Thursday, February 04, 2010

Performance Anxiety

Music seems to run in the family. My grandfather, Max Dalby, was very highly regarded in the Utah music circle. He spent his life conducting and composing, and served as head of the music department at Utah State University for eight years. All of his nine children are musical as well, two of which became conductors themselves, and one who sings in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. As far as immediate family goes, Corinne and Annie both easily exceeded my natural ability (and my dedication to lessons and practice), but at one point I was pretty effing good at the clarinet. Music festivals, Honor Band, you name it.

But this post is not about how awesome of a clarinetist I was (and how I once won a trophy for being the most talented band student out of 176), because my mom has taught piano for as long as I can remember, and though I never had structured lessons from her (my choice, not hers) I was always a part of the semi-annual recitals she put on to give her students experience performing. And THAT’S where the good stories are.

My life as a mediocre pianist has been filled with happy hours of self-teaching and playing by ear, punctuated by panic-stricken performances at these recitals, which I would stress over for weeks FOR NO GOOD REASON because it seemed that no matter how hard I practiced, my nerves would just foul things up anyway.

One year Corinne and I ended up with a duet called “When the Saints Go Rockin’ In”, a brainless little tune even worse than its terrible title suggests, each line concluded by a few jazzy chords. If you were to sing along, the words would go something like, “Oh when the saintsBA-DA BA, BA, BA! Go marching rockin' inBA-DA BA, BA, BA!” And so on, and so forth. About four measures into the performance, Corinne and I became irreversibly off-beat, and that combined with our sudden audience-induced awareness of the ridiculous tune set us dissolving into uncontrollable giggling and elbow-jabbing. A year later I ruined “The Pink Panther”, snorting through the whole thing again, only this time it must have just looked sad, because I was up there messing things up all by myself. And snorting.

Then along came Ianni, my mom’s prized pupil. He was destined to be great, considering his name shared the same pronunciation as one Yanni Hrysomallis.

Ianni eventually advanced so far in his musical career that my mom had to, with a heavy heart, make the ultimate sacrifice and pass him off to a more skilled instructor. But before it came to that, there was a recital he had to perform in, and not just any old recital, either. A duet recital. As a distant second in musical ability among the group, I was tasked with performing with the Golden Child. My mom dug up some showy number called Valencia, assigned me the slightly easier part (primo), and I practiced until my fingers bled. Not really. But still. Messing up “While the Saints Go Rockin’ In” would be nothing compared to embarrassing the King of Keys in front of his parents, so I practiced. Though the nerves didn’t completely set in until I showed up at the chapel for the recital to discover half the pews full of Ianni’s family and friends. And THEN, oh my gosh, the terror - I saw his father setting up a video camera on a tripod just a couple of feet away from the piano bench. My mom saw my face and explained that she had permitted it so that the remainder of Ianni’s extended family (in Italy, I presume) could admire his greatness. But miracle of miracles, I don’t think I screwed the performance up too badly. At least I don’t remember trying to discreetly slide off the bench mid-performance and roll for the door, which I’m sure I would have done had it gone horrifically awry.

This post doesn’t have a happy ending, though, because I tried to repeat the success several years later with my mom at a family talent show, and oh dear. The entire thing was a disaster, and what was supposed to be the grand finale of an emotional showpiece was reduced to an unfortunate, loud, plodding repetition of “PLINK-UH-DINK-UH-PLINK-UH” while I struggled to make my fingers cooperate.

......I sat as First Chair clarinet for four consecutive years.


  1. man, and i thought i knew you. and knew your mom!!??!!? IANNI. WHAAAAT??
    we can put on a christmas concert 2010, you on the clarinet cause i KNOW you remember the notes and some classy jingles- and me on the beloved flute. maybe we can get sister alder to play the harp.

  2. I didn't know you played the clarinet! I was first clarinetist in our band for 4 years, which coincidentally made me a lifelong enemy of the second clarinetist ...

  3. oh wait, i played the recorder once. and the ukelele. piano- one year. whew, look at me!

  4. Oh Ianni--ye of the blessed name.

  5. Mom loved Ianni more than all of us put together.

  6. Do you blame her? But Veeector definitely gets the award for most loved by his OWN mom.