People Say Have Fun...I Say My Ego's on Trial

12:18 PM

I’ve never enjoyed a recital.

Oh, I don’t get nervous performing. Of course I get uptight—a little harder to sing, a little clumsier to dance, a little (a lot) more impossible to hit the right piano keys—but who doesn’t?

Nervousness isn’t the problem. I thrive off attention. I like people to notice me, applaud me, love me. And that’s the problem. When people notice you, they tend to make judgments about you: “Wow, what a fantastic singer! Oh, the short one’s not as great a dancer as that tall one in the corner. Poor girl, she was the only student who stopped in the middle of her piano piece—I feel so bad for her!” That works terrifically when I float a perfect high note or nail that leap. It makes me want to crawl into a hole when I mess up—crawl into a hole, cover myself up, die, burrow deeper, and die again.

I’m not really a perfectionist. I just want to be recognized as talented and glittering and all that post-performance hype. I want it to be about me and what I do and how I do it.

I finally realized how much this problem interfered with my actual love for performing arts during musical auditions last week. Just watching other people dance to twenties music made my heart jump a million times: Pick me! Pick me! I love this kind of stuff! Just to get into the chorus—to sing and dance to my jumping heart’s content—would be more than enough. But my attitude came back—the attitude that wanted its own solo and its own character, noticeable enough to bow alone at the end of the show, to get its own moment of applause. That doesn’t happen with a mere chorus role. No, I coveted a lead role—not because she got sing more or dance more (actually, she got to do it less) but because I wanted to be individually noticed and praised…by everyone. If I danced in the chorus, people might notice me like they notice the set or the instrumental music. If I got a lead role, then people would have to notice me.

This places tremendous expectation on a performer. It just takes the fun right out of everything. Consciously, I can get onto the stage ready to boss that thing I’ve been working on all semester. Subconsciously, that ache for attention and applause gets me on edge—legs shake, air constricts, nerves tingle all over. Don’t mess up, they say. You’ve got to be good enough to be amazing.

With a week full of auditions behind me and a week of end-of-semester recitals up ahead, I’ve been rethinking my pre-performance pep talks. They usually blur into, “You’re amazing, don’t worry, oh, and do it for God’s glory”—which confuses me, because sometimes I’m not always the best at what I do, and it’s pointless to dedicate to God my selfish desire for attention. So the knees knock on.

New pep talk: Do it for the song, the dance, the music. Not for myself. Do it because I love it, because it inspires me, because when I’m alone in a practice room, everything becomes beautiful just from the sheer joy of creativity. When I delight in delightful things, when I lose myself to the beauty, that’s when God gets glory. “It’s not about you, it’s not about being perfect,” my piano teacher told me. “It’s your interpretation of the music you’ve come to love—a gift to the audience. Enjoy it.”

I’ve never enjoyed recitals, I told her. But maybe this time I will.

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2 impressions

  1. I always appreciate your open, honest heart-talks. I have always had a sneaky suspicion I had the same, self-centered love of performance and reading this has opened a whole chest of things I need to deal with.

    So thank you.

    Thank you for being so real.

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  2. I like the change in your pep talk.

    I hope you got a part in the musical that brings you great joy and challenges you and is fun whether that is a solo or in the chorus.

    Adele

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