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The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me On Stage, Part 1

You’re asked to perform in front of an audience. What do you do?

A) Put a bag over your head in order to hide your freaked-out face

B) Laugh uncontrollably while fleeing the room

C) Grab a mic and run on stage, eager to perform your heart out

According to the polls, only a minority of you said “C.” Indeed, it’s reported that people are more afraid of public speaking than death.

Although, if you think about it, this doesn’t really make sense.

Imagine you’re standing on the wings of a stage, and someone tells you that if you don’t go out and speak, they’re going to kill you. How many people would choose death?

When I was a kid, I might have picked the death option.

I was terrified of performing in front of an audience. Actually, it’s more specific than that. I was terrified of playing the piano in front of an audience. I acted in a few plays and I was fine. But displaying my fine-motor musical-skills in front of a crowd? No thanks!!

photo: Andy Eick on flickr

Some of you know about the worst thing that ever happened to me on stage. Or my jaunts to piano prison. Or the stage trick I learned from Steve Young. But when I was a kid, none of these things had happened yet.

There was just me. And my terror.

Luckily, I only had to play once a year. It was the annual recital for the students of my piano teacher, Carol Nott. In spite of my utter fear, I always managed to make it through my four minutes of Public Torture. Then I had a whole year before I had to do it again.

My senior year of high school, my teacher thought it would be a good idea for me and a fellow student, Ken Wong, to do a senior recital.

I’m not sure why I agreed to this.

My friend Ken didn’t mind playing in front of a crowd. In fact, his mother informed me that he played better when he had people watching.

Needless to say, this was not the case for me.

The recital consisted of a variety of classical pieces. Looking back on it,
I think the whole thing didn’t work for me because I don’t particularly care for classical music. Sure, it’s beautiful, and soothing, and cultured.

But I get a lot more excited about Gospel, or Funk, or R&B.

photo: familymwr on flickr

Indeed, my favorite piece of the concert was by Ravel. I always liked the Romantics – Chopin, Debussy, Ravel – because they were the closest thing to a contemporary sound.

The particular Ravel piece I was preparing for our recital was Pavane pour une infant défunte. For those of you who haven’t brushed up on your French lately, that means Pavane for a Dead Princess.

photo: Allan Ferguson on flickr

While this might not sound like the most uplifting of topics, it was an amazing piece: beautiful, haunting, hypnotic. I would practice it again and again, and every time it would make my heart ache. In a good way.

And then there were all the other pieces I had to play.

There was one Mozart composition that my fingers could barely wrap themselves around. Every time I played that piece, it was like I was wearing oven mitts. If Mozart had been in the room, he would have been plugging his ears.

photo: hobvias sudoneighm on flickr

Okay, maybe it wasn’t that bad. But it wasn’t good.

Finally it came, the day of the recital.

To be honest, I barely remember anything about it. I remember that there were lots of people there. I remember that I was terrified, as usual. I remember that the Mozart didn’t go so well. But that’s about it.

Well, except for The Thing That Happened.

It happened, not surprisingly, when I played the Ravel. I sat down on the piano bench to play my favorite piece, and something came over me.

I was suddenly completely calm.

It was uncanny. I was used to being terrified. I was used to shaking and sweating and racing to be finished.

This was the exact opposite.

Time was a fluid, languid thing. And I was sitting in the middle of this calm, smooth space, enjoying every minute.

photo: Steve Jurvetson on flickr

Not only that, I wasn’t alone. There was – what was it?

It was as though there was a Presence in and all around me. The Presence was dictating the whole event. And yet it wasn’t dictating, exactly, because it was so calm and relaxed and spacious.

Then I started to play. Or was it the Presence that was playing?

I felt so tranquil, so clear. Usually I only felt relaxed when I was playing alone. In this case, I felt more focused and alive because there were others there.

It was as though the Presence included everyone – me, the audience, the piece itself. Every note I played was an articulation of the space, and the calm, and the beauty.

I had never experienced anything like it.

When I was finished, I stood up and walked away from the piano bench. As soon as I did, the Presence started to recede.

I had no idea what had come over me. I was seventeen. I didn’t believe in God, or angels or spirits. Not yet.

But I knew something magical had happened.

photo: Linus Bohman on flickr

A few days after the recital, my mom ran into a man who had
been there.

He said he had been blown away by the Ravel. He said something extraordinary had happened when the piece was played. He said he couldn’t sleep that night.

