“It’s not a big deal,” I told myself. “You’re not alone on stage. The audience will focus on the soloists and you’ll be fine.” Then why was I so panicky?
It was the night of my first choral concert, and I was 10 years old. The other kids were laughing and joking together as they were sorted into height order in single file lines, some still finishing the last of their dinner. I knew I would be starving later; I was too afraid to eat. It was the first time I had ever sung in front of an audience. As I took another sip of water, I felt a tap on my shoulder.
“Hey, are you nervous?” a tall girl behind me whispered, as she smoothed a few loose strands of hair back down into her uniform bun.
“Yeah,” I answered. “Are you?”
She smiled and shook her head no. “There’s no reason to be. It’s just a couple of songs.” I smiled back at her and nodded, facing forward again. She didn’t make me less tense, but I admired her optimism.
Our choral director, a thin man with dark, short hair and suntanned skin, entered the rehearsal room clad in a suit and tie and told us it was time to go on. Still single-file, we walked up the stairs and into the wings of the church where the murmur of the audience could be heard outside the doors. The first thing I noticed was how cold the stage was; but even though I was still freezing under my stiff uniform shirt and vest, I was sweating.
Under the Hot Lights
We filed on to the stage to the places they had marked for each of us to stand the day before at dress rehearsal. We stood tall, then we got the cue from the choral director to open our books. It was a subtle hand motion, one that only the chorus was meant to see, but we were too distracted by the hot lights and the audience chatter. A majority of the chorus missed it, including me.
I could almost feel the director cringing. I wanted to cringe. “We have to be professional,” he’d tell us every day, “and being professional means knowing where you come in.” Having missed this one, the entire chorus kept neutral expressions as we waited for the next cue: the one to start the music.
I squinted through the hot white lights and scanned the crowd looking for familiar faces. I didn’t see anyone at first, so I just assumed my parents had stepped out and would be back soon. Then I saw them rush in along with two of my aunts, my uncle, and my cousin. My parents waved to me and I grinned back at them. Seeing them struggling to find seats even remotely close together underscored how big the crowd was, and once again I felt scared.
Our director had told us earlier that day, “If you feel anxious, don’t worry. You can use that energy to do your best.” That didn’t make sense to me; how could I do my best if I was anxious? I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and that wasn’t good since I had to sing. I did my best to calm myself down as the orchestra played the opening. A few bars in, I checked out my fellow chorus mates. I could see from their expressions that they were all as worried as I was: The boy on my left was shifting his feet and sweating, three of the kids in the front row had red-tinged faces and shallow breath, and the girl who had told me she had nothing to worry about was biting her lip and furrowing her brow.
Once we started singing, though, I could feel the nervousness fading away with every note. Everyone stood tall and sang as well as they could, especially for the finale. We had to get louder and louder on a high note with the soloists singing something alongside us. We held that note for what felt like minutes and when the cutoff finally came, all of us got the cue in unison.
Keep Facing Your Fears
I’m almost positive that it wasn’t the best the director thought we could do, but I know that he was proud of us for overcoming our nervousness. Everyone was dismissed after that with humongous grins from both the director and conductor. I saw a few kids leave with bouquets bigger than their heads.
It’s been five years since that first concert and I still get nervous. It’s natural to be worried about something, especially when you feel you have to do your best. But if you do, then you can take pride in what you’ve done. Every concert since, I confront the same fears I felt on the first night, but every time I do it, I feel less and less afraid. It never goes away completely, but I get used to the feeling, sometimes even as I’m doing the thing I’m afraid of. Like my director said, you can use that energy to do your best, even though it means facing your fears for as long as it takes to get over them.