On Being the Audience

I grew up on the stage, playing my first violin recital at age three. I vaguely remember the corsage on my shoulder being bigger than my face at the time, and that I got a white ribbon afterward.  Everything else is a blank–including what I played, which was likely three notes.

At six, I switched to the cello.  From then on I performed, year after year, in venues as diverse as they were plentiful.  It got to be a thing where I felt a little nervous before a performance, sometimes, but usually only if I found myself queued up in an endless stretch of fellow recital-bots.

Weddings, office parties, tours?  Not so much.

It was probably good for me to have started so young, to have learned from an early age how to use the energy we call nerves instead of letting it use me.  There were crash-and-burn moments, of course, when my bow hand shook so violently it cut audibly anxious paths across my strings. But in time I got less nervous about getting nervous.  Or else I got numb.

Flash forward.

My kids started taking piano lessons this semester.  For one reason or another, my husband and I did not emphasize formal musical instruction with them for several years.  For one thing, we wanted to see if they actually wanted to put the time in to practice before we made the commitment.  We homeschool, and practicing an instrument felt like one more thing we’d have to “encourage” if it didn’t go well.  Then there was the fact that we lived for three years in a remote place where we couldn’t secure music lessons.

But we’re in the States now, and they really wanted to learn how to play the piano, so we let them.  The only problem is that they’re 14, 13, and 11.5–old enough to be self-conscious.  So I had no idea how they were going to handle their upcoming recital.

Who am I kidding?  I had no idea how I was going to handle it.

In the end, they did very well, though my daughter was shaking so bad she had to steady her hands before she began her piece.  They didn’t crack under pressure, didn’t goof up, didn’t get up and walk out, or nervous-burp, or barf.  Believe me when I say that those things are fairly common, and that I’ve seen enough recital train wrecks to have lost my innocence forever.

So they played while I cried in the audience like some kind of unstable Tiger Mom.  And, yeah, I aged a couple of years.  But the thing I learned is, they’re really going to be OK, after all.

And so am I.

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Mom Says

A poem by my 11-year-old.  (Can you tell what we’ve been arguing about around here?)

It’s time to give the boot

to games in which one must shoot.

Do not ask.

Do not beg.

They’ll make your brain a scrambled egg.

Climb a tree.

Paint with blue.

Kiss your dog’s flabby flew.

So here’s a note to all those killers:

Fill your brain with smart-kid fillers!