Growing up, I always wanted to be a musician. But the idea of people hearing me play triggered a sense of insecurity within me. I was too caught up in wondering what people would think of my playing: Do they think I sound ok? Did they catch that last mistake? Are they just counting down the minutes until I’m off stage?
So I made it a point to never perform in front of anyone who I knew was listening to me. I would pick jobs where I knew people weren’t really listening to me like as a ballet pianist or playing jazz in restaurants.
It got to the point of where, if I really wanted to play, I needed to overcome those ‘not good enough’ voices in my head. So I started playing as an accompanist in a church. The churchgoers were very forgiving towards any mistakes I made. Each week I played there I gained bit more confidence, softening the inner critic and becoming less afraid.
Now I see stage fright as a state of intensity rather than a fear, something that I can train myself to face.
I prepare myself for the intensity by making it a point to always count when I play ‘1,2,3,4…1,2,3,4…’– the only time I let up on counting is when I perform. It’s helped me to feel less afraid when there’s a little extra going on in mind, like in situations where I have nervous thoughts.
When I perform, I try and make the space on stage my own. I’ll move the piano bench just a little before I sit down. I make it my space, own it so that me being there is an intentional act. Just make it my space, so that I feel like I have a right to be there. Then, I can focus on enjoying being there and doing my job, rather than worrying about whether or not I sound great.