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Performance Anxiety:
with a song stuck in my throat

I hadn't been embarrassed in a long time, until last week.

The chorus I sing with did a show for about 45 people, all over the age 85--all impeccably dressed and coiffed as if it was 1972. I'm fairly certain that making women's hair defy gravity like this is going to be a dying art, though one few will be sad to see die. These women could have used their hair like a bludgeon, which could explain why so few of their husbands are still alive.

Our chorus is fun, but decidedly casual. Luckily, our audiences can usually turn off their hearing aids.

We were doing a holiday show. We donned our not-so-gay apparel—white shirts, black bow ties, black pants, fairly hideous red suspenders with black musical notes on them that no gay person would be seen dead in.

The warmups reveal something shocking—I can be singing along with my usual bell-like-tones, when suddenly my throat produces something akin to a large hair ball and I emit a sound not unlike that of donkey with a sore throat. Allergies. This happened several times during warm ups, which didn't seem like a good omen.

My quartet was also singing, so while I could hide Eeoyre in the chorus, I wondered what I'd do if I started to bray during our number.

We moved into the performance room, only to find that the chorus outnumbered the audience. But it was still early, and by the second number the still smallish audience already had a collective age of about 7500.

We started to sing and it just didn't sound right. Luckily, the audience was partially deaf, so they might as well be reading our lips. Besides, they started singing along and were loud enough to drown us out. 

The audience applauded—a sure sign that they hadn't heard us, and instead just appreciated all our smiling faces—smiles being something the new director has worked hard on, because last year at a contest one of the judges wrote that we looked embalmed, which is not something you want to look like to an audience of any age, as it's likely to frighten them. I personally never looked embalmed because 1) I can't stand still that long, and 2) my eyebrows tend to have a life of their own.

Now it's time for my quartet. Tonight we are premiering our new costumes which I bought online. We're called "With Relish" www.WithRelishQuartet.com so our costumes are chef jacket's—bright red with black buttons and they look quite sharp (and they're machine washable, so if all else fails, we can wear them while carving roast beef at a buffet).

Our quartet is actually very good. But tonight the tenor doesn't start the song with me like he normally does, which leaves me wondering if I'm starting on the right note (a problem I've had in the past), or even if I was singing the right song, until the others joined in.

We were singing a fun, upbeat doo-wop version of "When I'm 64." It's a peppy song but were rushed getting on our jackets (too many buttons!) and the song managed to careen into Alvin and the Chipmunks territory. We all knew it was too fast, but there was just no slowing down. This made us sing in such a choppy way I started to feel like I was strapped to a runaway xylophone.

Through it all, I was afraid my Donkey might make an appearance, so I got very self-conscious. The best performances are the ones where I can't remember doing them because I was totally in the moment. If I can remember everything little thing I did down to my pinkie toe it's probably not good. I could remember everything (what was in my sock, and why did it feel like a sunflower seed?).

Now I'm sweating, because it's about 90 degrees in the room—I'm assuming the residents are like lizards and must be kept warm. I have a flash in my mind—seeing their apartments fitted out with large heated rocks.

We blast through the song as if it was on 78 rpm. The good news is that we were done quickly. The bad news is we had to go back to the chorus that would keep singing for what felt like hours. Song after song. Some managing to be OK, others devolving into something only Philip Glass could love.

Then another quartet reared it's ugly head. They're normally very good but tonight they were as painful as we were. This group managed to sing like four lonely people in four separate basements on four different continents, linked together only be tin cans and string. 

The lead's voice had the quality of a 1968 VW Beetle's horn. The baritone managed to sound like he was being punched in the gut, over and over. The bass sounded a little like an earthquake rumble, which might have been impressive if it had had anything to do with the tune. And the tenor sounded like he was suffering from an unfortunate bicycle seat accident. 

Then more songs from the chorus. I kept trying to engage the audience but I started to doubt they could see me. Or maybe they were just comatose. And it was quite possible that the desiccated woman in the third row had gone to a better place, though almost anywhere but this room would have counted as that.

Then another quartet—and this one OK at first. They had a few problems, but, they used the oldest trick in the barbershop book: if all else goes wrong, make sure your last chord is good because if your audience suffers from short-term memory loss, that's all they'll remember. Or so we like to believe.

Just a few more songs and we'd would be done. We could leave. Return to our day jobs and pretend this evening had never happened.

Tonight we proved one more thing—we didn't know our closing number. Some people sang, some didn't, some made up their own words, and their own parts. To say it was messy is like saying that Courtney Love is messy.

At the end, there's this spot where, for some unknown reason, the music arranger has the tenors go from one ridiculous high note to another, which they hold while trying not to sound like a rattlesnake is biting their privates. It ends badly and it's not only the last note of the song, but of the entire show. Unforgettable.

And if all this weren't bad enough, someone was making an audio recording of the show, for posterity, or prosperity through blackmail. I'd pay to keep them from releasing it. Or having it escape.

The next day I received an email with an MP3 of our performance. It was worse than I remembered. The good news: I didn't sound like a barnyard animal. The bad news: I sounded a little like a vacuum cleaner with a full bag. OK, now I'm exaggerating. I wasn't that loud. We were fast and rough and the only blending the four of us did was something akin to the sound of a blender on "puree." All of which would have been sheer perfection if we'd been doing a tribute to household appliances.

The good news is we had another show, just last night, where we sounded great! Which only shows to go that mistakes are great learning tools, if you can get over the embarrassment.


Read about my latest movie role (you read that right), here!


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I know what you're doing. You're searching Google Images to get photos for your projects. Not a good idea, my friend. Do it and you could be breaking copyright laws on multiple continents. There's a better way.

Stock.Xchange http://www.sxc.hu is a great site to check out when you're looking for good, FREE, royalty-free stock photos. Photographers from all over the world (including you) can upload images for others to use, either freely, or for credit (each photo has different rights and descriptions, to make sure to read the restrictions).

For higher-end, but still inexpensive professional photos, try http://www.stockxpert.com Stock Xpert, which offers photos from pros ranging from $1 for low res, to $5. If you're a photographer you can join and post your own images for sale.


I've used an illustration program called Xara for many years and still say it's the best graphic program in the world (and I've used almost all of them).

Things like transparency and anti-aliasing are live in real time so what you see when you work is exactly what you see when you export graphics for web or print.

Xara Xtreme Pro's new features include the ability to create industry standard PDF/X files (for spot-on printed output). It's easy to import and export Photoshop PSD, and Acrobat PDF files. Create multi-page files with text that flows for page layout-like power.

REVOLUTIONARY: Xara Pro offers a truly inspired and easy new way to make Flash animations. Just name objects, create a new "frame," then move, rotate, size or make other changes and Xara automatically tweens the objects, text, even photos smoothly from one frame to another. The results are perfect, compact SWF flash files you can drop onto any web page.

There's no faster or easier way to create custom Flash animations.

Combine that with Xara's other lightning fast and bulletproof features, and you have the best graphics program on the planet. Download a free trial.


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P. S.

P.S—If at first you don't succeed, sing, sing again!



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The SchoomozeLetter is ©1998-2008, Daniel Will-Harris, all rights reserved. If you'd like to use any article on the web or in print, please ask for permission. If you're an agent or publisher looking to publish these pieces, just drop me a note.