Thursday, May 26, 2016

Acoustic Guitar Journal #9: Performance!

First recital: May 21
A journey that began almost two years ago hit a milestone this past week. As part of a group recital, I performed three songs on a stage in front of an audience. This was the first time I had ever played guitar in front of anyone, sang in front of anyone, or shared my songs publicly. So it was a triple milestone.

As posted previously, I’ve always wanted to write and sing my own songs. And most of the skills needed were there. I could write great lyrics, put together a tune, read music, and play (or learn to play) musical instruments fairly easily. Unfortunately, one key element had always been missing: my voice. I have always been a terrible singer. Even after two stints of voice lessons with different teachers at different times of my life, I remained so awful that even people with an interest in being kind to my mistakes gently requested I not sing. No matter what I tried, the same dreadful sound would always emerge from my mouth. Repeated disappointments led me to give up on the whole idea nearly two decades ago.

Two years ago, I took up guitar as a way to reignite my creative life. Almost immediately, I began to write songs. While playing my songs, the guitar's sound box would vibrate against my chest and I found I could ‘pitch’ my voice against this vibration. Recordings suggested a tiny improvement in my singing. It wasn’t good singing, but it wasn’t as utterly dreadful as I had always sounded before. It was the first time I’d improved in any way, so I was very excited. However, I was also very much afraid of being disappointed yet again.

It seemed pointless to write songs no one would ever hear, and I had little interest in hawking them for others to sing. So, basically, I realized if I couldn’t sing my songs myself then there was no point in writing them. So, after completing six or seven songs, I had to try learning to sing again. And, because I apparently didn’t think the emotional stakes were high enough, I told myself that if I found I couldn't sing that I would immediately give up guitar and stop writing.

So less than a year ago, I had my first lesson with all that hanging over me. I told my teacher how awful I was, that she probably couldn't do much to help, and that even if she could help I would be happy if I could simply sing in tune. I was so scared that she had to urge me to sing above a low whisper. My teacher was great! She made me feel safe, but she also provided honest critique so I wouldn't feel I was being humored. I felt a thread of confidence and clung to it. This was the start of a long road and a lot of work that led to this first recital.

I performed three songs at the recital: 'Stolen Car' by Bruce Springsteen and two of my own songs, 'Far Behind' and 'If You Have No Wings'. I was nervous, and it wasn’t a perfect performance by any means. However, it was a solid performance and left me feeling extremely excited and proud. Not to mention relieved that it was over! I'm now much more confident about performing in front of people.

At the same time, it's easy to remain objective. I'm neither a brilliant singer nor a virtuoso on the guitar. I have a lot to learn. But I'm certainly able to perform publicly, and I think I write really good songs. So this first recital was a proving ground. I've already set up plans for my next performance: doing a 'set' of seven or eight songs for friends at our home. I've purchased my first non-starter guitar, an acoustic-electric Breedlove (see picture) with which I fell in love. Also picked up an amp so I have the option to perform publicly elsewhere...perhaps at a coffeehouse or something. I've also started researching home recording equipment.

What began as a seemingly futile stab at an old dream has turned into something very rewarding and alive. Not really sure what the next step is or what my ultimate goal is (or whether I even need to have one). For now, I'm just very happy and willing to take things as they come. And, of course, to keep working and grow.

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