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The Worst Thing that Ever Happened to Me on Stage

photo: Chris Durant on flikr

Have you ever made a mistake? How about a mistake in front of other people? How about a mistake in front of an audience?

photo: NHS Confederation on flikr

I don’t know about you, but making a mistake in front of an entire collection of people who have their eyes focused on me is not on the top of my To Do list. As a matter of fact, it’s on the top of my Please Let This Never Happen To Me list.

And yet it happened.

If you’ve read this blog for more than a month, you know about my sentences to piano prison. Piano prison is a special place, a place inside my mind. It’s where I go when I want to beat myself up after a performance on stage. 

Because, really, that’s my idea of a good time! Making mistakes on stage and then beating myself up for it afterwards!

Okay, maybe not.

The thing about piano prison is that it’s totally out of proportion. One teeny mistake turns into a gaffe of epic proportions. Like, Godzilla-size.

photo: galactic.supermarket on flikr

But what happens when the mistake really is Godzilla-sized? What then?

That’s what I want to talk about.

A few weeks ago, I was playing the piano at Unity of Walnut Creek. Unity of Walnut Creek was the first metaphysical church I attended when I moved to California twenty years ago.

I can still remember how I felt when I first walked in those doors. It was like my heart had expanded to ten times its regular size. I felt like I had found my people, my home. I felt like everything made sense in a way that was beyond anything I’d experienced before.

It was the same thing a few weeks ago.

The minister started with a powerful opening prayer. He evoked the Divine in a way that was palpable. The room was full of love. Love was in everything – the chairs and the people and the flowers on the altar. I felt loved and loving in a way that I don’t always feel in metaphysical churches. We weren’t just talking about love. We were being love.

It was awesome.

And then, into this great, big soup of Love, came the thing. The awful thing.

Right before the minister’s talk, I was playing a song with Melissa Phillippe, my sweetheart, called The Healing Storm. It was, as it turned out, the perfect title for what was about to happen.

photo: Paul J. Everett on flikr

As some of you know, I started playing the piano again about three years ago. I’ve progressed to the place where I occasionally take solos when I play. This particular song was one of those Z-gets-to-take-a-solo songs.

Except when I went to take my solo, I didn’t have my music. I didn’t have the notes I was supposed to play.

I had seen the paper earlier that day. I knew it was on the piano somewhere. I just didn’t know where.

photo: z egloff

While my right hand was frantically rifling through the papers on the piano, trying to find my music, my left hand was banging out chords on the piano. Meanwhile, all eyes were riveted on me.

This was my big moment, my chance to demonstrate my prodigious piano skills. Instead, I was demonstrating how thoroughly I could wipe the top of the piano with random sheets of music.

It was a disaster. 

To make matters worse, the video crew had told me earlier that day that when the time came for my solo, they were going to do a close-up of my face and hands. Well, the operative word was hand, because only five of my fingers were making any contact with the piano keys. The other five were busily trying to recover a small shred of my dignity.  

As for my face, I suspect it looked like the proverbial deer in headlights. 

Except that this deer was also trying to play the piano. With one hoof.

Finally, after rustling through every inch of the piano for my missing music, I gave up. I muddled through what was supposed to be my solo by slapping out a few more chords and turning it back to the band.

But here’s the cool part.

After it was all over, and I went to sit down in my chair, I did not sentence myself to piano prison.

photo: Jason Rogers on flikr

Not even a little bit.

I’d like to believe that this is because I’ve learned to handle the whole piano prison phenomenon. That is, I focus on the positive aspects of my performance and this keeps me from beating myself up. And that may be so, at least in part.

But the bigger piece is that I was in love. Literally, in Love.

The energy in that room – in the community, in me – was such that I literally couldn’t beat myself up. I could hear the things I might have said to myself, had I been so inclined. But they were far away, like tiny whispers that had absolutely nothing to do with my current experience.

Mostly I just sat there saying: Wow. That was truly the worst thing that’s ever happened to me on stage. Like, really bad! But it’s okay.

It was actually funny to me, how bad it was. And I didn’t seem to care.

It was like being granted special X-ray-vision glasses.

photo: Adrian Miles on flikr

In this case, my special-powered sight allowed me to see myself as Spirit sees me. I got to see that I’m perfect, whole and complete, no matter what I do.

It’s one thing to know that intellectually. It’s another thing altogether to really feel it.

And I was blessed with that sight.

So even though it was the worst thing that ever happened to me on stage, it was the best thing that ever happened to me when I walked off the stage. And for that, I am grateful.

How have you been blessed by grace in moments of disaster? How has Love pulled you through?

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28 Responses to The Worst Thing that Ever Happened to Me on Stage

  1. Jo Lauer November 8, 2011 at 8:24 am #

    Thank you for sharing your journey through prison hell. One day soon, it will be a place you used to visit. I was struck, particularly, by your second picture–the one of the crowd. Check it out. No one in the audience cares, no one is glaring at you (okay, so it’s not your real crowd, but as a metaphor, you get where I’m going). They’re involved in whatever their world is about at the moment. I bet if you had a picture of your REAL crowd at the church, you’d have seen beaming, supportive, loving faces who knew this was only a blip in time, and no big deal. You are a brilliant performer–shine on!

