From my “short” (it was half my life- 11 years) but extensive “career” as a performer, I learned that my stage fright was completely unpredictable. In tiny concert halls or large auditoriums, it would shake me at the most unexpected moments, but when I most expected it, it wasn’t there.
I’ve suffered agonies of stage fright at previous recitals and appearances to where they’ve affected my playing to a degree that I seriously considered giving up playing in public altogether. I will perform for a group of strangers, lest if I do make a fool of myself, they will at least never see me again. My parents, music teachers and peers have seen my growth and know my potential, and they are probably in the same boat as me. For friends and those who know me…well, that’s a different story.
Throughout the years I also found out that with or without my stage fright, no praise or amazing compliment on earth could make me feel happy about my performance if I myself did not feel happy with my playing in that moment. It was at that point when I wanted to drop out of the Conservatory and the remaining years I had to attend turned into the most troublesome chore I had to do in my life. Looking at this now, it seemed that the only thing that mattered in my playing…was me. Violin playing was a lonely life I guess! Haha. Now that I point this out, I realize for 98% of the time I practiced at home, it was in the confines of my room. My brother, on the other hand, practiced piano in the center of the house, the living room, the grand piano loud enough to be heard everywhere in the house. It was an event for everyone to hear. But then again, the piano is a simple machine-hit a key and it creates a beautiful note on its own.
The very nature of the violin is complex, and therefore the problems of violinists tend to be more complex than most. The thing about the violin as an instrument is the fact that it is alive. According to the Hungarian story, “it is the creation of the devil itself; perhaps because the violin is considered such a difficult instrument.” This idea of the violin being alive is so much easier to accept when it is emphasized that the parts of the violin are named after parts of the human body- the back, neck, ribs, etc. Some people find it helpful to play if they can imagine that the neck of the violin is a delicate bird that they can manipulate to sing. But the way I see it (and I’m sure I’m not alone) is identifying the neck with my own, and imagining how it would feel if someone pressed fingers against my vocal cords and said ‘sing.’ The next thing to imagine is that a rough harsh sound is the violin actually in pain.
Perhaps it is because I viewed it as me inflicting pain on my instruments that I was never satisfied with my performances. Or maybe the feeling of artistic fulfillment- the power to “give”- was a fleeting emotion I was only granted to experience once. Nonetheless, my relationship with the violin will continue and hopefully one day reach a point where I can be fully content with the music created.
Painting by Louis-Léopold Boilly, “Tartini’s Dream,” 1824