Stage Fright, Composers, Chickens, and Eggs

What’s What with Marvin Hamlisch

Money quote: “I had a tremendous amount of stage fright playing other people’s music.”

Just thinking about that and Zoe Keating’s famed paralyzing stage fright, and how she has stated that her own stage fright only became unmanageable when she was playing other people’s music. (Money quote at 16:43).

I’m wondering if it’s not some sort of marker gene for composers. I never performed/auditioned as much as either of them did; I was on the hard science track, not the music track, so it was never everpresent for me and not a major source of my personal identity. However, I still recall being acid-stomached and tense for weeks before recitals — feeling like a bathtub full of water into which someone had dropped a plugged-in hair dryer, simultaneously crackling with energy and unable to support my own weight. I hated it. It wasn’t disastrous because I was aiming for physics, not symphonies. But it was there.

And it made me think of classical music a bit, coming upon the same fear from both Hamlisch and Keating, two gifted musicians with catastrophic stage fright that vanished or at least became more manageable when they wrote and played their own music.

Classical music is like an 800-year cumulative buffet. There’s nearly a millennium of delicious fare there, such that you can eat and enjoy for the rest of your life without ever having to learn to cook.

It’s only if you are allergic to whatever’s there and unable to feast that you may have to learn to cook.

I just wonder if, similarly, a compulsion to play music together with an inability to do so without massive torture doesn’t somehow compel people to compose. I’m not saying this is the only route to composing, but it may be a common one.

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