    My worst on-stage moment? Lavender Roses, where I burst into tears during my monologue, after my Mom’s death. Yup, got all choked up, couldn’t speak. I heard later, when I could crawl out of my humiliation long enough to listen, that many people were profoundly touched, and could relate. Silly us, huh?

    • Z Egloff November 8, 2011 at 11:51 am #

      Hi Jo,

      What a great observation about the crowd. You’re so right. Everyone is wrapped up in their own little world. Always!

      And thanks for sharing your Lavender Roses moment. Personally, I love it when people cry when they’re speaking in public. It’s very powerful. But when I’m the one crying, it’s harder to remember that. I just recently choked back tears during a public speaking moment. Your story is a wonderful reminder for me that it’s not only okay to cry in public, it’s important!


  2. Squirrel November 8, 2011 at 8:36 am #

    i love that you used to music for “All This Joy” in the photo you took. was that intentional?

    ok, so back to the question at hand, my deer… (see what i did there?) to paraphrase: where have i gracefully fallen on my face and how did love heal the wounds (or at least comfort them)? that is a really great question. i routinely fall on my face… up until now… and i am blessed with the grace to make it look like it’s on purpose… usually… i know that i am surrounded by people who love me, no matter how messily i show up so it doesn’t matter if i’m a complete spaz because i am surrounded by love. and i am OK with making mistakes… usually… because it gives others permission to do the same. :) if i don’t make mistakes, i don’t learn. and i don’t want to not learn, not learning makes life boring, not to mention stifles my potential.

    love you, z! happy tuesday!

    • Z Egloff November 8, 2011 at 11:46 am #

      Ah – the use of All This Joy was NOT intentional. At least, not consciously!

      I’m glad that you’re cool with the whole making mistakes thing. I’m still learning that one. I remember seeing this woman at a library when I was living in Boston. I was in my early twenties. She tripped and fell in front of a whole bunch of people and she just started laughing. It made a big impression on me. At that time in my life, there’s no way I could have laughed that off. Now, I probably would. She was a role model for me and I only saw her that one time for a few seconds. Life is groovy that way.

      Happy Tuesday to you too! XOZ

      • squirrel November 8, 2011 at 11:57 am #

        I thought All This Joy was a great metaphor. maybe it’s cuz it was 8 AM.

        I love laughing at myself when I’m a spaz. life is too precious not to.

        • Z Egloff November 8, 2011 at 1:52 pm #

          Plus spazzes are funny.

          • squirrel November 8, 2011 at 5:16 pm #

            Right? I love being a spaz.

  3. C.I. November 8, 2011 at 10:30 am #

    CRIKEY DINGO, that is One Transformative Parable about every day Human existence. An example for all sentient beings.

    It was a Long Time Coming, but Love finally pulled me out of the depths of despair after my sister ended her life. Again, it was transformative and brought me back from being lost…to humanity. Thank You !

    • Z Egloff November 8, 2011 at 11:42 am #

      I can’t even imagine how that must have been to lose your sister. I’m glad that Love brought you back! And I’m happy to have you here with the goofballs! XOZ

  4. Pennie Sempell November 8, 2011 at 10:33 am #

    Wonderfully told story and beautiful page design. Who did it? (I can send them some work)

    I have horror stories for sure. One day will tell.


    • Z Egloff November 8, 2011 at 11:40 am #

      Hi Pennie! The web design is by Barbara Stafford. You can find a link to her page on the bottom of my website, or just go to BarbaraStafford.com She’s fabulous! And she’s a former One Heart Choir member. Look forward to hearing some of your stories. . . XOZ

  5. Jiselle November 8, 2011 at 1:59 pm #

    You inspire me so much! I’m working so hard to keep myself from going to my “Art Prison of Judgement” and it’s really cool to hear about your success in keeping a place of love instead of fear.

    • Z Egloff November 9, 2011 at 10:36 am #

      It’s possible! After that day of the Super Bad Thing, I still go to piano prison, but it’s a lighter sentence every time. Love is the key. I do everything I can to surround myself with it, inside and out.

      Good to hear from you! Keep me posted on the Freedom from Art Prison project! XOZ

  6. Norma Vickery Miller November 9, 2011 at 9:20 am #

    When I was in a bad place about who I was, I was going to Science of Mind Church where Mary Murry Sheldon was speaking. She choked up with tears quite often during her talk and I felt so wonderful that this wonderful lady could cry on stage and not be ashamed. I learned a lot for myself that it was nothing to be ashamed of to cry of show my tears and pain. I grew a lot that day.

    • Z Egloff November 9, 2011 at 10:33 am #

      Yes! Jo was talking about the same thing earlier in this comment thread. I find it extremely liberating when someone demonstrates that kind of freedom on stage. I love Rev. Mary!

