Reading musician Abigail Washburn’s story this week of peeing on herself out of fear at her first gig got me thinking back to my early days of playing. This story came back to me today:
I taught myself to play the guitar my junior year of college. That summer, I came home to Denver and played at some open mics and even got a few gigs. One gig I had was at a coffee shop way out in the boonies, about forty minutes away from my home. I went with my dad (best dad ever, then and now shlepping around everywhere to cheer me on). Two friends of mine – my original Colorado fan base – met us there. There were a handful of people in the now-defunct joint.
The gig went well. I recall that, in the middle of my set, someone told me that I should say my name so people would know who I was. I then proceeded to announce my name at least once between as well as in the middle of every song.
Anyway, here’s the interesting part: After the gig, the guy who told me to announce my name and I started to jam. There was a piano there and, if memory serves me correctly, he played the fiddle. So, I sat down at the piano (my first instrument) and we started jamming.
I tell you, I couldn’t believe what was coming out of my fingers. It was as if God herself were playing that night, not me. To say that I was playing above my ability was an understatement; I was playing and improvising at a level I have never reached before or since. We had a crowd gather around us and I was wowing everyone, including myself. I could feel the music emanating from somewhere beyond my wildest grasp and moving up and through me. I knew I had nothing to do with it. It was simply magical and everyone who was there could feel it.
The proprietor asked us if we could come back and play for money the following Saturday night. I accepted the gig and was immediately a bundle of nerves for the rest of the week, fearing that I would be awful.
So, Saturday night rolled around and we showed up and began to play to a full house. And guess what? We were beyond awful. I was back to being regular old me, with the limited musical skill set that I had. No God speaking through me, no spiritual vessel, no nothing. Just a bundle of nerves and fear and expectations blocking any chance of something awesome occurring again.
We hadn’t rehearsed at all and we just couldn’t get started. We cleared out the place. We played (or whatever you want to call it) for an hour, I shamefully took my money from the angry proprietor and then never saw her or the fiddler or stepped foot in that joint ever again.
So, when I sat down to write this post, I was thinking about how, all these years later, I still didn’t understand what happened. It was such a strange experience. But, in the process of retelling this event that I haven’t thought about for years, I think I finally came to terms with it. Here’s what I now know that I didn’t know for a long time:
– Magic can only happen when you’re relaxed and having fun and unafraid. When we were jamming I was all these things. When we came back for the gig I was none of them.
– You can never count on that special magic occurring but you can do your best to cultivate a sense of inner spaciousness and lightheartedness that makes a hospitable place for it to stay in the event that it does.
– It’s important for your own sanity to know that that magic – or anything you create – doesn’t emanate from you. You may be the one who is lucky enough to transmit it but you can’t take credit for it.
So, here’s to having more of that magic, more of the time!
Julie Geller is a singer/songwriter who is saving the world one song at a time by writing original, uplifting, positive music in English and Hebrew. You can watch her latest videos here. Sign up for free monthly music at www.JulieGeller.com.