Tonight I played the banjo for the first time in public for a full set of songs. I accompanied my friend, Rachael Harryman, a singer-songwriter originally from Kentucky. We performed at Bar Lubitsch in West Hollywood. I was nervous and excited. I love the banjo. I think I might love it more than the guitar. I don’t know if this will make sense or not, but the feel of plucking the strings and the sound it makes against the drumhead is similar to the way it feels in my vocal cords when I sing. It has a flexible sound and it resonates more like a human voice than the guitar strings. I was nervous because it was new in a lot of ways. I have only been playing the banjo casually for 4 years, and I had never played country music before I met Rachael. I wanted to do it because I like Rachael’s music, and I wanted to challenge myself.
I am always nervous when I perform. I was very relieved when, after the show, David told me that I seemed totally comfortable on stage. (I have always been very good at deceiving audiences in that way.) In high school, we were taught to always appear comfortable on stage, even if we were terrified. One time in college, I opened for my favorite band at the time, Le Tigre, and I was so nervous my knees were shaking. That is a real problem when you are standing up playing a heavy Les Paul electric guitar. Even then I had to first figure out how to look at ease, and second, remember how to play my songs.
On my way to the show, I thought about stage fright. I was trying to relate it to life the way I always like to do. I realized that stage fright is something we all deal with, even if we are not performers. Sometimes we have to speak to a large group at work and that can be scary, but sometimes the stage fright can happen when you have to talk to one person. I have known so many people who are afraid to say what they want to say. I know I have been that person many times as well. The dilemma of the performer has to do with a fear of failure, and I think the same is true in our own personal interactions. At work, there may be a difficult boss who talks to you in a disrespectful manner. The thought of speaking up about it with her could be very scary. I think doing so would bring up a similar feeling to stage fright. So maybe the answer is to treat it the same way a performer would prepare for a show? Practice. Consider all the possible ways to perform the song. Then, share the different ways with someone you trust to give you honest feedback. Really think about the way the material will be delivered. And be totally confident that you know what you are doing. You want to always appear like you are brave even if your knees are shaking.
Once I realized that we all have stage fright on a pretty regular basis, I relaxed. I was still nervous, but I felt more at peace with the nervousness. I knew it just meant that I care very much about the outcome and all of the hard work I did preparing for the show. I would like to be honestly comfortable on stage, and I think I may have nailed the first step to doing that. A Buddhist would say I have “made friends” with stage fright. I feel I am understanding what it is, and by doing that, I may be a little closer to overcoming it.