Fear of the spotlight.
Is this really a fear of mine? The spotlight is actually something I’ve come to loathe. So why did I go into performance?!? Because I wanted to work on the best repertoire with the best teachers! And I LOVE to play the piano. I enjoy sharing music with others. I just don’t like to be watched!
When others are physically near me, I like our activities to be either cooperative or parallel. I don’t like the action of “spectator.” I don’t want to be a spectator, and I don’t want to be the object of a spectator. I don’t like watching or being watched. Even when I view something like a movie or TV show, I am engaged. I am thinking and responding. (I often write my thoughts in response to what I’m seeing.) Plus, the recorded medium allows me to do so without the actual persons being stared at. In Mass, I don’t watch the liturgy; I am part of it. Even when I gaze at the Eucharist, I am not a spectator; I am communing with Jesus.
I feel deeply and intensely that the sacredness of my Person is being cheapened in the eyes of a spectator; I am being objectified. Even if that objectification is in “positive” terms (admiration, awe, delight in my artistry), I don’t like how it feels, because I know fully that I am not an object; I am a Person, a Sacred Being.
So how do I cope with being watched when I perform? Mostly, I have learned how to exercise a psychological “bubble.” When on stage, there’s enough distance between the piano and the audience, it’s possible to focus my mind so entirely on my music that the rest of the world becomes a sort of perimeter, and I don’t allow my mind to wander to the edge. I know it’s there, and I accept it as my context, but I don’t engage with it beyond being aware that I am throwing my heart and music out to it. I simply hope some souls will graciously catch my gift, but I give it regardless.
I imagine “natural performers” are eager to receive their audience’s energy and not only enjoy interacting with it while performing, but actually thrive on it. Clearly, I’m not a “natural performer”! Recently, nearly all of my live music-making hasn’t technically been performance because it was the liturgical music for Mass. When I play in Mass, I am actively worshiping. I also lead or facilitate others in their worship. Given that where I’ve served in Mass the instruments have been either in the back or in a loft, or partially hidden behind a pew, I wasn’t watched, except by the cantors or choir who were joining with me in making the music.
I’m certainly not saying performance is bad! As a teacher I help my students learn how to manage the performance scenario. I’m just acknowledging that, even though my career has often put me in the spotlight, it’s not a place I prefer. I am happiest when I can interact with an individual or a small group of people, with everyone involved, engaged, contributing as well as receiving.