How I overcame fear of performing guitar

As a perfectionist by nature I used to dread playing guitar in front of a captive audience of concentrated people, especially alone. Nonetheless I did such concerts sporadically in a flamenco guitar duo for about 2-3 years. I used to be very happy about being in the background musically speaking: my colleague did most of the solos and I accompanied him.

If I made any mistakes it would send me into a black mood such that I often wanted to smash up my guitar into tiny pieces after the gig, despite the fact that our audiences loved the music! Enthusiastic listeners would approach us afterwards to express their thanks. Only with trepidation did I occasionally play solo and that was normally when I allowed people to persuade me because of some nonpaid event. It was always a huge relief when it was over, and only then when I didn't play any wrong notes. At the time I also suffered particularly from cold hands, which together with nerves made for a rather cramped performance, at least as far as I was concerned. Incidentally, this symptom has improved hugely, probably due to a change to vegan diet.

This pattern of events continued until sometime after I had started practising Buddhism. I was involved in a music school concert where I had to show myself off as an accomplished musician and composer of fine music, who could also teach your children to head in the same direction. I had diligently practised the one piece I was to play so as to be well prepared. I knew I could do it very well at home. On stage, however, it was again a great disappointment for me. I was angry that the room had to be cold – it had served to fuel my fear of failure! I came offstage feeling like a loser. However, a friend had told me about an open mic evening later which I hadn't been to before, and said she was going to recite poetry there. I was determined to have another shot at playing the piece, hopefully as well as I knew I was capable of, so I headed down there just in time to be fitted in on the list of performers. What I didn't know was that it was a competition – I ended up being chosen as winner! This was embarrassing because every other participant was an amateur, which I clearly explained. But they didn't mind a bit, including the group of drunken Spanish guys who had raucously sung “La Bamba" decidedly out of tune. “No, we are professionals, too" one of them shouted back jokingly!

This for me was another example of being rewarded for not having given up to obstacles but my negativity concerning the issue had not yet been resolved. I realised something was fundamentally incongruous. While I couldn't really enjoy performing because of the pressure of perfectionism, others obviously really appreciated my playing. Either I should give up music completely or at least only do it alone where I was “safe", or I must somehow get to the next level of freedom where I can enjoy it as much as everyone else.

I set myself the goal of feeling 100% free on stage. I bent my concentration fully towards that vision. 2 weeks after that decision I got a phone call from Willy Astor, a Bavarian cabaret celebrity and musician with a large following, who is often on German state television. He had once taken a flamenco guitar lesson with me and subsequently asked me to record with him on his new CD. I hadn't heard from him for about 2 years. He was wondering if I would like to play with his worldmusic band on German television at a summer concert in front of a local castle (Scloss Oberschleißheim – which is a kind of replica of Versailles). My initial reaction was to fearfully envisage the cameras and lights “homing in" on me as if waiting for a mistake to occur! I replied that I didn't know if I was available on that date and then we said goodbye. “That was close!", I was thinking to myself.

5 minutes later it became clear that this offer was a present from the universe to enable me to further address my fears and go for my target that I had set. I realised I would be an idiot for not taking it on. I called back, saying I had checked my diary and was actually free to play. The next few weeks became preoccupied with mental preparation for the event and I made sure to perform more difficult pieces than the straightforward accompaniment I was to do with Willy, at any available opportunity.

The gig went superbly! I was barely nervous during my time on stage and the band was a humorous, friendly bunch and great fun to work with. There were about 300 appreciative people in the audience. A few months later Willy invited me to join him again, this time in the Philharmonie – one of the most well-known venues in Munich. Now I didn't hesitate in accepting because I knew I was coming along leaps and bounds. Again, the gig was a great success with the crowd of around 1400. I then had the vision of playing much more demanding solo compositions of my own in front of thousands, with a spirit of freedom. That would be complete success! Within several months I was with the band again at Chiemsee Seebüne, a wonderful and prestigious stage on the shore of Lake Chiemsee between Salzburg and Munich. Everybody, including our 2000 strong audience were treated to a fantastic sunset reflecting on the water, and some atmospheric, sometimes comical musical ambience.

During that afternoon, another guitarist in the band who played quite a few solos, stated to Willy that I should play solo as well! I hadn't even mentioned a single word of my goal to anyone here! So for the 2 remaining concerts I was given a slot to do some improvisation-solo! The last gig was a jubilee celebration of Willy's colourful and heart-warming shows and was also televised, being located in Cirkus Krone, another of the major Munich venues. This all ran very smoothly and was a thoroughly enjoyable and fitting climax of my time with Willy's band.

These experiences were not remarkable in that I was able to join some celebrities on stage. Far more important was the inner journey I travelled, with its breakthroughs, in order to realise a dream. That vision reached complete fruition a few years later in an unusual and invisible manner. I had been gigging alone or in groups for some time and was well past the hurdle of my perfectionist demons (another major factor here was my path to becoming a singer). The brother of a close friend of mine had died in an accident and I was asked to play at the funeral in a church housing an assembly of over 1000 people. I was glad to be able to support the family in this way, although it was snowy midwinter which meant freezing conditions in the old building itself as well. I had to resort to using hand warmers as much as possible! Situated up on the organ platform with a choir, I performed 3 guitar compositions of my own, all of which could be said to be demanding pieces. And all of this in a relaxed manner with the spirit of goodwill. It only occured to me a week later that I had finally arrived at my goal!

Perhaps the most important lesson on this voyage of self-discovery was how striving to create happiness for others, puts you in a much more positive frame of mind, in comparison to striving exaggeratedly to do something without “mistakes" through fear of not being accepted!

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