Cathy's Blog

Will Red Socks Get You to Carnegie Hall?

Here I am, the Great Pretender, appearing calm.

I’ve performed in each of my guitar teacher’s recitals since 2003, playing to an audience of friends, family, and fellow students in her crowded living room, precisely the environment in which this kind of music was played in olden times. “Chamber music,” they still call it–plucked stringed instruments, quiet by nature, played without amplification  in a small room. Each year I love having performed, but I never fail to wake up on recital morning with a groan: Why do I do this to myself? Playing solo is so scary, even if you’re someone like Julian Bream, whose stage fright, I’ve been told, was so severe that he would not perform without wearing his lucky red socks (over the years I assume he went through multiple pairs). So if Bream was shaking and quaking while performing in Carnegie Hall, who am I to chastise myself for approaching the chair, the music stand,  and the footstool in a state of abject terror?

That said, each year I have managed to play my pieces to my satisfaction, and after 12 months of practicing and finger exercises and memorizing and lessons and performance classes, deservedly so. But not last Sunday. No. At least, not solo. I also am a member of “No Strings Attached,” an ensemble of three students, and we launched this year’s recital with a lovely Handle Sarabande followed by a devilish Bach Presto, measures flying by without a single rest. Miss a few notes and catching up is like running after a speeding  train. But we did great. Besides, playing ensemble isn’t  scary. You’ve got back-up.

But solo? Not this time. I’ve had– as the therapists tell you to say–a challenging year. A lot of loss and disappointment, professional rejection, loss of income, loss of nerve, loss of teeth, loss of hearing, loss of confidence and belief in myself. So I decided to avoid the possibility of another disappointment by not performing my solo pieces (even though they were already listed in the program) because I just didn’t think I could do justice to the music. Helen,  my wonderful teacher, supported my decision. What a relief! After the ensemble performed I sat in the audience and just enjoyed listening to other people’s pieces,  feeling privileged to be in the company of so many courageous musicians, none of us professional, just impassioned, and taking in the gift of unamplified music in a small and intimate room. Like it was done in olden times. Two days have gone by since then, and my self-confidence is doing a slow U-turn. Life is good again.

April 30, 2019