  7. Cecilia November 9, 2011 at 7:29 pm #

    When I was 12 or so, I sang for the first time in front of a full audience. My voice teacher and I had been working on “Rainbow Connection,” and I had a cold. During the performance, my high notes were shaky, and I accidentally started the second verse wrong and had to wait to come in again. I wept afterward, strongly and openly. I stopped singing lessons for some time after that.

    Nearly a decade later, I am more committed to and more in love with singing then ever before! I think it was just my love of it that slowly brought me back around. I can’t remember now if I ever actually stopped singing, but that moment will certainly keep me humble forever.

    • Z Egloff November 10, 2011 at 1:45 pm #

      Oh, that sucks! I’m sorry that you stopped singing after that – but glad that you came back! As you know, I LOVE your singing voice. You rock!

      The more I do this whole Being Creative in Public Thang, the more I’m having to contend with the voices that rear up afterwards. As with you, my love for what I’m doing is what keeps me going. It’s the best part, and the part I need to continue to focus on.

  8. Karyl November 12, 2011 at 7:53 am #

    Wow – I got one! recently – like last weekend! I’ve been in front of audiences for 30 years speaking nearly every week so I am used to making little and sometimes big mistakes onstage and getting through them more or less gracefully and not thinking a thing of it. However, I recently began singing in a big choir and we had a performance last weekend. I believe in expanding by comfort zone so I stepped way out of it by volunteering for a solo. This three stanza solo was so rehearsed that it “sang me.” I sang it in my head pretty much all the time. OK – performance time….I stepped up to the microphone, began and then the second line of the first stanza unraveled and then I was in a place I had not visited in a long, long time…in a universe that never had heard that song. No words were in my head – there at the mic with two hundred people staring at me. Finally…I looked at the accompanist who also looked a little lost and was mouthing something to me in the language of the universe I had just left. Somehow, after what seemed like an hour or so I found my way back to the song and finished it without any other mishap. I did notice that, the song, which was supposed to be funny was not bringing much laughter, but I believe the audience applauded a bit at the end out of relief, perhaps. I sang through the rest of the concert thinking, “OK I;m still standing – isn’t that fascinating.” After the concert people were so dear. They said they had never seen a recovery like that. The really amazing thing that I just realized yesterday was that I had wanted to get to know the chorus people and them me – after singing for a year at rehearsal, not much personal conversation happened. Well, I cannot think of a better way to have accomplished my desire. I think they know me now.

    • Z Egloff November 12, 2011 at 11:16 am #

      What a great story!! “In a universe that never had heard that song.” What an amazing moment. I especially love your realization after the fact – and that even though that moment of being lost on stage is over, the connection with your fellow choir members remains. Fabulous! XOZ

  9. Alicia November 15, 2011 at 11:26 am #

    I have been meaning to comment on this… it was a great read. I feel like that most days when I get in front of a class. Being a special education teacher, I teach many subjects and sometimes cross subjects. I speak Spanish in Biology or complete DNA transcription in Art. The kids just laugh and we move on. I think people like to know that people aren’t perfect… it lets a little of the pressure off of life. I know in my personal life I have those I have to be perfect feelings and when I am not “perfect” I can feel let down but in reality no one is perfect. It is the grace of God, and in my opinion the Holy Spirit, that guides me. I struggle everyday but if I didn’t struggle life wouldn’t be so much fun, you know? I think that it is love for ourselves unmasked in situations where we think we “fail” at something but in reality it is just life that happens. No rewind, no redos, no changing what happened. We move on, we look forward, and we keep sailing through…

    • Z Egloff November 15, 2011 at 1:50 pm #

      I too love seeing other people being “imperfect.” In fact, there’s a great perfection in imperfection, don’t you think? I’ve been lucky to have lots of teachers and mentors who are willing to show all of themselves, including and especially the things that others may judge as “less than.” And I too am grateful for that Power that’s greater than me that can help me out when nothing else can. So I can keep on keepin on. . . .

  10. Susan November 29, 2011 at 4:47 pm #

    Well for me it was not about playing music but it was standing in front of judges, law enforcement officials, many non-profit personal, when all of sudden the biggest hot flash ever came on as I was giving a thank you speech, for me it felt like rain coming down into my eyes, my contacts fogged up, I don’t use notes so there were not soggy notes in front of me just a red face, embarrassed that everyone could tell I was having the ultimate hot flash..

    When finished with my speech they all applauded, I thinking they just felt sorry for me. I later asked a co-worker did I make a fool out of myself she replied “no why as always you were great” I then thought to myself WHAT!!!! I just love your story Z it reminded me that we get all upset usually over nothing.

    • Z Egloff November 30, 2011 at 11:20 am #

      Hi Susan!!

      I love your story. Every time I hear something similar, I’m always struck by the fact that the person telling the story is absolutely convinced that something horrible has happened. And this is invariably not the perception of anyone around them. It’s such a good reminder for me that one person’s Disaster is another person’s No Big Deal. And that’s it’s always better to try to cultivate the No Big Deal side of things.

      Thanks for stopping by!



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