Facing Your Fears

Life is a scary and wonderful thing. Behind every success, there is usually an incredible amount of hard work, sacrifice, and the desire to fight against the voice that tells you that you can't, or you shouldn't, or that you never will. 

My current teaching studio consists of four adult pupils, who all began learning for different reasons. They're always one of the highlights of my week, and I leave their lessons feeling inspired and full of energy. Mostly though, I'm always struck by their bravery, in deciding as an adult to make a huge leap outside their comfort zone and learn something new. I've noticed that often my young pupils will barrel head-first into new repertoire, no questions asked, but my adults have to almost psych themselves up to face new challenges. Then once they get it right, they question why, and how - not just how the music is constructed, but also how they managed to achieve success. 

One of them told me a story in her lesson last week: as an eight-year-old child, she had just performed in a piano concert, and after she'd finished playing her piece she went off-stage to see her father, who told her: "it was good, but you just didn't look like you were feeling it." She said that she'd cried for hours afterwards, and that the comment had stuck with her all of her life. Even now she hears his voice when something goes slightly awry at the piano. So for her to still want to have a lesson every week, and to always put in time during the week to practice, despite her fears, is inspiring.

A couple of weeks ago I played in a concert as a part of the BBC Total Immersion Day. The piece was Bernstein's Arias and Barcarolles, a wonderful half-an-hour-long work for mezzo-soprano, baritone, and four hands on one piano. The catch was, in the seventh movement of the work, I had to sing (well, scat) and speak aloud, whilst playing the piano at the same time. I knew about this concert months in advance, and so in the lead-up I went through all the associated emotions, namely denial and terror. Despite my strong belief that everyone can sing, I never managed to apply that theory to myself (I don't even sing in the shower!), but I knew that my choice was either to sing for less than a minute, or to give up the concert completely - and I'm far too stubborn to ever allow something like that to happen..! 

Unlike surgeons where mistakes can have fatal consequences, or even as a teacher, when a small comment can impact a student for the rest of their life, I always tell my pupils that there is very little risk involved playing the piano. The roof is not going to collapse, the sky won't fall in, and no-one is going to break any bones. A minute of singing on-stage was not going to cause any natural (or unnatural) disasters, and I knew that I had done far more difficult things in my life than putting myself out there for all of 60 seconds.

So, I took inspiration from all my brave adult pupils, and I practiced, and I faced my fears and went for it. And you know what, the audience loved it, and the concert was a great success. It was recorded for BBC Radio 3, and for a short time it's still available to listen to here. I sat in my lounge room and listened to the concert when it was first broadcast, and rather than defaulting into critiquing my own performance, I instead tried to remember what it felt like to share this wonderful piece with talented colleagues and an appreciative audience, and the pride I felt at doing something I never thought I could, or would, do. 

"Do the thing you fear and keep on doing it... that is the quickest and surest way ever yet discovered to conquer fear." - Dale Carnegie

- K x

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