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String of Fear

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When I was younger I would always take everyone’s criticism to heart, and it would always stick to me. I remember the first time I had to learn an instrument in school and everyone’s enthusiasm radiated off their faces, however, I despised it and loathed my instrument, the alto saxophone. My music teacher would always pick on me to play a piece from the “Essential Elements” book, and every time I played I would always make the most noticeable mistake. I could hear the murmurs and snickers coming from my classmates and I wished I could disappear and never come back at that moment. Every time I hear someone mention the alto saxophone, I would shiver with disgust and hatred. All the criticism and teasing from my peers built up this fear of failure, and fear of not living up to expectations. There are always these thoughts forming from the back of mind telling me that it is too complicated, and there will always be someone better than me, so what is the point?

From my experience of music class in elementary school, the thought of ever taking another music class never appeared in my mind until the ninth grade. The look on my friends’ faces was indescribable when I told them of my decision to take the Beginning Band course. I was quite offended, but I do not blame them, the horrific 65 beside music on my eighth grade report card stated otherwise. However, despite the criticism from my ‘great friends’, I managed to achieve a 93 in the course and developed a love for music. However, despite the fact that I proved my friends’ wrong, the question that haunted me during course selections was to take music next year, or not. My fear of failure never erased from my mind and my thoughts exploded with a variety of off-putting scenarios of everything that could go wrong next year, if I did take the course. My teacher was disappointed and questioned me, but I would always reply with the same answer- I just did not want to have third period lunch. I knew that was a lie, but I was much too ashamed to tell the truth.


After quitting music, I felt a sense of relief and a small amount of regret as well. Regret, because I missed music classes. However, I erased any thoughts of regret by constantly reassuring myself that I did make the right choice and it was for the best. Then one wild night, after listening to Yo-yo Ma play the cello, a random thought about learning the cello came up out of the blue. So, after the longest time of convincing my parents to send me to cello lessons, they agreed.

On the first day of my cello classes, I felt out of place and had made one of the most ridiculous and worst decisions I have ever made. I envied the thought of all the kids who have been playing since they could walk and how well they could play. Then I thought of myself, I had very little musical experience and have never even touched a stringed instrument in my life. Even my new teacher was shocked when I told her this, she called me “ambitious”. As time passed, I definitely improved and learned a lot from my classes. Near the end of 2016, my cello teacher asked me if I wanted to perform in a recital, I was ecstatic since this would be my first performance. However, then out of nowhere, these negative thoughts filled my head like ants racing to a sugar bowl. I told my friends of this situation, and one day someone asked me if this extreme desire to be perfect and exceed expectations the reason to why I have this fear of not living up to expectations. I realized that every time I do something, I always expect myself to do it right and I didn’t want to learn it little by little, which lead to more failures, fear and sleepless nights.


After the countless nights, I have finally made the decision to perform a classical Christmas song, Silent Night even though it was January. It was an easy piece, my teacher thought so as well, so she challenged me by changing some of the notes to make it more complicated. As I looked at my new music sheet, a sudden sense of fear ran through my body like the chill of an icy wind. With only two weeks until the recital, I was as nervous a child starting a brand new school. Some people may find performances easy, however, I did not agree with them. Learning the cello was something I already found extremely daring and took all the courage I had. So, a performance was much more stressful and challenging for me.

The day before my cello recital, I had been practising like a madman because I knew I had to perfect this piece before the recital. Finally, after a sleepless night of tossing and turning I woke up knowing today was the day and I had to face the music. I desired to overcome this fear, of not just performing, but this fear of making a mistake not being able to exceed my own expectations.

Upon my arrival at the performance place, I realized how I stood out like a dash of neon pink on a canvas of black and brown, an ostrich among a flock of seagulls, and the only cello against the pianos and violins. The cello was not completely different from the violin, but what made it so noticeable was the humongous size, it was literally bigger than me and possibly weighed the same as well. I was one of the last performers and I had to dreadfully wait for the rest of the performers to go before it was finally my turn. I felt like the hour went by as slow as a clock being watched, and in a blink of an eye it was finally my turn.


Walking up the stage, only the sounds of my breathing and the soft whispers of the audience can be heard within an earshot. I nervously took at a seat and glanced around the room. The audience seems awfully larger than it did when I was sitting at the back. I concentrate on my breathing, my cello and the music in front of me. It’s all that matters at the moment. I look at my piano accompaniment and she signals me to start. Holding the bow with grace, but also having a firm grip like holding a football. It was like holding a fragile animal, making sure it will not fall, but gentle enough so I won’t harm it. The sounds of my cello can be compared to an opera singer with the blasting of the powerful, long lasting notes. Starting out softly like whisper by reducing the bow pressure and surprising the audience with a deep crescendo with an explosion of a note. Adding more pressure to the bow now, forming a cloud of rosin dust in the air. After a few minutes, the song was over, but it felt like an eternity. I hear the sounds of clapping as I take a bow. I thought to myself, this performance went so well, why did I stress so much? However, despite feeling confident in myself after the performance, I knew that this cycle of fear will always follow me.


Whether I am 18 years old, 30 years old, or even 90 years old, fear is something that will never leave, it will always be in the shadows of wherever I go. Fear is a complex problem to overcome and it grips the minds of many people. Who knows if I will ever overcome my fear of failure and not being able to live up to expectations. However, from my experience with this performance I learned not to view my failure as a mistake but as an experience.

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