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The Fear Dragon

Chamber Music Chair


I have lived long enough to have many stories of how I have dealt with stage fright. One friend asked if I had ever considered bungee-jumping. ‘Why would I want to do that?” I countered, “I already know the feeling of jumping off a cliff.” Here is one story from my past that you may find helpful.

Sometime during my college years, I read about the Malaysian Senoi, best known for their work with dreams. They teach their children such ideas as “Never run away from danger in a dream. If you see a monster, either overcome it or make friends with it.”  I know my monster, I thought: stage fright. Can I overcome it? Can I make friends with it?

I went back to my little bedroom in the rustic cabin I shared with other young musicians, and curled up in a fetal position underneath the covers, pillow over my head. “All right, Mr. Dragon of My Fears, I challenge you! I will fight with you, and not run away!”  My mental challenge struck me as childish, but I stuck with it, imagining the absolute worst thing that could happen. The fear began to grow, and I still kept it as an image right between my eyebrows. After a few minutes I was shivering under the blankets. What if I totally blew it? What if I played out of tune? What if I messed up? What if my peers thought less of me? What if my teachers were disappointed? What if I embarrassed myself?  Maybe I would get out there and not be able to do it at all. Suddenly instead of fear I began to feel anger. “Stop it!” I screamed inside myself. “SO WHAT? My mother just died a year ago – that matters.  Is all this important? I’ve worked, haven’t I? Fierce Dragon Fear, I defy you!! Do your worst!” On and on I ranted, trembling. Then, just as I began to tire of the anger, I began to feel strength surge through me.  “OK, Mr. Dragon, I am strong enough to overcome you. I don’t have to worry about you any more.” Then it all fell apart and I cried. I can’t be perfect, I thought. And a voice came to me, “No, you can’t be perfect. You don’t need to be. Life isn’t perfect.  It is beautiful, but it isn’t perfect. Just sing of your sorrow, sing of your grief, sing of your loneliness, and you will reach people.”

Oh. Sing of my sorrow? My grief? My loneliness? I can do that.  I can share that with the listeners.

Then a calmness came to me, and I rested. I remembered the love of my mother, the caring person I missed so much. I can sing of my love for her, I thought. I can sing of the joy I shared with her, and when the music calls for it, I can sing of the difficulties we had. As I sing of my love for her I will sing of Love.  As I sing of my loneliness and grief, I will be singing of Loneliness and Grief. The personal will be transmuted into the universal.

I will sing through my violin, and I will not be perfect. I will be human, and some listeners will hear human sorrow and joy, loneliness and love. That is enough.

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