Running off Stage

August 4, 2003, 10:43 AM · My daughter had an attack of stage fright last week. Her friends, all about six or seven years old, were lining up to do a dance number, but she hung back. She didn’t want to go. The teacher beckoned her. She resisted more, burying her head in my lap and gripping my skirt as if it was the only thing keeping her from falling down a mountain cliff. “I just want to run out of this room,” she told me quietly.

I could relate.

In fact, it happened to me rather recently. I hadn’t had any kind of nerve problems in years, then suddenly that Evil Demon crept up on me. I was sitting principal second for an orchestra job and had what I’ll describe as the most technically easy solo imaginable. Not a problem. Except if you are in the midst of an anxiety attack!

About a half a page before the Great Terrible Solo my heart started pounding, harder than it does when I go running. My ears started sweating – I wasn’t even aware ears could sweat! I got rather dizzy – then the thought came to mind, “I just want to run out of this room!” Not an option. Of course, I stayed and played. All the notes, in tune, in the right place, but not exactly the music I would have liked to make! Oddly, the rest of the concert was totally fine. I went on to help lead the troops through the “1812,” which is a lot trickier, without even a pang of nerves.

When my daughter was in her state of nervousness, the thought occurred to me that the situation didn’t require so much anxiety. Here she was, doing a dance she knew well, with her friends. Her audience consisted of adoring parents – her own and others. But her anxiety was every bit as real as my own.

Moreover, my situation was every bit as “trivial,” on some cosmic level, as hers. There I was, playing nice music with friends, for an audience of people assembled because they enjoy our music. Where’s the anxiety in that?

I think the only solution is to be amused. Be amused by your own anxiety and stage fright. Don’t fight it; it just happens when it happens. But don’t run out of the room!

My daughter missed out on one number but went on to join her friends and have a wonderful time for the rest of the show.

“I was sorry I missed that first dance, it was my favorite one,” she said afterwards.

“I’m proud of you,” I told her, and I genuinely meant it. It’s hard to conquer those kinds of feelings. “I’m proud you went back and did it!”


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