How Jazz Hands Didn't Kill Me

October 25, 2011
By mooster333 BRONZE, Scottsdale, Arizona
mooster333 BRONZE, Scottsdale, Arizona
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

One of my eighth grade teacher’s favorite statistics was that many people fear public speaking more than death. I can attest to the fact that people like this exist since I am one of them. Many of my worst nightmares revolved around impromptu speaking gigs in front of enormous crowds of people. In middle school, I had a near death experience once a month when I had to present a two-minute speech as part of the public speaking program in which my school participated. Based on this, I must have been out of my mind when I allowed a friend to coerce me into the Junior Varsity Chorus in my freshman year of high school. However, in the end I am very glad that she did. It is through singing that I have largely overcome my fear of public speaking and created a lasting love of music.

One of the main characteristics of choir that distinguish it from solo performance and even other group ensembles is the sense of community inherent to singing together. Before choir, I had been in an orchestra. I thought I knew everything about group ensembles. As long as you stayed in tune and kept the same tempo as everyone else, you were fine. However, when you are playing an instrument, unless you are extremely good, the instrument stands between you and everyone else. When you are in a choir, it is all you. Every note originates deep in your chest, as your diaphragm opens your lungs, allowing a gust of air to fill your belly. You then let it run breezily across your vocal chords, through your throat, across your raised soft palate, filling your mouth with music as it spills into the open air. You can feel the low notes rumble deep in your chest and the high notes swirl around your head. All your successes and all your mistakes you make come from deep inside you. You have to put yourself into your sound, and then connect with everyone around you. It is very easy to become close to people when you experience that connection with them every weekday for an entire school year, as I did. It made concerts bearable; I still had beside me those same people, who were just as scared and nervous as I felt. The sense of community and the support system in place helped me foray into performance.

Facing your fears is always hard, but if you find the right platform for overcoming what you dread, it becomes enjoyable. In my case, from the very first day choir created a sense of wonder in me. Being part of a group ensemble like choir is in many ways like weaving a tapestry. When you first meet, no one quite meshes yet. Especially in the high school choir setting, everyone comes from different musical settings. At one extreme, there were several people who had already had extensive vocal training in classical and musical theater. At the other, there were people like me who had been closet radio singers for years. It takes a while to untangle all the strings and get to the core sound of the group. Eventually, though, the group unites into one sound, like the picture of the tapestry. When everything finally comes together, it is the best feeling in the world. For me, this happened just the other day in my college choir. The entire group—all eighty-five of us—was ordered by our eccentric and very enthusiastic conductor into the cramped stairwell. We had not been able to hear each other very well across the choir in our practice room, but when all the parts were mixed together and compressed into such a small, resonant space, it felt as though it was the first time we had really sung together. You do not feel like one single small voice any longer, but part of a huge song that swells and rises to the rooftops. It’s a bit like looking at your bunch of threads woven together and realizing that somewhere along the line, without you noticing, it has transitioned into a meaningful picture.

While the sense of community inherent to choir helped me to overcome my fear of public speaking, other aspects of choir also contributed. Sometimes even when you’re terrified, it is worth it to face that fear just to accomplish your goals. For example, in my first year attending the Northern Arizona University Jazz and Madrigals Festival with my school’s most advanced large ensemble, one of our songs featured a solo that twisted my heart whenever I heard it. Its charm lay in its simplicity juxtaposed against the complexity of the song; however, while the melody was beautiful, it was also very exposed; it was at the very beginning of the song and end of the song, and the audience would be in the hundreds. While I never would have thought of auditioning for a solo in middle school, this opportunity was just too perfect to give away to someone else. In the end, I performed the solo as a duet at the festival. I have also sung as part the choir at my graduation in front of thousands of people, in a small group in front of the entire school, and in Carnegie Hall, which I regard as some of the best experiences of my high school career. If you had told me that I would be doing anything of the sort four years ago, I would not have believed you. However, I found that the music was worth facing my fears and going against my own reservations to take a risk.

If I had simply quit choir at the thought of performing or not registered in the first place, I hate to think how much I would have missed. Choir quickly became my refuge from a constant barrage of college stress, my home complete with my choir family, a place of musical discovery, and most of all a place where I could surpass myself through facing my fears. While I still quaver at the thought of public speaking, I will no longer let it stop me from accomplishing my goals. Perhaps next I will try to conquer my fear of heights by climbing mountains, or vanquish my fear of spiders by keeping one as a pet. I have no doubt any longer: the only obstacle that stops you from overcoming your fears is yourself.

The author's comments:
I hope that this story will help others to face their fears as I did, because it can turn into a very positive experience in the end.

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