The first time I performed on classical guitar was my freshmen jury. I had just started CG four months before. For those that are unfamiliar with juries, you walk into a room and play for a bunch of music professors. They give a grade that is supposed to influence the grade you receive in lessons for the semester. Most of the time your private instructor/professors disregards them and gives you an A.
I walked in ready to perform Brouwer’s A Day in November and the Prelude to Bach’s first Cello Suite.
What the @#$% is Stage Fright?
I’d been playing guitar for about four years by this jury. I’d stepped on stage hundreds of times with various bands. My first jury was also the first time I got nervous.
I arrived early, and had plenty of time to sit and stew in my nervousness. Then when it was my turn, I walked into the room to be greeted by the grim visages of the various music professors. This included the orchestra conductor, the oldest, meanest looking man on the planet (really nice guy, though).
Crash and Burn
So I sat down announced my pieces nervously and got going. My guitar slid every which way on my slacks; it felt like I was fighting with my instrument. My technique was not solid enough for a clean delivery anyway, and my shaking hands did not make it better.
I missed more than a few notes in the Brouwer, but the Bach stands out in my memory. I remember starting too quickly. And being that I did not really have the control to slow down or even notice that I was moving to quickly, I just kept speeding up. I remember thinking, “this is NOT good.” By the end of the Prelude I was playing so fast there was no where to go but straight down. I crashed. I stopped. I missed whole measures of notes.
Then I said thanks, and escaped.
What I Learned About Performing
As I thought about it later, I realized that this was the first time I’d gotten nervous. My next jury went much better.
What I learned from this experience was to expect my body’s response. As I was imagining the performances to come I was able to include the stage fright response that I was not familiar with before. This continues to performances I give today. I acknowledge the stage fright, then ignore it; stage fright doesn’t take me by surprise me anymore.
In retrospect I’m also able to examine my mental response to mistakes. It’s very hard to not grasp onto those and obsess over them. But in performance mistakes come, then you have to let them pass by. That was a mental state for me to use for a while. That was part of my downfall at the first jury; I was so caught up in my mistakes I couldn’t think about anything else.
Sometimes knowing what to expect is the best preparation.