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Mendy Smith

It's the Music that Counts

May 25, 2010 at 4:48 AM

Just when I thought my stage fright had left me for good it came back this Sunday. 

I left the house early Sunday morning to make it to church well ahead of the service to have time to warm up.  As soon as I got on the freeway, I had to exit - several miles of I-45 and the frontage roads were closed due to a fatality accident earlier in the morning.  What would normally had been a 30 minute drive took over an hour, and I arrived at church minutes before the service began. 

My bow arm shakes resurfaced when it came time to perform.  The tension wasn't just limited to my bow arm.  I noticed that my left arm also felt like a solid block of concrete.  But somehow I managed to relax enough to not to play everything staccato and keep the notes in tune, even if I added a few more unintentional ornaments to Bach.

After I finished playing, I sat back down feeling shame and embarrassment.  I love Bach with all my heart and soul and felt like I did not do good justice to the 5th Suite.  I prepared myself mentally to pack up after the service was over and sneak out with my proverbial tail between my legs. 

The Music Director and my best friend  were the first to speak to me afterwards seeing my disappointment in my performance and told me this: though I didn't play up to my own standards, do not let that come in the way of allowing people to enjoy the music as they perceived it.  Put on a smile and say thank you, and then mean it.

To my surprise, others from the congregation came up to me with words of support, a comment on the complexity and beauty of Bach and my playing it through like it was nothing, a big bear hug, and a teary eyed "Thank You".  My friend and Music Director were right.  It is the music that counts, not its technical perfection. 


From David Allen
Posted on May 25, 2010 at 10:49 PM

This is wisdom!

From Jessica McAllister
Posted on May 25, 2010 at 11:37 PM

I really enjoyed reading that!  It made me laugh at times, but it also made me think.  I have been in the same boat many, many times... I've been so frustrated with my performance not being up to my own standards that it has made it impossible to graciously accept anyone's compliments.

It's true that most people don't  know that you mess up, even though  YOU certainly do. Music can still touch the soul despite some creative "hiccups". =)

I remember playing a piece at a funeral with no accompaniment whatsoever-- just the sound of a violin echoing off the walls of the chapel.  It was a beautiful arrangement of "I Know My Redeemer Lives" (one of my FAVORITE hymns) that I had played many times before.  I was SO upset because I slipped up at the climax of the piece and I felt like I had ruined the experience for everyone.  I play the violin to touch the hearts of those who hear and bear testimony of what I know to be true.  I felt that since my musical testimony had a serious smudge, it was devoid of value.   Such was not the case, and many people admitted to being deeply touched.

So I couldn't agree with you more!  It really is about the music, and we all need to cut ourselves some slack and just enjoy the blessing of being able to play it =)

From Reynard Hilman
Posted on May 26, 2010 at 1:23 AM

I had exactly the same experience a couple weeks ago, playing Bach at church. I felt too embarrased to write a blog about it :) Thanks for writing this, I feel I'm not alone. That experience just made me want to play again and do it more often tho. 

From elise stanley
Posted on May 26, 2010 at 6:41 AM

Performance anxiety has haunted me, not so much (yet) for my relatively new violin passion but for much longer in dancing (I do competetive ballroom).  For me (and many others, and it seems you too) its source is in the desire to perform perfectly.  We set up a standard in our minds that is impossible to achieve. 

In some ways it is worse in dance because there are many more un-predictable factors - mostly what the other couples will do on the floor - that may throw you off your performance (in ballroom we have pre-planned routine segments).  What really helped was being taught that it is not an error when something goes wrong - its a part of the dance and dealing with the unpredictable is as important as with the pre-planned score. 

The point is that performance is a live art.  That may sound obvious but I think its too easy to forget that even when you are reading from a sheet of music or playing form memory the situation is unique and unique things will happen (who has not had the experience of finding a novel aspect of a piece of music during the performance? Presumably becaues youre senses are so elevated) .  Thus, its best to establish a mindset where you are going to play well and deal with challenges and the unpredictable, than one of going to play perfectly and hope not to screw up.  The former may lead to fluffs - but, and I think this is really important, it may also lead to stellar performance because you open the door to expressing yourself in a new way.

From Elinor Estepa
Posted on May 26, 2010 at 2:17 PM

It may also reminds us that we are not perfect, that imperfections is a beauty of itself...

I watched an interview of a Tenor once on tv, and he talked about that, he said as an artist, meaning musicians, actors, singers have a resposibility to lead your audience to your world, take them with you there, and let them experience its beauty and the freedom and that it is ok, because it is also not perfect.

As an  audience, we always remember the exprience that brought us, and not much so the performance.

Thank's for the blog Mendy!


From robert keith
Posted on May 26, 2010 at 5:00 PM

 I understand your stage fright.  I have played the piano in front of people for years.  I had my share of stage fright.  I feel that a person can always learn something from another person. Nobody knows everything there is to no on their instrument, and everybody knows that. When I started to view my instrument as an extension of my body, everything changed.  Things sort of meshed together.  Even mistakes sounded better. Practice felt great.  I feel that practice rewards us with confidents. When confidents reaches a level, then we don't care who is listening/watching. 

 This applies to all walks of life.  It also works when I have to fix my lawnmower.

Rob (a intermediate violinist)

From Christina C.
Posted on May 27, 2010 at 7:56 PM

this entry is like a page out of my life story. In trying to improve as players we have to evaluate our own playing, identify what's wrong or missing and try to fix or acquire it. That's just good practicing, it's the mode we tend to be in during practice sessions and lessons and it tends to become our default mode, especially since we probably spend more time in these situations rather than performance ones. But there needs to be another gear for when you're performing. The way I like to think of it is that the inner critic in you has to hand over the controls to the performer in you who will take whatever they've been given & sell it. If that inner critic hangs around for the show then they rob you of your enjoyment & satisfaction & that's a shame..... 'cause why the heck are you doing this anyways?

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