Performance Anxiety

Always Do What You Are Afraid To Do EmersonI’m so excited about doing this. I can’t do this. I have to do this. I don’t want to do this. I guess I’ll do this. Excuse me while I throw up in my purse.

Stage fright is, ultimately, a kind of narcissism. (And if you’re thinking of navigating away from this post because you’re not a stage performer, you’d be wrong, because stage fright can affect everyone, even if the only stage you’re on is in a metaphorical one in your mind.) It says that my emotional state is more important than your satisfaction. It says that my nervousness as a performer deserves a bigger slice of pie than your getting what you came for as a viewer. It doesn’t matter if you’re a singer, dancer, baker, or mother of preschoolers.

As a pianist in a small-town church, I worked with any number of singers and musicians, from trained professionals to children whose parents alone believed they had some special skill. (Most parents think this, some more than others. Usually, there’s an inverse proportion involved.) Maybe I’m overestimating, but I find that the church environment, with its family-like sense of acceptance is a good one for everyone, really, but especially beginners. Personally, I find this amazing. After all, most people at least listen to the radio, where the marvels of studio technology can render all but the most incompetent into some degree of listen-ability. Television shows like “American Idol,” where even the truly talented can be discarded every week like so much post-party confetti, have turned many people whose own singing in the shower makes Rebecca Black look like virtuoso into armchair critics harsher than those of the New York Times. So hearing genuine applause for the wavering tones of a grandmother of seventeen who just finished three rather off-key verses of “How Great Thou Art” is really lovely, if a little surprising. I’m glad for that, because it’s that very level of acceptance that allowed me to support myself for several years as a professional musician; something I could never do here in Milwaukee.

But even I have limits. I once worked with a man, a grown-up man with children, who was a very nice singer. Not ready for Broadway, but quite nice. He loved to sing, and people really enjoyed hearing him. He came from a musical family where almost everyone sang nicely, so he got a lot of support. He’d come up to me after a service and tell me about how excited he was about this particular song, and how he’d like to sing it at an upcoming service. Sometimes he would mention how he felt like God wanted him to sing this number, and how wonderful it was to feel this way. He would practice on his own, and then we would usually have a practice session where he would come in with the other musicians and the pastor for our weekly run-through. He was fine. But almost inevitably, on Sunday, he would climb up the three steps to the podium, stare out at the fifty to one hundred people in the seats, gulp (almost audibly), step away from the podium, back down the steps, and rapidly walk out, usually all the way to his car, where he would either sit for the rest of the service, or just start and drive away.

The first time this happened, I was amazed. What on earth?! Scanning the crowd from my piano bench at the front of the church, I could see a number of people who shared my emotion, but maybe more who seemed to take it all in stride. Later, I found out why. Steven (not his real name) was so paralyzed with stage fright that if he actually made it through a song, it was practically miraculous. If he didn’t actually leave the service, he would come up (again) afterwards and stammeringly apologize to me and the other members of the worship team. Afterwards, he would say something about how it was so amazing to him that none of us ever got nervous, and how that clearly proved that God didn’t really want him to perform after all.

Which is quite possibly the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. I told him that. He didn’t believe me.

I explained how even though I played every single week before the same accepting crowd, I still got nervous (though it did get better). He still didn’t believe me. (He’ll never believe me.) I also sang for bishops. Often in Spanish. I got really nervous. I also threw up once as a novice baker when trying to get a large batch of glazed doughnuts ready for a demanding customer. I was weirdly nervous. In no way does that mean that I got to leave. And neither do you.

First, if you give a rat’s ass about what you’re doing, you probably also want other people to care. And if you want them to care, you’re going to be nervous. Second, God has nothing to do with it. (Well, God does have something to do with it, but I’m not getting into that today.) I understand that even the fantastically talented Adele is routinely given to throwing up before her concerts because she’s just that nervous. But she doesn’t just walk off! And new parents (especially fathers) are often nearly paralyzed with fear that someone they’re going to hold their new baby wrong. But they don’t then leave the hospital, hoping some other kindly but obviously more accomplished person will come along to rescue their newborn. Of course not. They just muddle along bravely. And you know, they’re fine (well, at least until the therapy bills come rolling in, but that won’t be for years).