The minute I heard this, I knew what he meant.

And I knew it had nothing to do with me.

Something had happened when I played that piece. But it was so much bigger than me, I knew I couldn’t take the credit.

Many years have gone by since that event, but I can step back into that memory in an instant. Is it because the Presence is still with me? Even when I don’t feel it? I suspect so.

photo: dvs on flickr

I learned something that day.

I learned that I’m not alone. That I always have Help. And that I can’t always control where and when It shows up.

I also learned that the place of my greatest fear can be the place of my greatest gift.

So the next time you’re asked to do something big, something scary, remember this:

1. You’re not alone.

photo: greg westfall on flickr

2. You have Help.

3. Grace happens, just because.

photo: Fayezart on flickr

When have you been helped by Something bigger than you? When did your greatest fear turn into a place of Grace?

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15 Responses to The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me On Stage, Part 1

  1. Karen June 12, 2012 at 8:25 am #

    Oh my heavens, I could so relate to this — the performance anxiety, anyhow! My piano teacher, Miss Bergman, finally excused me from her yearly recitals held at the Presbyterian church because I was such a bundle of nerves before playing my memorized classical piece.

    I’m so glad I continued on with the lessons, though, until I was 17. Piano playing (for my own amazement, mainly) has been a source of joy to me over the years.

    I just love the thought of how that presence “took over” when you were playing the Ravel, as well as the wondrous conclusions you drew from it.

    • Z Egloff June 12, 2012 at 10:32 am #

      Hi Karen,

      Great to hear from you again!!

      What a nice piano teacher you had! I never told Miss Nott how terrified I was, though she might have suspected it.

      That’s wonderful that you have continued to enjoy the piano. I’m still so thankful that my parents paid for my lessons throughout childhood. It’s great to have a musical skill to enjoy in adulthood. I’m glad that the source of your past anxiety has now turned into one of joy! Doesn’t get much better than that! :)

      Thanks again for reading and commenting!


  2. michael frank June 12, 2012 at 8:30 am #

    The same for me when I won a very large formal public speaking
    competition……..The speech done in the 70’s was titled, “Here a Boy,
    There a Man”
    The experience was far beyond any element of time
    the experience I have been having for the past 15 years, called,

    That speech, before “it’s” time, whatever that means, would create
    a picture of my life. So incredibly accurate that all I can say is,
    “and so it is”…………wow, thank you Z…..my spine is tingling

    • Z Egloff June 12, 2012 at 10:25 am #

      Hi Michael,

      It’s interesting how public speaking and performing can bring such powerful experiences. Maybe that’s why everyone is so afraid of it. It seems that perhaps there is a Great Power available when one puts oneself forward in that way. It can be extremely frightening to expose yourself on stage, but when you do, you also have the possibility of realizing that there are great resources available. In my case – and it sounds true for you as well – I discovered that these resources are far greater than I ever would have imagined.

      Thank you for sharing your experience, Michael!!


  3. River June 12, 2012 at 8:42 am #

    Hi Z,

    I have experienced that Extra Help several times but one of the biggest was after my mom died. Don’t ask me why but for some reason I had to write and give her Eulogy. Me?!

    I couldn’t figure out what to say/write! How do you distill 86 years down to a few minutes and OH, Yeah, while you are grieving? I had never done a eulogy before! So I did what any good computer user did, I looked up Eulogy on the internet. (Ok..desperation brings old habits back!) I actually found a helpful site that said to just tell stories that you remember.

    I thought ok..so I just have to tell stories about her. I went into overload again. How do I share what a child remembers? How do you say how many times she nursed me through those really awful childhood illnesses that no longer exist now due to vaccines? Or when she took me to school on rainy days even though we lived a whopping big 2 blocks away? Or all the school lunches she packed? Would the people there even be interested in that or comforted by its telling?

    So what happened is I just gave up and sat there. Then the beginning sort of came to me – that Bigger Helper Thing took over and I saw my mom clearly as everyone who knew her would see her. She was sitting there very animated with that one leg crossed sort of kicking the air, engaged in a heated discussion that she so loved to have about politics, religion or some world condition as she drank her coffee and smoked her cigarettes. That was my mom – alive and engaged in all of life. It didn’t take long to write the rest. It was like that Bigger Helper had whispered in my ear. It even whispered a little bit of humor so we all wouldn’t be so sad.

