Speaking in public used to make me nauseous and give me panic attacks. When we had presentations to do in school, I often called in sick.
If working on a group project, I chose to do the research so I could pass the presentation off to someone else. Smart teachers, of course, always made sure everyone had their few minutes of fame and I had to battle my stage fright and stutter through a few lines of nonsense.
It’s really strange, though, because deep down I know I’m a performer.
In eighth grade, I played the lead role in two or three of our school plays. The idea of getting up on stage in front of our entire school of 200 people scared the crap out of me at first, but as soon as the curtain was drawn I became someone other than myself. Playing a role, everything was easy. It was being myself that was hard.
Music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, and I’ve performed with choruses and smaller groups since I was 8 years old. That, too, is easy. It’s getting up on stage alone that’s hard.
I finally had a breakthrough during my first year at Westchester Community College when I took a (required) public speaking class. I realized that the key to my comfort lies in actually knowing what to say. If I am well-prepared and speak about something I know a lot about, nobody is going to laugh or tell me I’m wrong. And after one good speech, you gain the confidence required to do another.
Of course, speaking is just the first step. Every new area creates a different road block.
I panicked again during piano class, where we were required to perform for our fellow classmates each Thursday. Oh, how I dreaded Thursdays. Once, I even had a couple of shots of vodka before class to ease my nerves. Then I realized the problem: I wasn’t any good at playing and I stopped.
My current project is overcoming stage fright when singing. I am told the butterflies in my stomach and the urgent need to pee will never fully go away, but at least I want to be able to get through a song without my voice shaking and creating an unwritten vibrato.
I took singing lessons for a year and then decided it was time for me to start auditioning. This was a few years ago. Albie and I drove up to the Mohegan Sun casino and I sang the (American) national anthem in front of three judges and some 50 other hopeful singers. The judges laughed when I said I was from Sweden and told me to get a grip because, well, “you’re in America now.”
For Valentine’s Day this year, a bar in Torrington held a local karaoke “Idol” contest. I paid the $10 entry fee and spent two weeks picking my three songs (in case I made it to the final round). Halfway through my first song, one of the judges hid his face in his hands. While I finished the song, it wasn’t with much confidence.
I am not letting these incidents stop me, though. In fact, I just performed a solo during our spring concert in April and again during our Hartford concert a week ago. The song was in Swedish, which makes it a lot easier because it feels like nobody will really know if I make a mistake. It might be “cheating,” but it’s a step in the right direction.