performing: with pride or prejudice
This month, I was tasked with the challenge of working on my muscle memory as well as my muscle tone. Chapter one writer, Joe Gall, requested that I dig out my old guitar, bring it aboard and retrain my fingers to hustle up and down the frets while attempting to hold clear and open chord sounds. I decided, early on 3 weeks ago, to up the ante of this challenge and not only give my fingers some exercise, but give my courage and confidence a work out as well.
The task I gave myself was to “perform” a song or two in front of an audience. Thus far during this challenge, I have found my best audience to be a 1 year-old baby who danced to anything I would strum or hum, along with a few supportive onlookers in my favorite café in Western Maryland. With only a few days left in June, I don’t plan on hitting up any local open mic nights, but I have accomplished playing in front of about a dozen people here or there over this past month testing out my playing and singing skills.
Looking back, I am not quite sure why I decided to put this performance promise out there, but it somehow seemed appropriate considering public speaking or being in front of an audience is truly one of the most uncomfortable and avoided experiences for me. It is one of the few non-strenuous related activities I can think of that really does drastically change the physicality of my body itself. Sweaty palms, racing heart, stuttering voice, shaky hands are just a few things that tend to happen when placing myself in front of a crowd. Even when put in front of a camera, or a recording device these symptoms arise, if I am the one that is being focused on.
So as a first step into this discomfort zone, I started taking short videos and making sound recordings of my new regular guitar practice. Doing this has been extremely painful! Making the recordings on my own is not so bad – but watching the recordings brings back all those same sensations that happen when standing in front of a full room (it may possibly be even more upsetting.) The only thing worse than caring about the judgment from others is dealing with the judgment from yourself! Do you remember what it felt like to hear your voice recorded for the first time. “Is that me talking?” Well imagine what it feels like to listen to yourself play new guitar chords and put your best singing voice forward. How can I sing in tune when I’m not even sure how to tune the guitar? I will tell you… it feels like I have chosen to star in my own bad early 90’s folk music video. Not a pretty or necessarily appealing feeling… however, I am working on getting past this initial reaction and judgment that I’ve put upon myself. There are positives in performing that I am starting to see and feel.
I actually really enjoy singing and playing guitar. When I take the camera away I genuinely feel pretty happy doing it, it calms me down and passes the time in a way that always leaves me feeling satisfied. I have to go back to the original intent behind Aaron’s wild card request, which is, to keep listening to myself and do what feels right, not worry about what looks right. (or in this case, what sounds right)
My mom would tell you that when I was little, I would wake myself up singing in the morning. She tells me that I loved to perform musically and dramatically. There are actually many pictures proving that I loved to ham it up in front of the camera. (I’ve included a few pics below that my Dad conveniently sent me this week reminding me of this time). I do find that time a little hard to remember today though, as I start stumbling over song lyrics when someone intently starts to listen, or watch me. How, why and when did that free confident performing spirit and desire to share get dampened along the way? What do I need to do to get it back?
I guess there is some evidence of that love of performance still present today or I wouldn’t be sharing so much of myself with all of you through this Living Chapters process. I think one of many reasons I decided to do any of this publicly was really to try to rekindle that fearlessness of sharing openly that we all did so effortlessly at age six. I am starting to realize that there may be much more to gain through that boldness than we actually have to lose.
If I knew that at age six, can’t I feel the same thirty years later?
Post Script: Thanks to Josh, Brown, Andy Cook, Joe Gallo, and friends at the Water Street Cafe in Friendsville MD for supporting, teaching, and encouraging me in my guitar playing and performing this past month.
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Great post, very inspiring!