Playing My Way Through Terror

I’ve been learning to play the alto saxophone. I started out teaching myself, but after some initial success I gave up. Last January I decided to take lessons and have been doing so ever since. Every two or three weeks I have a lesson from a lovely, supportive man who lets me shake and laugh while I attempt to play the instrument. He’s taught me some of the scales, the proper mouth and finger placement, and how to read the notes. He prefers that I bring in songs I want to learn rather than playing songs from a book.

I absolutely love it! One of the decisions I made early on was that I was not creative and didn’t have any musical talent. Taking on* this challenge is negating that decision and pushing me in the direction of a different decision. One Co-Counselor gave me the direction to proudly proclaim, “I am a musician!”

My sax teacher is encouraging me to play in front of people as often as I can. He’s confident in my knowledge and says that I just need practice. Playing in front of people feels like the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done.

I’ve done it three times so far—once at the East Coast North America Black Liberation and Community Development Workshop (BLCD), once with friends at a barbecue, and most recently at BLCD 2012. Even though I know that my friends and Co-Counselors will cheer for and encourage me just because I’m willing to try, each time I play for them my whole body is trembling with fear. I’ve managed to play “Love Me Tender,” “Amazing Grace,” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” I’m not sure how I got through them, because my breathing was so shallow and panicked. When I was finished people clapped and cheered (so I’m told), but I had no recollection of the audience’s faces or movements, because of the terror combined with feelings of shame, humiliation, and embarrassment.

I came back from BLCD determined to keep moving forward and figuring out how I can play and be able to notice the people watching me. I can already see how pushing myself to play in the face of the strong feelings is going to be a fast track to re-emergence.

Donna Paris
Toronto, Ontario, Canada


* Taking on means undertaking.

Last modified: 2017-05-06 23:35:41-07