Today I conquered a fear of mine I have had for a long time. I played piano in front of an audience! And they loved me!
Okay, so the back story goes like this: I started taking piano lessons when I was 15, by no means an old age but relatively late compared to many musical prodigies. Although I picked it up quickly and absolutely loved playing, I was not as used to being a ‘pianist’ and always found it difficult to play in front of other people. It was a self-image thing: I ‘just didn’t do that’ because ‘that’s not who I am’.
Sound familiar? Everyone has these sorts of limiting beliefs, or has had them, in some aspect of their life. These brains of ours are funny things. They can make you believe all sorts of crazy nonsense, and that’s often when it comes true!
Anyway, I had always wanted to volunteer to play at a local nursing home, after my teacher suggested doing so to help with my exam practise a few years ago. In 2010, I enquired about it at a retirement village near my house, and went back a few times to do paperwork. However, the red-tape proved too mighty and my starring role fell by the wayside. I tried to reprise my position last year, but ironically, the paperwork again made things complicated, and we lost touch and I let it go. Again.
This thing was starting to overcome me; I felt like I couldn’t do it, so why even try?
Last week, after thinking that ‘I Should Really Do That’ all year, I finally picked up the phone and called the nursing home again. I went in to see the coordinator on Tuesday, a different one to the previous ones I had dealt with. She was a breeze – asked me a few questions and said I would be welcome to come anytime. And I would even be paid! This was a mega-bonus, one that I was unprepared for initially, because I really just wanted to come to improve my piano skills and give a few elderly people a little bit of joy.
Today was D-Day; I had been nervous about it all week. Reprising some of my old pieces was sometimes easy, sometimes disheartening. Voices inside my head tried to sway me, and they sometimes succeeded. When this happens, my fingers stop working and the flow is interrupted, and this can be difficult to get back. After playing a few tunes in my living room in the morning, I headed off for my debut performance!
I was pretty damn scared, just because it is something unfamiliar, uncomfortable and was really putting me ‘out there’. At the same time, I knew that the residents would enjoy anything I did, and even just the fact that I was coming would be appreciated. That helped a lot. I knew I was going to do it anyway, and the world wouldn’t end, so in I went!
After a few greetings (and an admission of the presence of some mega nerves), I sat down for my first piece. I chose Bach’s Prelude in C Major because it is a beautiful piece (I knew it would be a crowd favourite – and I wasn’t wrong) and also I remembered it well from the years ago when I had practised it religiously. As I was playing, I was thinking to myself, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m actually doing this!’ It was a pretty special feeling. No matter how small it may seem or sound, this was huge for me. And it was even huger when I finished the piece and everyone clapped! It was so nice! Oh my goodness, what a feeling! I can see how people would get addicted to this… For me, I felt so accepted and appreciated and that I had conquered my fear. It was a very special feeling and one I won’t forget for a long time.
After my debut piece, I played a number of other songs, from all different genres, with varying degrees of success. As I started a jazz piece, they started clapping along – it was so cute. I felt really happy to be able to bring a little bit of light into these peoples’ lives. Of course, I made numerous errors, sometimes going completely off track and off key. They were a great audience though, very forgiving and kind. I thought to myself, ‘if this is as bad as making mistakes feels, everything will get better from here’. I want to be kind to myself because, although it was by no means perfect, the fact that I actually went and performed meant that I had achieved a longstanding goal. I am proud of myself for that.
I left at 12 so that everyone could have lunch, received my payment (can’t believe it, my first paid gig!) and scheduled to come in on Tuesday. I will definitely be honing my repertoire this weekend, that’s for sure! It’s funny how taking action, even in small ways, can really make a big difference. I still can’t quite believe I did it, and although I will feel nerves again, the fact that I have already done it and survived gives the fear less power. Fear is the most powerful emotion that stops us from doing things we want to do (according to Jeremy Renner, among others) and that’s not a good enough reason for me not to aim for my potential. Besides, it’s fun! I had a great time and a good old yarn to the residents too, they were lovely people and I’m looking forward to seeing them again.
If you have ever put off doing anything out of fear, I understand that feeling. By taking the tiniest of steps, however, you will slowly wear away at it, even just by acknowledging your competence and boldness in taking action. If you are prepared to push yourself out of your comfort zone (a teensy, tiny bit!) then how would you not be able to handle something way less scary than that? Often the notion of simply trying something new is far more terrifying than the act itself. I hope you have fun conquering your fears, and I will keep you informed of my piano-playing progress!