Ultimately, life is about showing up and performing. There is no dress rehearsal, and all the performance anxiety your mind can muster will not allow you to leave the stage early.

Here We Go Again…

invitacion de bodaI’ve playing piano and organ, and helping sing for a wedding tomorrow afternoon. Weddings are always a beautiful thing, when it comes right down to it, but I’m usually not that excited about the preparations. Brides are fussy creatures, by nature, and they naturally want things to turn out well on such a special day. They’ve got ideas about what they want, but they’re not always too savvy about the specific rules that govern Catholic weddings, even if they are Catholic, and woe betide the bride who isn’t Catholic, but is marrying a Catholic groom in a Catholic ceremony! I just have to shake my head and pray a little bit more.

Tomorrow’s wedding is even more interesting! Not only is a non-Catholic bride marrying a Catholic groom in a Catholic ceremony, but she is “Anglo” and he is Hispanic. So half of the wedding party doesn’t speak the language of the other half! Fortunately, it’s not a large wedding, and the couple is pretty easy going!

Maybe it’s not so bad living in a small town.

Stuff Catholics Like: Single Ladies & Beyoncé

Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)Image via Wikipedia

All the single ladies, that is! Put your hands up, hands up! Because if you’re a single lady, and probably going to stay one for any foreseeable future, there is just no better place to be than the Catholic Church! Gobs of single ladies are running around every Catholic parish, because there doesn’t seem to be the stigma of being “gifted with singleness” that you find in Protestant churches. (Shout out here to Jon Acuff at Stuff Christians Like for developing a Surviving Church as a Single Scorecard.) Instead, being a single Catholic lady puts you in with some great company. Like Mother Teresa, Hildegard of Bingen, and Tasha Tudor! (Wait, she’s not Catholic? Oops! And I think I read somewhere that she did used to be married…yeah, cause she has kids. Crap! Well, two out of three ain’t bad! Well, she’s great anyway. Maybe she should become Catholic!)

Saint Monica ModernBasically, unless you’re a Very Special Married Lady like Saint Monica, or Saint Gianna Molla, but if you want to become a woman saint, you’re going to have to be a single lady. (Good for me!)

I don’t know if Beyoncé had this single lady in mind when she wrote her song, but Saint Catherine of Sienna actually did get a ring! A mystical wedding ring, visible only to her, that she got from Jesus. THAT IS Gianna MollaSO COOL! I wonder if it looked like the one Kate Middleton is sporting now. Nah, probably better, ’cause it actually came from Jesus himself. (And even though the Jesus in my children’s Bible had blond hair, He was definitely not as cute as Prince William, though I guess that’s to be expected, since Isaiah prophesied that Jesus would have, “no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him” (Isaiah 53:2b, New American Bible). I do know that if I starting making noises that I had received a mystical wedding ring from Jesus that was only visible to me, I would probably be put on some kind of special medication only available through a licensed psychiatrist. (Definitely one thing that sucks about not living in the “olden days,” although I think those particular olden days were called the Dark Ages.)

His PrincessThere’s been a lot of chatter over the past few years in Evangelical Protestant circles about seeing Jesus as some kind of Prince Charming, made especially popular in the works of, among others, Sheri Rose Shepherd. But Catholics have, literally, centuries of that stuff to go on. Hey folks, wake up and smell the incense already! I realize that He does ride a white horse in the book of Revelation, but I think seeing Jesus as a Prince Charming is honestly, not even close to good enough. Nope. What are the single ladies then, the Heavenly Harem? I’m not sure about that…

Any church that makes celibacy a requirement for its ministers is bound to have any number of single ladies who, as Protestants, would’ve probably married a minister. Unfortunately, all the ministers are “taken” (as it were) in this denomination, so right there there’s a whole bunch of ladies.

