Eric Whitacre said once: The terror of performing never goes away. Instead you get very, very comfortable being terrified!
Recently, as we were standing in the wings waiting to walk on stage to perform in front of a huge audience in a large venue, I had time to reflect on why, as a choir, we put ourselves through this.
I looked around at the seven others in my octet and saw the strategies used to control the nerves before going on. One was rigid, staring into the middle distance, not noticing anything. Others were discussing mundane subjects such as their family, or walking the dog, to take their minds off the task in hand. Two were going through their part together, discussing the phrases.
I tend to whitter on when I’m nervous, and invariably turn to my partner on the second alto line and give her a hug and say “I’m SO glad you’re here”. None of us want to let our friends or our MD down, although we also know none of us would be upset if one of the others made a mistake!
Once on stage, and having been given the starting note, a different part of the brain kicks in and suddenly we are just singing our hearts out, because we love it, because we create a sound none of us are able to make on our own. At the back of our minds is the technical details of each piece, the notes, the lyrics, the phrasing, all of which is important, but we are telling the story of our song to the whole audience, and it’s the performance in its entirety which is more important than the details.
Having been together in this line-up for almost two years, we are a very close group. We know each other’s families, we have meals (and gin) together, and there is a great camaraderie and it’s not just about the music. But we exist in order to perform. When we perform together it is just us against the world. This is when we are at our closest. And the applause afterwards is for all of us, not just one or two. When we get off stage it is a shared memory from the whole group, another occasion to enjoy later. And the feeling of relief and exhilaration and joy is a shared moment for us all too. Hugs all round for a job well done.
Back to that performance on that day: we had so many wonderful comments after we left the stage I felt incredibly proud of our little group. One woman who lived on the other side of the country came and asked when she could join. A young girl clutching her mother’s hand shyly walked over to us and whispered how much she loved our songs. Even a gentleman joked that if he put a blue bolero on and black dress would he be allowed to join! This and for many other reasons is why we perform.
About the Author: Jill Smith sings second alto for the BlueBelles (that’s the bass line!)
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