Before we get into the many practical cognitive-behavioral antidotes to stage fright, please indulge me as I share one of the best things that has ever happened to me…
I was accompanying a fabulous vocalist in a packed night club. I had already been playing for a couple of hours and was feeling very comfortable and having a blast (in retrospect perhaps I was feeling too comfortable!). Then, out of nowhere, just as we were about to start the second verse of “Open Arms” by Journey, having played the intro and first verse beautifully, I absolutely went blank… and froze.
Every detail of that moment is permanently etched in my mind. I can still see exactly where she was standing and where I was on stage. I immediately sensed a collective “What was that?” from the crowd, as if I single-handedly created a huge tear in the fabric of the universe. Time stood still. I could feel my face flush red hot as my heart suddenly raced without my permission. Not knowing what to do, I simply stopped playing as she sang on without me like the pro that she was.
A few seconds later, and I can’t explain why, I simply closed my eyes and started listening. By no small miracle the music found me (not the other way around) before the next chorus came around and we finished the song on a high note. The crowd cheered, and the rest of the gig went on without a hitch.
And guess what happened?
My friends ribbed me at the break, but they still liked me. In fact, I suspect they liked me even more than before, now that they saw that I, too, was human.
And so, what seemed like the end of the world at the time turned out to be a precious gift… a gift that continues to inform my musical life, and life in general, to this day.