And we even have groups of single ladies, that band together to help each other—they’re called sisters! (You’re only a nun if you’re cloistered, FYI.) Once upon a time, a very long time ago, some ladies joined religious orders because they’d been jilted, but now that’s frowned upon. And too bad, in my opinion. You want an increase in vocations, let those bitter chicks join up, and we’d soon have a lot more stories about kids getting their hands hit with a ruler again. (And probably fewer in jail, but that’s another story!)

All A-Gaga

Well, we did it, so I guess that means we’re not, what, “virgins” anymore. (Does anybody really use that word?) Once you’ve done it, you really can’t go back to the place you were before. Things aren’t the same. You feel … different. Changed. You want to tell everyone, maybe even people you don’t know. And yet you can’t seem to find the words that express your … hmmm, your experience? Your feelings? I don’t k now.

But I do know one thing: I will never be the same. Because, dear reader, we went to see Lady Gaga! Tuesday, 1 March 2011, Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

What to say? It’s not like any concert I’ve been to, and I’ve been to many. It’s not like a Broadway musical, which I’ve also seen. It’s more of a combination—Quite an astonishing combination! Costumes and dancers and monsters, oh, my!

And what a well-behaved crowd! I’m pretty sure every sexual orientation was represented,

probably even some I’m unfamiliar with! Women dressed as men, men dressed as women—someone even dressed like a unicorn! Young people, old people. All sorts were mingling in a sort of fantastical soup of self-expression. And all this in really cold weather! Both Sophia and I had hoped to dress up, but felt that the chilly weather and uncertainty of how long we’d have to wait to get into the arena precluded wearing anything other


than pants.

But that clearly didn’t stop some people. Witness the delightful young man in the Beanie Baby jeans (right). He was just great! And after the concert we ran across a couple of other young men who were happy to pose with Sophia (left).

I have never been to any concert, at venue, that seemed so drug free. That was

great. Although, frankly, I can’t imagine why you’d want any alteration in this experience, since it was already so mind-blowing that I wouldn’t have wanted to miss a single second.

From the minute she appeared to the closing curtain, the show ran like a well-oiled machine. Even the costume and set changes were accomplished in an astonishingly short time span.  She is really amazing!


Quinceañera today

Osmaíra Martínez quince in limoHere’s Osmaíra in the back of the limo.

Today I played piano for the quinceañera of Osmaíra Martínez. I was afraid I’d be going solo, but one of my singers, Luz Piña, showed up unexpectedly and that was great. Osmaíra’s was very beautiful and everything went off without a hitch. Things were a little late getting started, but that’s nothing new. The weather was stellar, in my opinion. Even thought it’s late August, it was in the mid-60’s, just right for tuxedos and dresses with crinolines. I’m just so glad to see girls make a public profession of their faith.

St. Joe'sThis is a picture of our church, St. Joseph’s.

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Pandora Radio

Pandora IconOh, this is just the coolest. I’ve just discovered Pandora Radio (, a FREE streaming internet radio site,  and I really like it. I get to make what they call a “radio station” with all or only the music I like. I’ve made about five stations so far, and it’s actually had to limit myself. I think this is one of those things that makes the internet great.

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You can butter my toast

Working on a little jazz ditty that popped into my head while I was on retreat. Roger made me promise to write all these things I’m always thinking of down, because otherwise they usually slip away. So this is it, and I’m working on the tune and chords now, but I don’t quite know how to add the piano music to the blog post.

man buttering toast

You can butter my toast, dear
Any time that you like.
You can butter my toast, dear
Whether it’s noon or night.
You can butter my toast any time of day because you know it’s true
That you can butter my toast, dear,
Because I love you.