Sunday, June 6, 2010

When "Wrong" is Right

I've been wrestling with the performance anxiety alligator for many years now, ever since it first reared it's ugly head in my youthful days and frightened me half to death!

Today some enlightenment came in an unexpected way.

I thought we were done singing at church for the year.  I thought I had heard the organist/choral leader tell us that  from this point on and over the summer we could just show up and sing hymns if we wanted to.  Since this weekend was my son's high school graduation and I had a houseful of company,  I was glad to just saunter into church today and sit with my family.

But I saw some of the other choir members sitting in the chairs over in the choir section, and I began to wonder if I had made a mistake, and was supposed to show up for something.  With a flushed face, I kind of tiptoed around the back and tapped my choir friend on the shoulder and asked her.  She said that I was right that I didn't have to show, but they were doing that song we had worked on for Corpus Christi and they could use my help. They looked happy to see me and eager for another voice.

I was relieved to find out that I hadn't messed up after all, and that I had not committed to being there without remembering. Since I was with my family, I told her that I was going to stick with my original plan to be in the congregation.

As I sat in the pew through the mass, I reconsidered, "oh, well, maybe I can slip over there when they sing the song and just help sing along.  I'll sneak around the back and sit behind my friend and just contribute in an unobtrusive way."

When I did just that, at communion time, the choir members startled me by standing up and walking over to the microphone and the podium.  Oh no, I'm not dressed to stand at the podium!  I have my casual outfit on and flip flops.  Well, it was too late now.  I just stood behind the other three.

Next, I had my book turned to the wrong page.  The song started and I just started to laugh.  I looked on my friend's book and read along, and now I had to really wing it because they weren't doing the song she told me they were doing.

What happened that was good, however, was that I began to feel very relaxed and enjoy singing up there.  The absurdity of my position made me realize the joy that was in making music up there, and that all the constrictions and stipulations and requirements I had imposed on singing up in front of people were just big monsters that I had made up.  Instead of feeling horror at the situation, as I would have so many times in the past, I felt a sense of utter delight and amusement.

Everything was wrong.  It was wrong that I was not dressed right.  It was wrong that I was winging it in front of people and not prepared.  It was wrong that I was on the wrong page.  It was wrong that I wasn't taking it all much more seriously up there.  And most of all it was wrong that all of this was happening in front of a large group of people.

And yet I never felt more right in my life at last.  I really really hope that I can hold on to this!


  1. Hi there! Google Reader recommended your blog to me, and I've been lurking a bit and enjoying.

    My vocal teacher in college introduced me to The Inner Game of Tennis as a way to let go and really let the singing happen. This experience you relate is totally an Inner Game thing, and I love it. I have since used this with my own students and it is an amazing concept. You can definitely hold on to it, but you have to remember that it was all because you didn't really care!

  2. Isn't it weird how music can do that to you sometimes?

    I'm so glad everything worked out right, when it could have been so wrong. And isn't music just wonderful!

    I think you absolutely proved that, right page or not, you were exactly where you were meant to be at that moment.

  3. YES!! Not taking oneself too seriously is a PERFECT antidote to performance anxiety (yet of course not too easy to achieve when you have a perfectionist soul and are always striving towards something). Accidentally surreal circumstances are a wonderful way for us control freaks to start to laugh at ourselves. Congratulations! And try to find something in the situation to anchor yourself to the feeling (like imagining you're wearing flip-flops or something). Glad you had fun.

  4. Englishwoman, yes! From now on I'm going to imagine wearing flip flops through my whole life! I think I definitely have to wear flip flops when I blog too!

    Daharja -- Music DOES just get more wonderful by the minute (or at least my awareness of its wonderfulness keeps growing)

    Lara -- So glad you stopped by my blog to chat! That book, The Inner Game of Tennis has been recommended often. Hearing you mention it, and especially since I'm enjoying a similar book right now, The Inner Athlete, makes me want to check it out. It's great someone introduced you to that kind of inner work earlier in your life, and I wish I was on to this kind of stuff years ago. But, nevertheless -- Better late than never!