Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Stage Fright

I was nervous, of course, getting on stage and playing my song, singing and two hands on strings, and doing it all in front of Others. So out of my comfort zone. But, this was guitar camp, where you were expected to walk on the edge, try something new and daring, and grow.

The stage performance class was living up to its promise of stretching my talents and dealing with my fears. It was definitely a new day in the life of the nascent guitar player and balladeer.

I was fourth on today’s list of performers and had watched my fellow performers all go through their particular walk through their own anxiety, dealing with their own dragons. This was dragon slaying day.

I did pretty good, even delivering my little introduction with some flare, as I simultaneously adjusted the mic, arranged my little cheat sheet of chords and words, and nearly dropped my dark guitar pick into the pit of the black hole of the rest of the room.

The world didn’t end when I fumble and successfully drop my pick, and spontaneously rearrange my song by adding a few new chord forms.

I plunge ahead, just like our teacher had said, remembering the lady before me, who got on stage and immediately wrapped her guitar strap around one arm, her guitar sagging down towards the floor. She recovered and survived that experience, and so I play through, the loud applause telling me I could breathe again.

I slip back into the safety of my seat in the second row, next to the lady who had gotten wrapped up in her guitar strap. She was breathing again and even shakes my hand. I realize I’d just pitted out my shirt, and it was only 11 in the morning.

A few other people did their own acts, and I could smile and laugh again, the sweat under my arms drying out.

Then, it was Rebecca’s turn. She hadn’t been in our class this week, but this was guitar camp, where the only rule is you can jump into something with courage, and no one gets to say anything rude.

Rebecca sat down and calmly adjusted her mic, and got her guitar all situated. She got our attention when she said she wasn’t going to be able to hear what she was going to play. She’d been born nearly deaf and had struggled with hearing aids all of her life, all through college and grad school, earning a master’s in music.

Music is her life; that is all over her face.

She’d had cochlear implants a few months ago, and now had electronics in her middle and inner ears, and now was able to hear a whole lot better. But, she added, her brain now doesn’t hear music the same. Her brain has to relearn what music is, and it’s taking a long, long time.

We all hear the frustration in her speech, a voice still sounding like the slightly disjointed voice of a deaf person, who has grown up not having that feedback between voice and ear.

The piece she is going to play for us was the last piece she learned before the implant surgery. It was such a beautiful song, she said. Now, the only way she can hear its beauty is to remember the sound with her fingers when play it on the guitar.

What she hears now with her new ears, when she plays her guitar or listens to music on the radio, is horrible, discordant noise. Her brain is hard at work, but it hasn’t yet caught up with her new hardware.

She reaches around her ears, touches a few tiny buttons, and begins to play. And, her fingers dance up and down the fretboard, fingerpicking a Beethoven cantata. The heavy silence in the room deepens when Beethoven enters the room.

Her skill brings the joy and craftsmanship of the classical giant to life, and I’m following her fingers along the same river of sensuality created by the deaf master.

As the notes fill the room, more than a few tears fall, and no one is breathing.

An hour later, she left camp, the pain of not hearing her beloved music as music being too much for her. Today, most of the class will get up on this same stage, many making their debut of playing in public, showing their courage. And, Rebecca will be with them, and will be with all of us as the notes begin to play.

--Neal Lemery 8/3/2011

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