I still remember the first time I played guitar on stage. I was performing with my band at the Red Lion in New York City. The people in my band were complete pro’s hired by the indie record label I was working with. I was getting to play music on stage in the city of lights, the city of great rock n’ roll. Plus, I had just gotten a brand new sunburst Guild acoustic guitar. He was gorgeous. I named him Elvis because he reminded me of the cool sunburst guitars that conveniently appeared in “Blue Hawaii” whenever Elvis decided to randomly break out in song. Clearly, I was ready to take the stage by storm! Well, almost. I had been singing a long time but I had actually only been playing guitar for around 6 months and I was completely terrified of playing guitar on stage. Emphasis on the word “terrified”. As the pro’s in the band busied themselves setting up, I realized that I needed to tune my beautiful little Elvis. I hadn’t planned on that! I panicked. I couldn’t get the tuner to register anything from guitar because of the loud music playing in the bar. Then, I realized that it didn’t matter anyway because I couldn’t remember what the notes on the open strings were. I didn’t even know what I was trying to tune to!! In desperation, I turn to my lead guitarist setting up next to me on stage.
Me: “David, what note am I supposed to tune the 5th string to?”
Him: A look of complete confusion. “What do you mean?” He can’t comprehend a question that basic.
Me: “I’m having trouble tuning the guitar. What note is the 5th supposed to be tuned to?” Finally, after several tries, he figures out that my question is really, really that basic. He gives me a look that somehow combines astonishment, disdain, and impatience all in one. He also figures (correctly) that it will be faster for him to tune the guitar himself. He grabs the guitar, plugs it into the tuner with a cable (ah ha!! so that is you avoid picking up the music in the bar!!) and rescues me.
Needless to say, I remember very little from the rest of that performance except that my hands were incredibly sweaty and left dark wet marks on the fretboard of my guitar. I’m sure I was shaking. Oh yes, I also had to keep turning my head to see what my fingers were doing so it was impossible to sing into the mic and play guitar at the same time.
The night felt like a spectacular failure.
Somehow the audience didn’t seem to notice as much as I did. They said “Congratulations” and “Great job”, but I was sure that everyone was secretly appalled.
We do student concerts here at NYC Guitar School and I have the pleasure of hosting many of them. We go to a nightclub and our students get the opportunity to perform on stage in New York City–the city of lights and of great rock n’ roll. Often, I bring that very same guitar, Elvis, for students to use on-stage. For many students, it is the first time they are playing in front of people. EVER. Sometimes, people are noticeably nervous, or make some mistakes during their song. When they are done, I tell them “Congratulations” and “Great job” and I help them get on and off the stage–but do you know what I am secretly thinking?
Here is what I’m secretly thinking: I am completely impressed. I know how much guts it takes to get up there and do your best with what you have right now. I am also completely inspired. Each performer is really putting themselves out there and the excitement and joy is wonderfully contagious.
Join us on November 19th 6:00 – 8:00pm at Arlene’s Grocery for another very special Adult Student Concert. There are still a couple of spots left for students of the school to perform. Even if you aren’t a student, come on by! It’s free and we are super friendly!
Performing isn’t about perfection, and it isn’t about waiting until you aren’t afraid anymore. It’s about conviction and having fun. Take it from Elvis.