The Most Challenging Musical Quest – Part 3

In the first two parts of this series I have shared with you the various challenges I have faced in my musical and personal life, yet as challenging as they may have been, what remains to be done will perhaps be the most challenging: figuring out who I am at this moment and having the courage to be that person in front of others.

I remember a time a few years ago when I asked multi-instrumentalist Joe Craven if he ever felt awkward playing multiple instruments at the same time, as he often plays percussion with hands while “mouthing” other percussion sounds, while switching to mandolin and fiddle. By “awkward”, I meant that I, too, could do that to an extent, but had felt like I was showing off or bragging in doing so.

I clearly remember his response: “No,” followed by a gesture that indicated that that was a silly question. I don’t know why I was reluctant to display my talents, particularly considering how much time I had spent developing them. Perhaps it was an old pledge I made to myself back in High School where, after witnessing a friend’s constant bragging, I swore I would never do that, preferring others to speak highly of me rather than myself.

Joe’s words and reaction stayed with me. But there is a difference between bragging and simply “being.” I do have skills I have developed, so why not display them?

I didn’t really think of it much after speaking with Joe, but little by little, I “allowed” myself to do whatever I wanted onstage (and off.) His friendly dismissal of my question gave me permission to be my own awesome self. And that’s what we all need in life to excel, to strive, to fly free of other people’s opinions.

This makes me wonder what else I may be holding back when I perform:
Am I able to be emotionally vulnerable? Some songs need tenderness; some need power.
Am I able to have a powerful presence onstage? Superstars aren’t afraid to use the entire stage, either physically or energetically; imagine Prince, Santana, James Brown, Beyonce…

I must remember – it’s a show! We are supposed to be larger than real life! We are supposed to create an ambiance, a space where the audience can participate in a fantasy of sorts if even for a few minutes. Actors on stage are never “themselves” – they are playing a role and we buy into that for the duration of the production.

That, dear readers, is my most challenging musical quest – to be able to be bigger than I am onstage, whether it be a simple open-mic or a full blown stage show. And though I mentioned some pretty outrageous superstars, there are many more laid-back performers, too. The point is, that we – you and I – have every right to develop our uniqueness and confidently present that quality when performing, whether you are just starting out or have been doing it for years (decades) as I have.

And I have a feeling that this path never ends – we simply get on it and, step by step, advance.

Please comment if you have any thoughts about this concept. Have you felt awkward being yourself? Why? What did you do about it? Knowing we are not alone is a comfort and motivator.

Thank you.

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2 Responses to “The Most Challenging Musical Quest – Part 3”

  1. PT Says:

    I appreciate what you wrote in phase 3 … my level of experience with music and performing on stage is so very much lower than yours but I had some thoughts as I read your writingsI think that trying to make a living with performing music may be more confusing than how I have experienced being on stage. The only time I thought of my singing as a performance was when I was on stage with a group of people instead of being there on my own. My experience on stage by myself yielded very simple and personal presentations of songs that reflected what I wanted to say. The times on stage were times of intimate sharing between myself and the audience. There was no thought by myself or by the members of the audience that I was a “star” of any kind! I was just a person sharing a message. There was no room for not being “ myself” because the reason I was on stage was simply to share the song’s message…it really had nothing to do with me.
    That doesn’t mean that I wasn’t aware of the audience or of my desire to sing well so my lack of singing prowess did not get in the way of the song’s message . I have felt disappointed in myself when I broke down and cried during one of the Songs I was singing. I believed I sounded like a cow mooing instead of how I had planned to sing. I was rattled about loosing so much control of my voice until as I was recovering myself, and I looked around the audience. I saw they were all crying as well! I saw that even though I thought I blew it with my lack of “professionalism ,… at that moment “”I” Didn’t matter at all!
    All that mattered was the connection to the message and to each other the audience felt at the moment!
    I just do not have the experience or the skills it takes to not be “myself in stage.
    I think another reason I have the luxury to think the way I do is that I have never tried to make a living with music so I probably don’t feel the same pressures people who are on stage for a living do.
    There is no doubt I am singing to simply share rather than entertain….. n although I do believe that entertaining is definitely a good way to share!
    I do believe that being concerned with being a star can get in the way because I think too much focus on how a person is “doing” on stage Takes up too much room inside a person so they will Because of performance anxiety, have difficulty delivering the quality of performance they want to Because they may be focusing on themselves rather than the song, Maybe in a way, concern with oneself and how they are performing or how they are perceived or thinking hard about what or what not to show the audience … might be a little self centered because they are thinking about themselves instead of the music they are presenting. Maybe being concerned about oneself might get in the way of the song. Maybe being too concerned about one’s self prevents a person from being ” taken” by the music and letting the music “ play” itself!
    Just some thoughts from a person who is just in the “ learning” stage

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