I’ve sort of added singing to my musical indulgences. This bit came only recently in addition to my guitar playing, which has gone on since people were still learning the opening chords to Plush. I’ve wished I could do it for a while but only in the last few years taken my meager voice out in public, dusted it off, and quickly shelved it again, only to repeat the experience after I’ve forgotten how traumatic the last time was.
It was in this spirit that I played half a show/half background music at a special flea market day at our local dog park. Luckily this time the performance lasted long enough to get over the traumatic bit and enjoy myself eventually.
I realized that I go through 4 stages when I play music in public, the first two of which probably eliminate me from the category “good performers” for life:
- I am afraid of the audience. I half hide behind whatever obstructions are available on stage, I fumble simple guitar parts half because of nerves and half to lower expectations, and I sing like I’m apologizing. Despite the fact that as a teacher, I appear in front of groups of people all the time, I am still very afraid of being judged inadequate by crowds – particularly when doing something I do alone 99% of the time.
- I hate the audience. They undertandably respond to my shamefaced nonperformance by ignoring it. Of course, to me, the mere fact that I made it up to the stage is worthy of applause, but to them I’m but one feature of the landscape, and a very awkward one at that. I think most experienced amateur performers must learn to take a permanently glass-half-full view of these situations (“that guy with the corn dog didn’t choke on it during my last song!”), but in my mindspace, anyone checking their phone, walking by, or otherwise refusing to acknowledge the risk to my self-esteem I’m taking is deliberately stomping on my ego. In these moments I feel an unbearable combination of humiliation, frustration, and fruitlessness. I imagine this must show on my face even more than in my especially tragic-sounding “Oklahoma Hills”.
- I stop caring. If the planets are aligned, the second phase will end after a few songs. If not, as in last Tuesday, it will take 30 minutes or so. By now I’ve lost even the people who actually knew and liked (before I started playing them) the songs. On Tuesday I played 3 slightly different sets, and after the first set I probably looked pretty crumpled. By the time I started the second set I figured no one was going to be listening anyway and just played more or less as if I were sitting on my bed alone on a Sunday. And despite the fact that I’m still sitting in front of a crowd of people I start remembering that oh yea, I like playing music.
- The audience starts to listen. As the shrunken patheticness and passive-aggressiveness fade and I start semi-liking what I’m doing, some people start throwing me smiles and stopping by between songs to say hi, or thanks, or hey, did you write that? I loosen up, which makes singing a lot easier, and take a few risks with songs and fills that aren’t necessarily easy or even very rehearsed. This means I probably make more isolated mistakes but the overall effect of the song or set is something other than one long mistake because I no longer look like I’m about to explode in a shower of rat poison and ball bearings.
By the way, even in hindsight I think sitting near someone performing and not giving them your attention is rude. Yes, the performer wants to be there too, and you are not obligated to listen or like it, but by sitting up front and checking Twitter you’re hurting other people’s chance to enjoy it by draining the atmosphere and putting an “Don’t Give AF” sign up in front of the performer’s eyes. Again, I don’t know if more experienced performers feel this way, or perhaps it’s a taboo along the lines of “kids can be jerks” among teachers. But performing in Japan also means that both positive and negative reactions are tempered by the eerie lifelessness the pervades all – even very noisy – public spaces, and after all this time I should know not to take this personally. Hopefully I’ll remember if I do this again in the few months before I go.
Oh, and the set list for all 3 sets was roughly:
- Comes a Time
- Field of Opportunity
- Squeeze Box
- Ice Cream Man
- Thank You
- Wish You Were Here
- Oklahoma Hills/Rude Mood
- I Remember You
- Keep on the Sunny Side
- Cry Cry Cry
- Ring of Fire
- Take Me Back (Deja Vu)
- Interstate Love Song
- Hello, Goodbye
- Dust in the Wind
- Fade to Black
- No One There
- Pride and Joy
- Crazy Train
- 18 and Life
Yea, maybe I got a little too comfortable toward the end.