“Even Paul McCartney used to get stage fright!” My friend told me. I didn’t talk much about it to her, but I could see that she could see I was upset. Another disappointing performance. How many more must I go through?!
I struggle with stage fright. You wouldn’t think it, but I do. Most people are confused when I tell them about how much I struggle with it. I am clearly extremely good at masking my nerves. it’s the same thing every time before I go on stage: my mind tries to run through the music, which is difficult to do this without an instrument at hand. And when I invariably can’t do it, I start panicking that I will forget the music. Panic takes hold and tensions builds in my forearms. Will my fingers remember what to do??? I try and stop myself from going down that thought experiment but it’s no use. My mind is battling itself.
A few years ago, I played Take 5 at a music recital. It’s demanding jazz piece. At home, I could play it at double speed without looking at the keyboard. There were about 200 people in the audience that night. 400 eyes were looking at ME. Pianos are savage beasts. Don’t be fooled by them. YOU have to learn to ride them, not the other way around. And you have to make peace with the fact that, at some point, they will throw you off.
I knew I was going to forget what to do when I got to the climax of the piece. Started playing. Things were going well. Grace and speed. Finger ballet! The invisible audience in my head were not impressed by this dance I put on for them and were setting a trap for me. Tension was building in me as I worked my way to the midsection.
It happened. I fell. I knew it. Obviously it happened. I blanked out and could not for the life of me remember what to do. The keyboard was a jumble of black and white rectangles that I could no longer read. Imagine not being able to read these words anymore. I must have sat for about 5 seconds in shock and confusion before I turned to the audience and sheepishly said “I’m so sorry, I’ve completely forgotten the music.”
Live music is not about perfection, it’s about connection. All your technical skill and prowess is secondary to the connection you have in that moment with the audience. When I turned to the audience and explained what was happening, they understood and started clapping. You see, I was connected to them. Part of my performance that night was to freeze and tell the audience what happened. It could have been anything else…I could have sung the next part of the song and started clapping. Anything.
Mistakes are inevitable and are chances for you to connect with people.
Next time, this Cornflake Boy will keep performing. Live performance is one big fucking mistake made beautiful. It’s about preparation and then surrender to the moment. Surrender to the moment is where the magic happens.
Once your art is ‘out there,’ it is no longer yours. You don’t own or control it anymore. It belongs to the Furies.
Sometimes I wish that I had never come to London. I miss that version of myself that didn’t know anything about living outside of South Africa.
How could I ever go back home and forget about what life in London offered? Would I be constantly comparing my life here to that in South Africa? Where is home for me now? If my parents come back to the UK, would I still go home? Where will I be buried when I die? These are where my thoughts are.
I was taught to play guitar by a legendary South African musician, Syd Kitchen. I admire Syd (he’s passed away now). I admire his commitment to what he wanted to do. He forgo the temptations of opportunities that brightly lit cities offers highly skilled musicians and stayed in eThekwini.
I look at so many South African artists with envy who are doing what they love from Mnzansi. At what point do I choose happiness over opportunity? I know that happiness is paramount and I made the choice to leave home with eyes wide open.
Alcohol made me feel intensely and deeply. I was constantly chasing that sense of connection. To what? I have no idea. I now see that it prevented me from feeling very much when I wasn’t having a drink. Alcohol gives fake spiritual experiences. I use “spiritual” with some discomfort. I can’t find a word to describe the category of feelings. But make no mistake, it has nothing to do with god.
I have very little desire to drink these days. I am very glad that it’s out of my life for now and I don’t even think about it that much anymore. I have so much catching up to do and healing from the damage that it did to me. Alcohol takes everything from you and gives nothing back.
Last but not least…
…I have been booked for my first ticketed and paid-for performance! OMG. I am thrilled and terrified at the same time. It’s at Moustache Bar in London on 5 December. I’m working on some new songs to play and I will throw in a couple old ones. I have 25 minute set and will be performing for reals in front of about 100 people!
So things are finally kicking off for me!