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Mendy Smith

Fading into the Distance

November 25, 2008 at 9:04 AM

Stage Fright. 

It is something that all performers, amateurs and professionals alike, experience at some point.  We all learn how to cope or manage in some fashion or another.  My approach has been one used for various phobias:  increasingly controlled exposures to what scares the living intonation out of you.

A year ago I entered myself into the community orchestra's concerto competition.  I was the only stringed participant.  Preparing for this event was an ordeal.  First was learning the repetoire, and then learning to overcome severe stage fright.  My stage fright at that time was to the point where playing solo in front of someone new had my bow arm quivering, be it judges, my teacher in a performance setting, his wife, or complete strangers in large numbers or small.  It made no difference.  If I was in performance mode, my bow arm shook like a leaf in a tree.

Fast forward to last night.  After a weekend-long rehearsal leading up to the concert, my principal violist and I plodded into one last rehearsal at her church for the Messiah.  I was tired.  After setting up the chairs for the chamber orchestra and choir, I pulled out Bach to help reset my musical mind back to a baroque style.  Bach is a nice comfort zone -  I'm familiar with his style.  Playing Bach is like getting a mini-massage, musically speaking.

There were a few other people in the room at that time - a singer or two, the choir director, the conductor, and a few other church-folks unknown to me.  I got the typical question: "what is the difference between a violin and viola".  Rather than explain how a viola will burn longer than a violin, I simply started playing some Bach.  While I played, I semi-tuned out those around me while still being aware that they were still in the same room.  I found myself sitting more on the edge of my chair, applying just the right amount of vibrato in the right places, accentuating the dynamics, and focusing on my bowing 'lanes' for best effect.  I played for the sake of sharing that music with others with no other thought in the world.  I was, for that moment, an 'ambassador' for all violists.  I was woken from my private world of Bach by an applause.

A day later it dawned on me...  my bow arm didn't shake.  I didn't have that all encompassing fear that I normally have when playing in front of folks with a critcal ear for music.  There was no feeling of being 'judged'.  Only a desire of sharing the beauty of Bach and the richness of tone that you can only get out of a viola.  There was a point where my audience seemed to fade into the distance and it was only me, my viola and the music of  Bach filling the room.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted via on November 25, 2008 at 12:02 PM

Bach on viola . . . so beautiful!

From Royce Faina
Posted via on November 25, 2008 at 8:16 PM

What a wonderful story! You go girl!!!! I'm going to try what you did and see hoe I can use it to help me!

From Stephen Brivati
Posted via on November 25, 2008 at 10:24 PM


Congratulations.  You are indeed an ambassador of many things.



From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted via on November 25, 2008 at 11:43 PM


So many people will always avoid these moments and some others like you become stronger with them!


From Ruth Kuefler
Posted via on November 26, 2008 at 2:33 AM

Aw, how great! Music speaks louder than words in some cases, doesn't it? I'm learning the d minor suite on viola right now and love it. :)

From Drew Lecher
Posted via on November 26, 2008 at 4:29 PM

 Hi Mendy,

I remember reading of your preparation for the solo contest and the various trials, tribulations and successes. You conveyed a wonderful attitude, rising to the challenges and growing. 

It sounds like you just entered the performer's mode where all that matters is the music and what it conveys, simply letting the sounds flow out to your 'audience'—congratulations and welcome to the club:-)


From Mendy Smith
Posted via on November 29, 2008 at 2:19 AM

Drew -

I'm surprised that you remembered those times!  I never thought I would win, but wanted to take the "plunge" into performing.  I had nothing to lose and everything in the world to gain from the experience. 

This new found confidence "on-stage" is exciting and a little scary.  What if I happen to actually win a competition and have to play in front of hundreds of people?!?!?!?!   Could I keep this mental state that I just discovered? 

Oh well.  Nothing left to do but keep going forward and practice, practice, practice!

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