Although I’m a musician, I haven’t performed in public for 15 years.
It’s not about lack of opportunity; even if you aren’t in a band there are plenty of open mic nights around if you want to grab an instrument and play. It’s mainly because of crippling stage fright, something I used to address with that musician’s crutch, alcohol. The longer I went without performing the more frightening the prospect became.
Last night, I played a short gig.
It wasn’t just my first time performing in 15 years. It was my first since coming out, my first as a visibly trans woman, my first time standing in front of strangers under lights in a dress.
I had an icy blast of fear during the day, but it wasn’t as bad as it used to be. Back then I’d be unable to concentrate all day, often nauseous and unable to eat because of the ice cold in the pit of my stomach. It would fade a bit once I was actually on stage, but the fight or flight response means that the most memorable gigs I ever played, I barely remember at all.
But last night I wasn’t scared, just full of nervous excitement. I wasn’t full of booze, either. Just two medicinal whiskys for a cold that was threatening to take my voice away. I’d intended to take beta blockers, but I decided not to. I simply wasn’t as scared as I used to be.
While the gig itself was in sad circumstances and one of the songs bassist Kenny and I played is terribly sad, I loved every second of it. It helped that the room was a positive one, there like us to remember a friend. But even in less friendly environments there is a buzz you get from playing live, from connecting with strangers through songs you wrote in isolation, from opening your heart in a strange room at high volume. That all came rushing back last night.
Sometimes you don’t realise you’re missing something until you experience it again. Sometimes fear keeps you from the things you love, the things that give you life. For me, music is one of those things.