I recently read a quote in Madeline Bruser’s book, The Art of Practicing, attributed to the late cellist Jacqueline du Pre. When asked how she felt before she walked onstage, she responded, “I can’t wait to get out there.”
I remember feeling like that before school plays and pageants, before 8th-grade talent shows and Children’s Theater productions. I remember the excitement of waiting behind the tiny school stage while parents settled into chairs in what a few hours before had been the school cafeteria. I remember giggly anticipation waiting in the wings for an entrance cue backstage at the Little Theater. All the weeks of work spent learning new songs and dialogue, all the hours spent rehearsing, were for this almost-upon-me moment when the lights dimmed, the music started and the show began.
I had classmates for whom every school program, every class music concert, was pure torture. It was called stage fright then, no words as gentle as “performance anxiety” had been invented. And fright it was, or outright terror, that left them pale and shaking, unable to speak or sing when forced to take their place on the stage.
But not me. I loved doing every cheesy Christmas play, every chorus performance, every opportunity to sing or act and be on stage. I couldn’t wait for the show to start, for the first notes of the music to sound, for the stage lights to brighten, couldn’t wait for the joy and elation of giving a good performance and receiving the audience’s applause. But with college my performance opportunities ended, along with whatever ability I once had that enabled me to surf performance-inspired waves of adrenaline and feel it all as giggly excitement.
Anticipating my end-of-semester recorder ensemble concert, I spoke with my teacher about my current performance path that, as often as not, travels through adrenaline-fueled quicksand that sucks motor control, memory and confidence out my pores as it drags me under the mud, gasping for breath. While I’ve made it through previous recorder concerts without the same intensity of out-of-body experiences that harp performances inspire, I’ve produced enough shaking hands and misplayed, squawking-goose notes to know that quicksand still lurks on that recital hall stage.
“Performing,” she said, “is all about connecting and communicating with other human beings. Whether I am playing for one person or a whole auditorium full of people, I remember that I am there to connect with them and share the beauty of the music.”
Backstage Tuesday night, I remembered my teacher’s words about communicating and connecting with people by performing and sharing beautiful music. I remembered a forgotten young self brimming with confidence and chutzpah, for whom being on stage was natural and easy. I remembered those long-ago years when I “couldn’t wait to get out there.” And it worked. Saying to myself, “I can’t wait to get out there,” and thinking about the glorious music that we learned this semester and were now there to share with our audience, worked.
I took my seat onstage, raised my recorder to my lips and awaited the two-measure count into O Lusty May. The whole program was delightful. Our entrances were timed perfectly, our endings were in unison, and all four recorder voices were perfectly in tune. Our audience responded with enthusiastic applause and heart-felt compliments following our final piece. And no quicksand menaced that recital hall stage on this Tuesday night.