Z prefers anonymity

Janerowena pointed out that I perform in public regularly – yes, but that’s not what I mean.  Although I was very nervous for some time when I started playing the organ in church, I never have considered it a ‘performance’ as such, because no one is coming to hear me.  I’m accompanying the service, it isn’t about me.  I must do it adequately, but I don’t matter unless I make a complete hash of it.  Of course, I’ve been to a church or cathedral service and noted how well (or, occasionally, poorly) the organ has been played and a fine organist might well be a draw – but it’s not the point of the occasion.  And when there were lessons at the village school on a Saturday – the teachers hired the school as a convenient venue – there was an end-of-term concert.  I played the alto recorder in a children’s recorder group to help out and I played a clarinet solo or two, because as one of the pupils I was setting a good example to them all by joining in – but no one came to hear me anyway, you only go to that sort of thing to listen to your own child.  I think the Sage might have come once or twice because Ro was playing too (he played saxophone) – anyway, I did it because I had to, not because I wanted to.

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.

9 comments on “Z prefers anonymity

  1. Mike and Ann

    I think that’s the whole point and pleasure of singing in a choir Zoe. You don’t get anonymity as such, but if there are twenty or so singers in a four part male voice choir, it’s very satisfying to join five or six other second base singers (basso profundo) growling along at the bottom (as our conductor used to express it). I have sung solo (usually at village hall concerts, but never enjoyed it much; duets are easier, and as part of a choir -best of all. As you rightly say, no one is there to hear you. They’re there to hear the choir.

  2. janerowena

    I agree with the choir analogy, I hate the thought of singing solos but we have a kind choirmaster who lets us sing any that crop up as duos. But Z, if you played in an orchestra you would be part of a team, the majority of people can’t pick out separate instrument sounds, they just like the music.

    Actually, if you listen to some of the voices in our choir separately they sound in tune, but not good tone. Put them together though, and they sound amazing.

  3. janerowena

    Actually – I disagree with what you said about people wanting to show off their talents. I know they exist, but although people like my husband sing in front of others all the time, he gets lost in the music. He hopes that people will enjoy it, but he gets huge pleasure from making a lovely sound from music that he loves – and as he too was a chorister, like my son, it’s no different to him from standing up in front of a class and teaching them. He’s just as happy singing away in his den all by himself, but he gets paid to sing in public. I started to sing because I got fed up with always being asked at concerts in which they were both singing ‘And do you sing, too?’. I was the odd one out. Now sometimes we all sing in the same concerts, which is quite funny.

    Something else I saw that might one day appeal to you – HFHolidays. They do all sorts of activities, including a clarinet ensemble.

    Your homework for this month is to learn all five of Finzi’s bagatelles.

  4. Z

    Playing a solo or in an ensemble isn’t the point, it’s the requirement to play the same thing over and again in rehearsal, whether I’m sick to death of it or not, to have it rule my life for weeks, that would destroy my enjoyment of playing at all – and I’ve changed the final paragraph because I realised that would be the case even if I were in a minor supporting role.

    Apart from that, I don’t like performing to an audience. I even had the smallest possible wedding, because the role of bride was too much of a performance for me.

  5. janerowena

    Ah – I can understand that completely, but somewhere along the way I changed. I had small weddings too, for the same reasons. I thought you might like the social aspect of playing in a group. As for rehearsals – it depends on what level you are at and also the level of those you are playing with. The males only need one, whether it be choral or instrumental, I need at least four and to listen to a CD in the car a few times.

  6. Z

    Playing in a group, yes, if that was all it was. And I still don’t like playing the organ in public, even just to the congregation. I don’t mind doing it, but it gives no pleasure at all and I wouldn’t care if I never had to do it again.

  7. nick

    I’m much the same about wanting to do things purely for my own pleasure and being completely turned off by any competitive aspect. Any sense that I’m performing for someone else’s benefit – be it singing, reading, telling jokes or whatever – and I tend to freeze with self-consciousness.

  8. Z

    I’ve got no competitive spirit either. I used to be very shy and self-conscious but I’m not now, I’m quite self-assured whether that is justified or not. I don’t think that makes me a nicer person, just a frank one!


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