There is this terrifying vision that consistently runs through my mind whenever I sign up to perform in cello studio class: I walk onto the stage with cello in hand; I start playing, and my hands can’t stop shaking. I start missing all the shifts. My bow can’t seem to stay on the string. And then, all of a sudden, my endpin slips, and my cello is sliding all over the place in my lap. And there it goes, falling off the stage and into the audience as pieces of wood chunks shower my studio mates. The lights start to get unbearably bright, and everything is so loud that I can’t hear any of the cues with which my accompanist is trying to help me. And I don’t even have a cello anymore - so what do I do?? Sing?!
Okay - that may be a little more dramatic than what I actually think or what actually happens, but the images in this nightmare are actually some of my most irrational, ridiculous fears that really do taunt me when I think about performing in studio class. So when I agreed to perform in the cello studio class last Wednesday at the very last minute, I instantly broke into a flushed sweat, just imagining getting on the stage in front of my 18 peers and my professor to perform. The image of sitting above everyone else with bright lights on me did actually flash through my thoughts.
When you talk to a variety of music majors
about performing, you will often get very contrasting views and feelings about it. Some music majors absolutely love every minute of performing. For them, the best days of their life are when they can get on a stage and share their music with others. Others develop a lot of anxiety and constantly have to battle with their natural tendency to feel extremely nervous and insecure when they perform. And some are somewhere in between - it is scary and stressful, but they still love performing the moment they get on that stage. I also think these approaches vary by how a musician feels on a certain day and by the music they are performing.
For this studio class, I played a piece to which I deeply connect. It has a very mellow, graceful, flowing mood, and I feel like it expresses significant parts of who I am when I play it. So getting on that stage was not as nerve-wracking for me this time. However, I definitely felt nervous in the day and hours leading up to it. Although studio class is meant to be a time to present a piece that is a work-in-progress, I often put pressure on myself to have a perfectly polished piece that is ready to be performed in a recital that very moment. I think this is a feeling that is mutually felt by many music majors. Getting on a stage to show everyone what you have been working so hard toward can push performers to place unrealistic and unnecessary pressures on themselves. I think the goal should always be to prepare as much as you can and then simply get on that stage, confident and ready to share your music and hard work with others.
So that’s what I did. I got on the stage in the DePaul Recital Hall this past Wednesday, feeling a sense of peace and knowing that there is nothing I need to prove to anyone; all I was doing was receiving helpful feedback from my peers and professor and pushing myself out of my comfort zone to take part in the celebration of music we all choose to partake in every day as music majors. I performed with my heart and was then coached by my professor for the remaining time I had left in my thirty minutes in the hot seat. My cello studio mates then flooded my chair with studio class comment sheets with their critiques and encouragements. I always greatly appreciate and value my professor’s and peers’ input and will continue to work to make this piece, and all the music that I am working on, my own! And that is all we can ever strive to do.
Now that multiple days have passed since my performance in studio class, I am laughing at myself, as I always do after I perform in studio class. I tend to build up the stress of it all so much, and then the moment I get off that stage, I realize that yes, it is scary, but I am in such a loving, supportive environment in which I can grow and truly embrace who I am as a cellist; there is nothing to fear! So although I will most likely always feel a little terror before any performance, I can always look back on my many studio class performances and remind myself that the lights never did blind me, my cello only slipped a couple of times (and never actually reached enough distance to fall off the stage), and I may have made plenty of mistakes I wasn’t expecting to, but it has always been worth it because I get to do what I love and be surrounded by others who support me and have that same love.