We walk through life with the people we love. We bring them along. They uphold us when we are weak. They carry us when we can?t go on anymore. They are there with us. Except in the moments we must stand alone.
In these moments of truth, do we have the courage to stand on our own?
I grew up playing piano. I was quite serious about it until the age of eighteen, when I decided to go into medicine. My family sacrificed so that I could attend the best schools and have the best teachers in piano performance. I am so grateful to them. I look back on those years of dedication with fond memories. They shaped my young personality and taught me many lessons about hard work and living. One lesson in particular I want to share with you today is something we all encounter in life: the dreadful moments before I got on stage to perform. The moments I stood alone.
Surrounded With Support
I was fortunate to play as a soloist with the Mobile, Alabama City Symphony in several concerts, as well as a few intense competitions across the city and state. These performances required me to get on stage and play piano pieces, usually lasting five to ten minutes in length, completely from memory. At competitions, a judge would be seated in the audience zeroing in on my accuracy and overall performance. There was no room for error. I was on stage alone, but not really. I was surrounded by the people and the music. But the moments before I got on stage were a different matter.
For months ahead of such performances, I would practice one or two pieces for hours at a time. I would play them slowly. I would play them with each hand alone. I would play them for my teacher. I would play them for friends and family. I would work patiently on the parts that were technically difficult to execute, or those that I just couldn’t seem to memorize. And then finally the day would come. We would drive to the concert hall…butterflies fluttering. I almost always had several members of my family with me. And my piano teacher was always there. We all gathered backstage, where everyone would pat me on the back and offer their support.
Twenty minutes to curtain.
Ten minutes to curtain.
Five minutes to curtain.
My teacher and family members didn?t want to hear the performance from backstage. They wanted to be in the audience. So, they would encourage me with hugs and kisses. Best wishes!?And, break a leg!?Excited for me, they would leave me behind to go find their seats. All of them. And in those last few minutes, I was there, completely alone, waiting for my name to be announced.
I could hear the roar of the audience, the shuffling of feet. Then the audience would get quiet. My breathing would become shallow. And my hands would begin to tremble slightly. I would force my mind to repress the thoughts of…What if I forget the music? What if I botch the difficult part?
Let me pause that scene to say, in those last moments, I really wished my loved ones were still standing there with me! I needed them then much more than before. But they couldn’t be with me. Those were the moments that I had to stand alone. I had to find my courage. I had to reach down deep and brave the onslaught of fear and apprehension, so I could push forward.
Finally, my name would be called. Greeted with applause, I walked resolutely across the stage,?turned to face the audience, and placed my left hand on the piano. I could not see the people because of the lights shining on me, but I could hear their clapping and their rumble. I would greet them with an extended bow and take my seat at the piano. There was only silence now.
I would take a couple of deep breaths and a couple of moments to respectfully stare at the beautiful instrument before me. Then it became easier. Not much, but that critical moment of aloneness was behind me now. High on adrenaline, I’d do what I had trained since childhood to do. And I gave it my all.
As I reflect upon these moments leading up to a performance, I smile, even feel a bit of apprehension. And I think of how many times in life we must all do the same. Times when no one can stand with us, we must stand alone.
May you have the fortitude and courage to press in during these moments in life, moments when you too, must overcome your fears, so your music can play.
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