made me forget how to position myself so that the mic would pick up both the guitar, and my singing, I stepped on stage. I could feel the blinding lights and the heat that they gave off, the sounds of the band were mere background for me. When I started to play, I felt myself slip into the blessed zone of muscle memory and practice. The first verse went by perfectly, then the first chorus, and I relaxed my tense frame. Then came the second verse, and a temporary blank in my memory. I couldn’t for the life of me remember the words that came first in the verse. In that moment, panic set in and I felt myself lose control and let the panic take over.

With sweat rolling down my face, I continued to play the music as my instructor saved my performance. After that near miss, I played the rest of the song with no interruption. My groove was back. Yet, I have no desire to go back on stage. The memory of that first guitar performance has stayed with me for these last four years.

The day after this performance, I found that my video has been posted on YouTube. To this day it only has seventy-eight views, but the fact remains that my failure is recorded for everyone to see. My mom thought that it would be a wonderful way for those in our family who live far away to see me perform. It was supposed to only be sent to my dad, who was stationed in Korea at the time, but he showed his friends, and it seemed only to make the response more positive. I cringe at the video where others think it an example of carrying on through mistakes.

My embarrassment has led to me not being able to sing that song to this day. My nerves get the best of me and I forget the lyrics to that song. I ask this question of myself constantly: would it be different if I hadn’t forgotten the lyrics? To live and to play music has always been a dream of mine, and to see it crushed because I have forgotten the lyrics to one song is not what should have happened.
Yet, one tiny failure can, as is said in Pitch Perfect “haunt you for the rest of your life and affect your children.” What I mean by that is that one failure, especially one that shakes the confidence you have in your own ability to do what you love can make you put your dream on hold. At least until you get your confidence back, each little musical victory at a time. Learning to go back on stage and perform again, unafraid that you’ll fail is a skill that takes time, practice and a certain level of cockiness I have yet to attain.

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