On Nerves

The other night, I had the worst stage fright of my life. It was sort of a new feeling for me: I don’t usually have much anxiety before I go on stage. Occasionally I feel jittery, but I still feel more excited than anything else. Like most people who perform live, I really rather enjoy the adrenaline rush. Usually.

Not so with the other night. I was fucking terrified. And here’s why: I was singing in a cabaret show, which I rarely do, and the day before, I had lost my voice. I woke up the day of the show marginally better, and since friends had already purchased tickets, I was determined to give it my all.

I pretty much spent the day of the show with my head in the shower, huffing as much steam as possible. I also gargled, nose-douched, repeatedly sucked down a mildly unpleasant mix of honey and lemon juice and, of course, avoided caffeine and other edibles that can dry out your voice. I warmed my voice up slowly and consistently, for five minutes at a time with hour-long breaks for vocal rest until I was getting some vocal strength back. I did everything and anything I could think of to clear and moisturize my vocal chords and improve my sound.

And. . . it worked! I went. I sang. I wasn’t 100%–I didn’t have my normal full range of belt, and I didn’t flip between my head and chest registers as easily as usual–but I was a pretty solid 85%, and having been so sick directly prior to the show, I’m pretty pleased.  None of my friends could tell I was fighting phlegm and sinus pain, and even a few strangers complimented my performance. While I certainly feel that a few aspects of my performance would have been better had I been healthier, I think I worked well within the limits of my situation, and in the end, I put on a good show.


And it got me thinking: if that degree of preparation and focus got me on stage when I was sick as a dog, what would that same prep work do for me when I’m healthy? I’ve always thought of myself as a well-prepared performer, but before this particular show sheer terr0r motivated me to go above and beyond my normal prep practices. It sure as hell paid off. Now, I don’t think I need nerves to lay the groundwork for a great show, but it was awfully good for me the once: it forced me to reexamine my typical habits and try something new and ultimately better. I won’t go into what my old preparations entailed here, but I will confess: vocal hygiene wasn’t a big part of it. Last night made me realize that while it’s great to make a habit of practices that serve you as a performer, it’s also necessary to examine your habits every so often to make sure that they’re still useful, and that good old habits don’t cause you to neglect a potentially better new one.

And that’s what I learned from stage fright.

And now that it’s a lesson learned, I seriously hope that I’m never so terrified again’!


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