For a while I couldn’t shake this feeling that everyone around me expected me to fail. Sure, we had teachers at Vanguard who always reminded us of the opposite “everyone in the audience wants you to do well,” but learning doesn’t happen from just being told things.
I don’t know, maybe I wasn’t confident. I remember after a performance… I was nervous, but it went fine… a man, an educator who taught students who got into the Conservatory (a place I always looked at as so distant and regal, a place in the echelons where I couldn’t possibly cross, but I wanted to try) went up to me after the performance and said, “it’s difficult to go up there and play in front of a bunch of percussionists… you did well,” with a small, solemn nod. I built a story in my head around it… because his students were so good, he probably expected me to be better than them, after all I was a college student and they were high schoolers… or perhaps I surprised them (his expectations) because I attended a tiny school and studied with a teacher he hadn’t heard of… and/or I didn’t meet them (his expectations), then he looked into himself and decided not to outwardly condescend me, it would be better to be nice, so he pretended. I had a story that everyone there was just waiting to judge me like he did. From the moment I stepped behind the instrument… a room full of men, seeing a woman as smaller, less likely to do well – I couldn’t possibly intimidate them. No, I saw myself as smaller. I saw myself as unlikely to do well… but I played a game which projected that on others. It wasn’t brief either, I had been playing that game in my head for years, playing against myself. Perhaps that was what motivated me at the time…
A friend of mine was at the gig, we had just been on tour together a few weeks prior. I learned the piece I performed that night the summer after the tour; I learned it quickly and memorized it. He bought me a drink, a gin and tonic. He was a student at that Conservatory then – he said I was great and he was the only person I believed. Although I believed him at face value, I still saw that as his own opinion… an alternate reality that he could hold which I didn’t need to simultaneously believe. He didn’t know the piece, he didn’t know how many wrong notes I had played, only I knew. I was in on the secret all along, the secret of how much I sucked, and either all these men actually meant what they said, or they were being polite. I had no clue which was true, so I just drank.
I was blind to my own game.