The first audition I took with an Entertainment Agency was when I was 21. Performing on stage had already long been a part of my life, but it was always in a theatre, festival, competition, large church, a context much different than the one I'd found myself in then. I was called down to a club and given 30 minutes to sing, play, and produce a set that would impress my audience. Used to the support of a full band, this was the first move I made as a solo performer. Needless to say, I was nervous, still I showed up and marched inside, trying to mask my uncertainty. The agent gave me a confused look, pointed to the music stand I was holding and asked, "what's that?" I told him it was my backup so that I wouldn't forget lyrics or how to play the songs. There was an announcement and then I started. Without going into details, it was one of the worst performances I'd ever given. I slunk off stage, gathered my things and headed straight for the door. The agent stopped me just before I left and his exact words were, "nice job, so what's your schedule like?" I was shocked, but while I had been hearing myself fail, he'd been hearing something different. I was put to work the next week, and quickly found myself playing almost every night, sometimes two gigs the same day, and making a more than respectable income. It was an awesome experience, especially at that age. Throughout those years it really helped me come out of my shell and finally overcome a lot of insecurities I'd developed throughout my life, both musical and otherwise.
In the beginning, and for a long time I'd show up to gigs, place my music stand out front holding all of my lyrics and music, and perform the whole night like that. Don always commented on my continued reliance of this system. After a year or so, he finally told me the stand had to go. He threw at me the idea that I didn't need it, that it was a crutch. Worst of all he said it separated me from my audience, gravitating my attention away, and creating a barrier between me and them. I played a lot of shows for this guy, literally thousands and at a lot of different venues. To be honest, I didn't always listen to what he said, but this bit always stuck with me.
Do musicians use music stands? Certainly, but there is a time and place. What should be considered is the impact it has on the performance. In larger groups, it can create a sense of uniformity and utility, holding the parchment that helps a group properly bond their sound together. In other scenarios it is exactly what Don told me, a crutch and a distraction. I didn't need it, and once it was gone it was like my other senses opened up. I saw my audience, interacted with them, I listened to what I was playing, what I was singing, and found a much stronger vibe within each song I performed. That music stand ended up in the bushes that night, Reno's East 2009.
Safety nets are important and in many instances a wise thing to have, but they can also be harmful if put in the wrong context. They can rob us of truly knowing the things we're capable of doing. Sometimes we need to feel a sense of uncertainty in order to learn how to trust our instincts. It helps us grow and stretch our potential to something even greater than what we initially thought. Sometimes it's as simple as chucking a music stand off stage, other times it might be something that requires a more committed action, but in the end we have to believe we can make it happen.
Studio: Vocal / Piano / Guitar
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