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Nerves

By Kirsten Nicole

July 28, 2023


I wrote this piece as a writing prompt in college. Minimal editing. It was simply a writing prompt. Doesn't have a resolved ending. My hope was to capture stage fright...something I most-definitely struggled with in my years playing violin!



The church echoed silence. The slightest cough or shifting on a pew thundered and my shoes clipping against the hardwood floor sounded like rapid gun fire. Pretty much as fast as my heartbeat.

Relax. Breathe. One step at a time. You’ve been working this piece for months. You’ve got this.

My legs barely agreed to get me up onto that stage for which I was grateful, though I wondered which would be more embarrassing: fainting on my way up the stairs or majorly screwing up this solo. By the time I had considered that maybe the former was the better option, I had already taken my stance, lifting my violin to my shoulder.

My fingers trembled. It irritated me that I couldn’t rationalize my muscles into submission. Even though I was absolutely certain I had played the song flawlessly this afternoon, for some reason my body didn’t seem to agree. Was it really necessary to feel my legs? I couldn’t.

Good grief! You’ve been playing violin for thirteen years! Get it together!

That’s when I lifted my eyes for the first time to scan the audience. Bad idea. Very bad idea. Pretty sure they doubled in size while I was making my way up onto the stage. So many faces. Grandparents, children…my parents. I didn’t want to double each of those heads to get the total number of eyes staring at me. Judging me.

My parents had sent me to violin lessons since I was nine-years-old, and I participated in recitals as soon as I could squeak out Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. But my stage fright only got worse over the years.

The pianist gave me a reassuring “ready?” smile, to which I, of course, nodded and smiled my consent. Even though the sweat had already made my palms sticky, making my job all the more difficult tonight, I secured my violin under my chin, flexed my left hand and brought it up beneath the fingerboard gently. Well, I knew I was gonna fail this thing anyway.

It’s really wasn’t fair. When you were a young violinist, you could play whatever you wanted in whatever key in whatever order. It could be the most grating, ever-feared, screeching of the E-string, and no one would care. Everyone would think you were just as much the mind-blowing prodigy as you were when you toddled up to that stage before offending everyone’s ears.

At my age, I was pretty sure everyone was just waiting for me to slip up. Once again, I glanced at the crowd, counting at least five cell phones floating in the darkened air, ready to catch my moment of complete humiliation.

Closing my eyes, I took a deep breath. A long breath and let it out slowly. If I couldn’t feel relaxed, the least I could do was pretend to be relaxed. Maybe no one would ever know.

My fingers pressed the metallic strings, cold and sharp, like the knife of a backstabber, the one who had convinced me that playing a solo was a “great idea.” She was sitting on the front row. I couldn’t tell by her expression whether my teacher was as nervous as I was or not. Her hands were folded in her lap, one leg crossed over the other. What I wouldn’t give to be sitting there too.

Then I started playing.

The first good half page is the most deceiving. Since you’ve played that section of the piece the most, you think you’re doing pretty well. I decided sometime in the middle that we should start learning pieces backwards, so you get more confident as you get closer to the end of the song.

But alas, that was not how I had learned this piece.

Then you hit this mark where you suddenly start second-guessing yourself. Is that a C-natural or a D I’m supposed to be playing? Have I played the first ending yet, or am I already on the second?

Little piece of advice, always assume it’s the second ending. You’ll put yourself out of your misery twice as fast.

I’ve learned, after playing the violin for so long, that the less you think about the piece you’re playing, the more likely you’re able to succeed. It’s like getting into some other-world-zone, and no one else knows quite what goes on there. Neither do you for that matter.

But I really tried not to think.

It’s just that when you keep telling yourself over and over not to think about something, you inevitably end up thinking about one thing alone.

About halfway through the song, I blanked.

Icy chills shot from my heart down to my toes. The pianist attempted to keep playing to remind me where I was.

Nothing. My brain was as wide and empty as the domed ceiling of the church where the last few notes of my concerto bounced around and then fell clattering to the floor, dead silent. The pianist stopped, waiting for me to start again.

I hate Vivaldi. I hate Vivaldi. I hate Vivaldi.

But my passionate hatred didn’t revive any memory of the piece I had just been playing, and the audience just sat there, mute and expectant, probably deriving pleasure from my predicament. What I wouldn’t have given to be young and cute and “good” at whatever I did, simply because I was young and cute.

“Can we start at the top of that page please?” Attempting discreetness with my directions to the pianist, I ended up having to clear my throat to find my voice, sounding more like Tchaikovsky’s cannonball mistakenly fired during Pizzicato from Sylvia.

He dipped his head once, flipped backwards a page and lifted his eyebrows signaling he was ready whenever I was.

We were gonna be here a while.

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