I have been accompanying the local choral society since September (the first rehearsal was tough, coming, as it did, a few days before my Mum's funeral). At Easter I accompanied the local church choir in Fauré's Requiem - both groups share the same musical director. A lot of work for me and a relatively small audience on Palm Sunday. However, the choir sang well, enjoyed themselves, and several members of the audience took the time to come over to thank me for playing. Not to thank me for stopping, but rather they seemed genuinely impressed with my efforts. I'm not used to this. I judge my abilities against how good I was when studying music full-time (with less creaky fingers, tenosynovitis aside) and I come up short. Back then, I compared myself with the best of my class and I was way down the order. That's no surprise, as any music department has people of varying abilities: second-instrument pianists, Grade VIII pianists, through to potential concert pianists. I was somewhere between the last two on that list. Never good enough, that's my assessment of my abilities.
As a pianist, I wasn't involved with music-making after I left university, though I continued to play. I eventually moved to London, where there is music everywhere. I attended concerts, but only ever played for myself. I never got involved. I did do some theatre work and occasionally that included recording some piano tracks - on an Atari ST over MIDI, but that was it (I still love working with MIDI).
Two years ago I moved to a small town/large village in Dorset. Within a few months I was accompanying a local WI choir, which lasted about eighteen months. More recently I have become involved with the aforementioned choral society. My first concert with them was last weekend: our Christmas concert. It went well. The choir sang the best they have all season and I actually enjoyed it. See, whilst I love playing, and I particularly love accompanying, I don't like performing. In this performance I was moving between the piano and organ a lot, so had to walk up an aisle of the hall as well, through the audience. I don't like being on display much, so I found that hard to do.
Since I moved here I have done concerts in local care homes and a performance at a charity gala with a friend who sang. OK, it was "lounge bar" music just while guests arrived, but we were there, in evening gowns, doing our bit. I loved it! I have now done a performance for another Mayoral function, a concert and also played organ for a church service, something I last did at the age of 18. I think I might actually be getting over my stage-fright; something which hit me at the age of 11 and has had a huge effect on my life ever since. I can't do presentations at work: I can deliver training, but if I have to do a presentation I am physically sick. I can barely even stand on a stage. This has been a huge struggle for me. I watch other people stand up, completely at ease with an audience and I don't know how they do it. I watched my brother deliver a eulogy at my Mum's funeral, reading anecdotes she had written, in the most testing of circumstances. He was amazing. All I could offer was a recording of me, playing a piece of music we both loved to play.
I am playing for a 9 lessons and carols service next weekend and I'm quite looking forward to it. So much so, that I am considering offering to play for Midnight Mass. Usually they have to do without the organ, as nobody wants to play at that time. But I will only be at home, possibly asleep. I'm not going away for Christmas and I'm not really looking forward to it at all this year, after recent events. So should I do something that I will enjoy, is no real hardship for me, and will probably give a group of people a fair amount of pleasure on one of the most important days in their year? Yes, I think I probably should.
Perhaps I am finally understanding the power of music, not just for myself as a method of de-stressing, but as a way I can make other people happy. It pleases me greatly that this seems to be the case. I actually feel like I have something to offer society, something I can give back and that's a great feeling, particularly at this festive time of year.