Don’t Worry That It’s Not Good Enough For Anyone Else To Hear… Just Sing

November 8, 2007

I’m off this evening to play and sing a few songs in Susan Egan’s “Broadway at Pomona” concert at Cal Poly. Those of you who know me personally know that I can play for anyone else without even a quickening of my pulse, but the minute I’m asked to sing in public I get so nervous I feel like I might pass out before I make it to the stage. It wasn’t always this way. It used to be worse.

One year in college, I got so freaked out during my piano juries (which are like final exams for musicians) that I lost track of where I was in the middle of a Bach fugue. It’s exactly a performer’s worst nightmare — forgetting your lyrics, forgetting the next chord, forgetting where you are in the music. You might as well be naked on stage. So, I did what any composition major would do. I made something up. I just improvised in the style of Bach until I got myself back to some place I recognized, and then I played out the piece to its end. My piano teacher’s jaw hit the floor, I’m sure. Everyone in the room EXCEPT ME knew how it was supposed to go. The comments I got on my jury sheets (which ultimately constitute your grade for a semester of piano lessons) said things like “very creative” and “who knew?” Ugh. If I had been considering a career as a concert pianist, it went out the window that afternoon.

When I’m coaching singers on their audition material, I tell them what I believe: that if you’re truly acting your text, if you’re talking to the right person and your objective is clear and you’ve done your homework in terms of vocal technique, then you won’t be nervous. Or, at least, your nerves will be manageable. I think it’s part of why actors say they’re never nervous when they’re actually doing the show — only when they’re auditioning to be in the show. It’s all about where you are inside your head, and if you’re fully connected as your character and you’re trying to accomplish something, you don’t have room for the self-criticism that might otherwise fill your brain. Trouble is, when I’m singing my own songs, my character is usually me and my objective is to sing my songs well enough that someone might be interested in buying my album after the show. You can see why I prefer to leave it to the professionals.

That said, every time I sing in public people tell me that there’s nothing like hearing a composer sing her own work, and having seen other composers do the same thing, I know it to be true. I had one very very very famous musical theater composer (not my husband) tell me that he takes drugs before he has to sing in front of an audience — and then he told me where I could order the … we’ll call it an herbal downer … online. And I know there are other songwriters who simply won’t do it — though they confess to be just as nervous sitting in the audience knowing that people are listening to their songs and judging them accordingly. Oh, it’s so hard to be a performer. Why on earth do we do it?

If you’re in LA and you want to come witness me torturing myself in public, I’m performing with Susan Egan and Kevin Earley in Santa Monica on Saturday, November 17th at 7 pm. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but the details I can give you now are that this is only a 99-seat house and the only way to make a reservation is to call and put your name on a list. If this thing sells out (and since it’s FREE it won’t really sell out, but you know what I mean), hopefully it will lead to me having a kind of residency at this theater — a standing gig maybe once a month where I bring in special guests to sing my music and other fun theater tunes. So, let’s overwhelm them with calls so they know that there’s an interest in LA for contemporary musical theater. Especially mine. Call 310-434-3414 and tell them how many seats you want. The address is The Stage at Santa Monica/Second Space, Santa Monica Blvd and 11th Street, Santa Monica, CA 90401.

All right. I’m off to warm up. And drink some tea. And figure out what to wear. And completely freak myself out. Here we go again.

4 thoughts on “Don’t Worry That It’s Not Good Enough For Anyone Else To Hear… Just Sing”

  1. Anonymous on said:


    That is so crazy to me. You always seem so calm and smooth up there! Now, the thought of being behind a giant wooden box with 88 keys and produce music, now THAT scares the hell out of me!

    – Nick

  2. Julie on said:

    I have to confess that I have dealt with stage fright since college and it has had nothing to do with how prepared i was – but rather, how stuck in fear i was and not able to open my mind and do exactly what you did in your jury- improvise! So wonderful that you were able to do that, THAT is talent, my dear, as silly as you may have felt.

    Once, to combat my fear, I decided to learn plays/pieces in their entirelty – After paraphrasing the entire thing to my mother, I got much better at improvising, and the fear dissolved.

    Of course, there’s always Leslie Uggums’ improvisation of “June is Bustin Out All Over” in case anyone hasn’t seen that yet…

  3. Real History Lisa on said:

    Wonderful concert again, as usual! And while I’ve heard and loved Susan Egan many times in the past, having only somewhat recently returned to the musical theater world, I had never had the pleasure of hearing Kevin Early. WHAT a voice. And what an actor. Thanks for bringing such talented friends in the door with you. The band was fantastic too.

    But your songs! I was so moved by a couple that I was literally sobbing quietly in my seat, wishing for ONCE I had remembered to bring Kleenex. I checked with three companions afterwards to see if it was just me, but we were all moved.

    Thanks for sharing songs from The Water with us. I think you’re building a a really amazing show, and I so hope it premieres here in Los Angeles for the Festival of New American Musicals (did I get the name right?)

    I laughed hard at Susan Egan singing about being psychotically in love. I’m sure many can relate! And I cried at the guy who was partly responsible for his friend’s death. And then the couple’s reconciliation at the end – heartbreaking when you think she might not take him back and wonderful when she does.

    I feel so lucky to live in LA at the same time that you and JRB are creating and performing here. Best of luck to you both.

    I’d say I’m your #1 fan in LA, but it looked like I had quite a lot of competition tonight!

  4. Real History Lisa on said:

    And btw – I know stage fright. I grew up on stage, so acting/singing/dancing never worried me. But I also took up the harp, and had the opportunity to solo with the Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra years ago. That was the first time I experienced the sheer mind-numbing terror of stage fright. I sat down to play, and the conductor took off at a speed that felt three times faster than I had ever played the piece!!! My mind literally went blank, even as my fingers raced ahead from sheer muscle memory. Thankfully, my teacher had rehearsed that number into my bones. I felt like I woke from the blackout only at the very end, when someone put roses in my arms, and it was over.

    So I commend you – you never show it. You look like you’re having fun, and I know we are. Keep at it. The fear really does go away, in time.

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