Shakes and Stage Fright...

When I was a kid, I totally identified with this book. Poor Sister Bear, who loses it in front of all Bear Country at the school play. Other than my earliest Patch performances, in which my biggest worry was winning Super Sailor (didn't happen as often as you'd think, what with Captain Baines at the helm and all), I don't remember much about getting nervous in front of crowds until my piano recital in 3rd grade. I can't remember what song I played, but I remember being so scared that I messed up and literally ran away with my hands over my face. (There is photographic proof of this moment.) From that day on, I knew I was plagued with a serious and incurable case of stage fright.

For the next few years, it wasn't that bad. I mean, sure I got nervous, but it didn't like immobilize me when I performed. (By the way, I didn't have a Charlotte Church-type childhood full of solo concerts... I'm just talking Patch performances, piano recitals, etc.) But when I go a little older (junior high-ish) I ran into a major problem.

I shake. Even when I'm not nervous, there is a slight shakiness (called technically a "fine tremor", although if you ask me there's nothing fine about it) to my hands. All the time. I basically resemble a Parkinson's patient at times. (No disrespect to actual Parkinson's patients.) And I get some really great responses.

"What is wrong with you??" (Hmmm.... I'll have to get back to you.)

"Stop shaking, Ashley!" (Oh, sure, let me turn it off like a faucet!)

"Are you nervous?" (No, I'm completely at ease... which is why my hands are so wobbly my drink is sloshing over the side of my cup.)

"You'll grow out of it." (Am I teething or something?)
 Basically, I look like a total spaz even trying to open a bag of chips, let alone trying to get up in front of people for any reason. (Except for teaching, for some reason. I'm totally at ease teaching. Good news, eh?)

So, despite my early foray into piano recitals that was hardly fantastic, I kept on with the whole piano thing from 1st grade until I was a senior in high school. (Not every year, but about 9 years total). The first 6 years were with actual teachers, and the last few were spent with my sister Amanda.

There are several pianists in my family (all my sisters play, several cousins are quite good, my mom plays Indian Wigwam at an obnoxious tempo...), but Amanda is the Mozart of us all. And while her talent was never lorded over me by anyone but myself, it wasn't really a motivating factor in my own musical journey. I didn't resent her talent, but it just made me feel like there was already one accomplished pianist in the family, so why bother? (It didn't occur to my omniscient 15-year-old self that one day we wouldn't all be under the same roof and I might need to be able to play without her. So, our lessons were spent less on piano and more on my extremely successful ability to distract Amanda with my witty banter. (Have you ever tried to teach your sibling something? It's usually a lost cause.) 

Not that she didn't try. The poor dear certainly tried. She bought me books, she let me play what I wanted (mostly Disney songs), and she tried to pound into my head that I would in fact need this information one day. But then I'd start making jokes and the lesson would head south. (Poor Amanda... she's really a great teacher, just not strong enough to resist my hilarity... which is why she's usually my best audience for a story. =) And I really hated practicing! (Doesn't everybody?) I really just wanted to be able to sit down and PLAY, without all that work! Ha! Clearly it doesn't work that way.

So, my lazy streak towards the piano, combined with my freakish nervous habit of shaking (passed down from my dad and Amanda, ironically), did not really lend themselves to a bright future as a pianist. I get just as nervous singing, but I've done enough of it over the years that I'm not totally paralyzed when I sing. Plus, I don't do solos and I picked up a trick from my friend Melissa of holding the microphone in both hands so the entire audience doesn't have to watch it shake with me. At least if your voice shakes, you can kind of plow on through. If your hands shake, it kind of affects the whole piano thing (since you play with your hands!). 

When I grew up (or last year, to be exact) I realized I might actually need to have some small piano ability for my future in ministry (we plan to start a church someday) and goodness knows my limited guitar skills  are not accompanist-worthy. So, I decided, at 21, to take up the piano again. This time, our music minister's wife, Susan, had the misfortune good luck to be my teacher. She was great... she put me at ease, made me feel like I still had some measure of ability, and taught me alot in the pitifully short amount of time we had to work (just one semester!). All went well until the end of semester "final" (yes, this was a class for an actual grade) when I had to perform in front of the music faculty. Too bad I was shaking so bad that I literally lost control of what I was doing and had to stop by the third song. So much for "making a comeback" into the piano world. My face turns red just thinking about it! 

