Note: Background images in December 2002 and January 2003 journal entries are selected from Frances Ku's collection of her original watercolours.
Overcoming stage fright
While practice makes perfect, repetition makes the conscious chore an unconscious habit.
I consciously overcame stage fright by deliberately playing on grand pianos in public places. As a hotel guest, I consider it a privilege to try out the piano if there is one. It's an insult if I'm rejected. When I start playing, I am conscious of an audience, whether willing or not. I've even played the piano at the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Tonight as I make my debut as cocktail pianist, I am conscious that I am playing to a new audience. The piano is situated between the bar and the restaurant. The guests at the bar may only want background music to accompany their conversations. The dinner guests meanwhile may prefer digestible background noise.
The piano is temporarily cushioned between the wall and the single pillar. The plan is to move it to the centre of the hotel. A middle-aged couple comes up to me after an hour or so. They say they've been listening from the bar area. I am relieved.
In the beginning, there's always a slight nervousness. Everything is new. The audience is new. The place is new. The piano is new. The time of day is new. And naturally, my body needs to get accustomed to the situation.
Stage fright is not a bad thing if it's the kind of tension that keeps you alert. But sometimes, the body parts get out of sync. When I'm sightreading on stage, I sometimes overestimate myself. My left hand becomes immobilised and my right foot anchors on the pedal for support. Only my right hand can move normally. I can easily lose track of where I am in the score.
When I'm playing from memory, stage fright can cause me to lose the flow. Once, I kept playing the same passage over and over again, completely forgetting an entire page of the second movement of Ravel's Sonatine. My teacher was more worried than I, as it turned out. Eventually, I found a recognisable cue and was able to continue to the end.
One common advice to overcome stage fright is to take deep breaths. I try to make the audience disappear by focussing on the music and myself. Focussing on my breathing helps me focus better too.
11 December 2002 Wednesday
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