Magazine, website & books written by teens since 1989

Nerves This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

My fingers are thin and tapering, skeletal from an angle. Quick, nimble fingers. Spindly spider fingers. The ball of each digit is flattened into a pad from eight years of training. Callouses bloom at the tips, just beneath each short nail. Wide palms, long thumbs, skin drawn taut over bones and tendons, purple-blue veins clearly visible. Deep creases underneath each joint. Piano hands.

I turn them over and over, wiping my sweaty palms with a towel. Deep breaths, deep breaths. The monitor asks for my books. I’ve done this too many times to count; first score on the top, last score on the bottom, conveniently opened for the judges. I rifle through my books to the marked pages and hand them over, murmuring a quiet “thanks” to hide the waver in my vocal cords. Clenching and unclenching my hot, clammy hands, I make my way towards the stage and gingerly step up the stairs onto the stage.

The lights are bright and hot and angled strangely on my head and the stage is too high, too, too high, as I wipe these hands - these piano hands with their long, pale fingers - on my dress. A slight sense of panic wells up inside; I can’t see past my eyelashes. The low, two inch heels wobble under my feet. It feels off, it feels wrong, and I’m quietly trembling, totally involuntarily. I force a small smile, an awkward grimace with lips pressed shut. You’ll look more confident if you smile, my teacher said. I’m less confident and more like a mouse. Squinting for a fraction of a second, I pick out a table in the back of the hall. It’s a short table, dimly white in the far darkness, set up for the judges who now have my books. Judges. How terrifying. I turn slightly, carefully, and bow without toppling over.

I try not to tip over on these skinny heels like the top-heavy, gangly thing I am. The piano bench is uncomfortable and hard leather. It screeches jarringly across the painted wood as I adjust the distance from the piano. It’s a Steinway, a nine-footer. It’s beautiful, and the lighting makes it more so. But the lighting also doubles and triples the shadows of the black keys and the white keys, which mingles black and white and blurs it all into a grey. The harsh light is so much like a searchlight that I feel pinned down. Vulnerable, so vulnerable. My hands were hot and sweaty only ten seconds ago. Now they’re frozen in my lap. I blink. Breathe. Always wait before you play, I recall my teacher saying. The audience will wait for you. So I wait, blinking hard at the shadows on the keyboard and trying the pedals with my foot. Brush the few ticklish wisps of hair back with shaky fingers. Fingertips poised on the keys, in position to begin. The keys are oily and smooth from everyone else before. I am the last contestant.

My fingers twitch, and just like that, I begin to play. The sound carries and floats in the large hall. Clean, crisp, it begins with a lively and passionate sequence. My memorization is decent, my technique is as good as it can get, and I let the music happen. I’m oddly detached from the music, and my head is clear. But as my fingers move swiftly up and down the keys and as my eyes glance up and down to pave the way, I feel a thrumming in my left leg. It’s happened before, and I know what it is. My hands are moving of their own accord; they know what they’re doing. I’ve been preparing this piece for a year. However, I can’t ever prepare my leg. Not for the involuntary tremors that happen when I ascend a stage or face an audience. Nor can I prevent the clammy coldness that pierces my bones or the frightening adrenaline rush when I bow. Annoying chemical defects.

It’s often said that a pianist’s performance is just as important as the quality of their sound. A performance includes movement and emotion. It brings the audience along for the ride and makes them want to dance. So I force myself to move with the melody. Hunch down during a lull and throw back my arms after a showy passage. It feels strange and over-exaggerated, but it’s effective, and it helps me too. My brain focuses on how to properly control my wrist from flopping around instead of the strange vibrations in my leg or the sudden parched dryness in my throat.

The rest of the piece flashes by quickly, so quickly I hardly notice. My hands end with a flourish, suspended motionless above the keys. It’s over, and I swallow hard. My throat is sandy and grates against itself. The clapping sounds like a muted drumbeat. I go through the motions again; stand up, bow, totter down the steps and into the darkness that isn’t the stage. The trembling in my leg is gone, but I can feel my heart beating heavily against my ribcage. Hard, rapid thumps. There’s a soft but quick pulse everywhere, in the base of my thumb, my pinky toe, behind my right ear. I might have a heart condition.

My parents are sitting in the audience. I join them and close my eyes to ease the dampened pounding in my head. My fingers steeple under my chin as I breathe in, breathe out, breathe in. I hoarsely ask how it was, did I make any big mistakes, get me some water, hopefully it sounded okay? They reassure me and say I looked a bit nervous, that’s all.



Join the Discussion


This article has 3 comments. Post your own!

aastha33 said...
Oct. 9, 2013 at 7:23 am:
That happens ! I vividly remember one day my piano teacher asked me play piano for a band performance. And my fingers started trembling. I forgot all the notes. Nervousness.
 
pianohands replied...
Oct. 9, 2013 at 5:27 pm :
Glad someone else understands :) Memory slips are the worst.
 
Reply to this comment Post a new comment
 
Willow55 said...
Oct. 8, 2013 at 10:17 am:
This is awesome. I love all of the vivid description you used. Could you give me some feedback on my newest work? Thanks and great job TeenInk.com/nonfiction/personal_experience/article/579805/A-Man-Out-There/
 
Reply to this comment Post a new comment
 
Site Feedback