After all that, imagine my chagrin when I was asked to play the keyboard for church on Wednesday nights. Mind you, it's only once a month, and it's just playing the chords of each song to back up the piano. And after a decade of piano lessons, if I can't at least bang out some chords then I should probably never have the nerve to touch a piano again. So, I agreed, if only for the sake of my pride. And the fear that God would allow an accident to break all my fingers if I didn't.

Bad move.

The first time I was on the schedule (last month) I was in full-out panic mode for the entire week before. I forced my friend Brittany, who was scheduled to play the piano, to practice with me (I'm pretty sure no one else does that for any length of time) and then took the music home and set up my Mamaw's tiny little keyboard and practiced long enough to drive myself and my husband crazy. All this for a 15-20 minute song service on a Wednesday night. And all because of my ridiculous shaky hands. (It doesn't help that we have a zillion awesome pianists at our church... I always feel like Toy Story when Andy gets a bunch of cool presents and then he opens bed sheets and all the toys shout "Who invited that kid?!" Not to mention our music minister, whose opinion I value enormously, is sitting close enough to actually hear the keyboard. I typically putter at the piano only when I'm alone and scurry away like a frightened mouse if I hear footsteps approaching. I know, pathetic.) 

All too soon, this month's scheduled Wednesday had arrived and I was going into lock-down again. Only this time, instead of my college buddy at the piano, it was one of our church secretaries. She is the sweetest person ever but I'm not as comfortable demanding  requesting a practice. I did, however, feel I should at least give her a heads-up that she had been saddled with the spastic shaky girl for her turn on the rotation. (This involved my needing a detailed list of the songs for the prelude, order of service, etc.) So the past couple days I have dragged out the keyboard and set up shop in Mamaw's room, again practicing for what lasted all of 20 minutes and what probably only a few people noticed. (I did survive, thanks to a patient Mrs. Maddox, the pianist, with only a few glaring errors that hopefully didn't make too many people wince.)

But I am glad I did, if only to say that I actually went through with it (As if I have survived the apocalypse!). Psalm 35:4-5 has become my theme verse... "Strengthen the weak hands, and steady the feeble knees." That's me- weak hands, feeble knees, and all. And for a few minutes on the third Wednesday of each month, God strengthens them. It has to be Him, because otherwise I'd be a basket case. But I just have to tell myself that maybe someday I will actually play, if not beautifully, then perhaps without the shakes. Who knows? I doubt it, but I can hope. And practice on my tiny keyboard in the meantime.

Or just say no to all piano opportunities that come my way. 
Yeah, maybe that.

Later, people! If you have a paralyzing fear of performing (or a freaky quirk like my shakes), let me know before I get a complex and join the circus. 



  1. A-hem..."A"ffect. ;) Enjoyed this - it is SO me!!

  2. Ah, yes, I do recall an incidence in junior high where I "feigned illness" on a Wednesday evening when I was scheduled to play for the offering... Needless to say, I was never asked to play another special (which actually didn't bother me).

  3. I can definitely relate. I took piano lessons for 10 years, but at my very last lesson, my piano teacher said she thought I might have a future in playing for the deaf ministry. LOL I have never been able to play in front of people; I get intimidated too easily. Good for you for agreeing to play in your church! I enjoy reading your blog! :)

  4. Very funny and so true! Noticed
    you have your very own grammar check in your comment section:) I wonder if they do spell check, too?lol

  5. When I entered the church auditorium last night and saw you playing the keyboard, I immediately thanked the Lord for the strength he gives the moment we need it. I knew how difficult, or, as you may say, horrifying, it must be for you to be in front of people in that way. You, with God's help, were able to be used of God in that way. I was encouraged through your music.

    1. You were used by the Lord in a major way to encourage Ashley to continue with her gift and use it for the Lord. Thank you, Susan, for your positive influence on my daughter.:)

  6. I get more nervous in front of 5 people, versus 100 people! So crazy!! p.s. I LOVED those books when I was little!!


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