My teacher could never understand why I flatly refused to take clarinet exams. “You’ve got Grade 5 Theory, you could go straight in at 5, you play at diploma level already,” she said. But I loathed piano exams when I was a child and they certainly spoiled my enjoyment of playing the piano. Having to thump out the same dreary tunes for ages in preparation for an exam, the dreadful fear (for an acutely self-conscious child) of being watched as I played, by a judgemental stranger – I hated every minute and only ever scraped though the exams (though getting full marks for the written theory exams, which I enjoyed) and all for something that was of no importance at all, as far as I could see. I said to her, I didn’t feel the need to prove anything. I didn’t want to measure myself, I just wanted to learn the clarinet for pleasure and play as well as I could for my own satisfaction and sense of fulfilment.
Years ago, I’d have not played in public out of fear, and that was largely a hang-over from those beastly exams, but I’ve been playing in church (and played in those little end of term concerts) enough times to have got that well out of my system – although, of course, one is always nervous before a special occasion and so one should be. So now I know for sure that I simply don’t want to do it, I don’t want to be the focus of attention, I don’t like showing off, which is what it feels like to me.
Many people who are good at singing or playing want to show other people how well they can do it, to give them pleasure, to make them happy, and I’m very glad they do. And it can complete the learning of a piece and give their efforts a purpose. However, I have no comprehension of that desire. I don’t need or like applause and I know I’m not so good that that it would be worth overcoming my reluctance to perform.