I know what stage fright can do to me.
A couple years ago, I studied piano. Julie, my teacher came to my house once a week and we labored through Mozart, Handel, some hymns. I practiced between classes, but most of the time had to force myself to do it.
One day my teacher suggested that I should play in public. She had a hymn sing coming up at the Unitarian church we were members of at the time. I had just learned the 'old 100th' music.... you know... 'praise God from whom all blessings flow.'
Sure, I said.
I practiced a lot. Every day. All day. I played it over and over again so I wouldn't be too nervous.
The day of the service arrived and I got to the church a little bit early so I could practice on the piano there. My teacher was working on something, though, so instead I decided to play it on the big pipe organ. Why not, I thought. It's the same keyboard, right?
So I practiced on the organ a few times and felt pretty confident that I could do it.
Then my turn came. I began well enough. The congregation was singing along. I was playing along. Then, all of a sudden, my stomach lurched and I was staring at the notes on the page realizing that I didn't recognize the music. My hands started flapping around on the keys. The wrong notes started bellowing out of the dozens of pipes at the front of the church. Full scale panic set in when I realized that I was not going to recover. I had forgotten the music... had forgotten how to read music...had forgotten everything I had studied for the past two years.
Afterwards, people were very kind to me. They said nice things to try and make me feel better. But there was something terrifying about the fact that I could screw up that badly on a piece I KNEW that well.
Fast forward to yesterday. Sidy called me and asked if I would play with him at a school gig this morning. Of course! I said. But at some point in the conversation, I confessed that I was a little nervous.
Don't be nervous, he replied. You won't be able to play. Don't worry if you make a mistake. His exact words were "I would rather have you suck than be nervous."
I put on a brave face and showed up with my drum.
But as we were playing today, I realized something. This is different from playing an organ for 100 people. In this case, the drums are the focal point, yes, but everyone within ear shot is somehow a part of the experience. They might be tapping their feet or rocking back and forth. They might be dancing or clapping along with the beat. They might even be just listening, but they are a part of the performance in a very real way. They are right there with us. For me, that changed the dynamic completely. The minute I began to play, I lost my nervousness and just started to have fun. I let go of my fear and tried to listen to Lisa on the dun duns and keep in time with her. It was a dun dun part I had never heard before, so I had to listen to where I was supposed to be and then stick to it. And, for the most part, I think I did it.
Meanwhile, Sidy was incredible with the children. They hung on every word. They danced, clapped, played a little bit. It was a wonderful, wonderful morning.
And yes, I think I sucked a little. But I wasn't nervous at all.