There's a jam session coming up on the 21st for Kevin and Steve's students, and I've kind of committed to throwing myself off a pier into the deep end of the ocean here - I said some time ago that I'd play at the next one, and... now the next one is... soon. Glub. Some interesting issues:

  • I have stage fright
  • I have stage fright
  • I have stage fright

In addition to this,

  • I have stage fright

and did I mention

  • I have stage fright?

Piano competitions and recitals: wear uncomfortable fancy dress. Escalating levels of panic during few preceding lessons and nights of practice and nightmares of botching notes, forgetting easy parts, crashing into the wrong chord, runaway acceleration (when your fingers accelerate in fear, this makes you more afraid, which makes you go faster, which makes you more afraid, which makes you go faster, which...) skipping entire phrases, passages, entire sections. Pages of music.

I've done all these things in an actual performance, by the way. EVERY NOTE MUST BE KORREKT! I remember competition and recital locations very clearly. Even the ones from when I was tiny, 7 or so. I remember the intimidating concert grands on stage, and touching it to get a sense of tone and feel before performance. I don't remember playing. When I sit down at the keys "for real," I proceed to blank out and play like a robot. BECAUSE I AM SCARED. A parentally videorecorded robot.

So as soon as I sat down in the studio and said "so the jam session is two weekends from now?" my stomach clenched in nervous terror and stayed that way for the next hour and a half (as I type this on the train to Olin, it's still gripping the seat going OH GOD DON'T MAKE ME DO IT).

That's why this is good for me.

If you take out the stage fright items (which compose "reasons my stomach has a death grip on my kidneys at the moment" reasons 1 through... somewhere in the low 200s, I think - you'll get something like this.

  1. I can't tell if my right hand (or high notes in general) mess up. THIS FREAKS ME OUT. It always has.
  2. There are other people I'm supposed to listen and respond to. I can't blank out like a robot and block out all external noise, which is what I have been doing while playing piano for the past... gosh, nearly two decades now. I have to actually play in response to... people. Who will be listening to me.
  3. People will be listening to me
  4. People will be listening to me
  5. People will be listening to me AAAAAAAAAAAAA

It... continues in this vein. I'll have to face and deconstruct this over the next few days - trying to get myself to relax and feel playful about it, deprogram years of freaking out ( pressure, right?) It's like being caught in a mental Chinese finger trap. It's kind of fun. See? Masochism helps me relax. HA! I knew it was good for something.

That's why I learned to count today. I didn't know how to set a tempo for other people - remember, this "other people" thing is weird for me and music, unless there's a conductor... the idea of me setting a beat is still odd. We literally practiced me responding to "where do you want it?" (at what tempo would you like to play?) by saying the words "Ah-one. Ah-two. Ah-one-two-three-four" at various speeds in the direction of an imaginary drummer. Alternatives: clapping, snapping, just plain ol' counting.

We also practiced trading fours (piano/bass plays 4 measures, drum solos 4 measures, repeat, etc) which I'm still a little shaky at. Conceptually, it's easy - I just don't have reference points for it, and I'm used to having set physical transitions of my hands on previous notes to help my muscle memory ease into the next ones. It's a side effect of going on automatic - you don't typically play Chopin, abruptly stop, turn two pages, wait the relevant number of beats, then start again. Now I have to think about "well, 16 beats from now, I come in on a G-flat minor 7 and the melody's on D," and then figure out where that is, and then go BAM! into something that's... hopefully not painful-sounding.

Rituals. Sometimes they help; right now, for this, I need something to hold onto. Hey stomach, you can rela- wait. Wait. Is that Gordian? You...

Aah. I'll go and get my sword.