    Yep, that Bigger Helper thing we call Grace has been there many times. And most especially this time. I am so glad because without it there would have been a memorial service without a memorial.

    Thanks BH!

    • Z Egloff June 12, 2012 at 10:21 am #

      Hi River,

      Wow. What an experience. Thank you for sharing this! I love when the Bigger Helper Thingie takes over and everything starts to make sense.

      I havefound, from listening to lots and lots of people speak about lots and lots of things, that my favorite thing is to hear people’s stories. There is so much power in a story. Even from the small bit that you shared here, a picture of your mother is clear in my head. Including your relationship to her. Both of my parents are still living and I can’t even imagine what that must be like to do a eulogy for a parent. I get teary just thinking about it. I think that your story will be in my mind when my turn comes.

      Thank you for reading and sharing and commenting!!!


  4. georgia June 12, 2012 at 8:42 am #

    “It is not I but the Spirit within, who does these things I see before me…” is this a Homes quote put to music? I’m sure you know, dear Z. I didn’t fully grock this statement until singing solo in performance. And how do you tell people when they are so kind to thank you after a performance? Thanks, I’ve worked hard to get my ego out of the way and just be what the Divine offers in each progressing step that’s brought me here? Maybe…. I have een fortunate engh to have had this experience in the Spiritual community of the One Heart Choir and CSLSR. I can imagine it must’ve been a further reach at that place in your teens. Thank you for being brave and listening for and following the Divine, you are such a gift in my life and the lives of manymanymanymanymany others! Go Rev. Z!

    • Z Egloff June 12, 2012 at 10:12 am #

      Hi Georgia!!!

      You are certainly an example of someone who has been willing to let the Divine lead. It’s such an amazing experience, and I agree with you that it makes it hard to know what to say when people congratulate you after a performance.

      I used to make fun of those performers who would go up to accept an award and point their fingers at the sk, then say something about giving it all to Jesus. But I understand that sentiment a lot better now. Hey, maybe that’s what I should have done after my senior high piano recital! Or not.

      Thank you for your thoughtful presence and comments. You rock ‘n’ roll!


  5. Claire June 12, 2012 at 11:35 am #

    Great Story Z. I too, believe it or not, suffered crippling stage fright. I even became and actress so I could be someone else on stage instead of me. And then I felt empty after performance because I wasn’t present while it happened. I love that you can pinpoint a moment of Divine Grace. My came in small intermediary steps and continues to unveil itself in the most uncanny ways. you have given me food for thought reminding me to count my blessings and remember the so many moments that are the gifts to remind us how supported and loved we all are. And I can’t WAIT to make some music again with your giant heart and soul this fall with the One Heart Choir again. XXOO

    • Z Egloff June 13, 2012 at 9:57 am #

      Hi Claire,

      I did not know that you had stage fright – one certainly would never know it now! I appreciate you sharing your process to Grace. I love that we can all share our individual processes, and then also notice how similar our journeys are. I too look forward to counting my blessings and playing with the One Heart again very sooooooooon! :)


  6. Susan June 12, 2012 at 11:45 am #


    How nice to have access to Presence on a Tuesday morning. I tend to forget that it was there all along…

    • Z Egloff June 13, 2012 at 9:53 am #

      Hi Susan,

      Thanks for stopping by!! Great to hear from you.

      It’s funny how we forget that the Presence is always there. Luckily, we have each other to remind us. :)

      Come by again anytime!!


  7. Lili June 15, 2012 at 11:53 am #

    Z ,I love reading your blog. This one really touches me because I am one of those who, until very recently, would rather have dental extraction without anesthetic than speak publicly. I’m about to do my first workshop, and find that the debate is right there in the background, ready to take over. But I know that the support is there. Thanks for the reminder! love Lili

    • Z Egloff June 15, 2012 at 3:22 pm #

      Hi Lili,

      As someone who has started doing a little public speaking, I can tell you that it’s WAY better than unanesthetized dental work. I guarantee it!! I’m so happy that you’re doing a workshop – you’re going to be great! Plus now that we know that you’re (maybe) a 2, you’ll be fulfilling your role as a true helper! Bringing joy and wisdom to others! :)

      Thanks for stopping by! And have fun with your ventures into new territory!



  1. ­­­The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me On Stage, Part 2 | Life in ZD - March 19, 2013

    […] more on my on-stage antics, go here and here and […]

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