Conversations with Kids

All week during group classes I have encouraged my students to perform a solo for their class. If they do, they get entered into a drawing for a movie gift card. (It's not 'bribery', it's a 'reward!' ;-) ) This opportunity has led to some really great and surprisingly deep conversations about what nervousness feels like in our bodies, why we get it, that just about *everyone* gets nervous, and what to do with that. It's also led to some hilarious giggle fits as new, young performers get the jitters and become little hams!

Speaking from my own experience, I used to become incredibly nervous before a performance of any kind - playing music or speaking in public. My mind used to spin in this direction: "What if I make a mistake??? Oh god, that will be the end of everything! Everyone will know I messed up and they'll think fraud! What if making a mistake makes me a fraud!!??" My stomach would knot and I would become short with people around me.

So yesterday when Elijah (age 8) looked worried and asked, "What if I make a mistake?" I was ready for that conversation. So I asked him, "What's the worst thing that will happen if you make a mistake?" Answers erupted from around the classroom, "You'll fall off the stage!" "Everyone will laugh at you!" "You'll break your instrument!" And then we all started laughing. Something about saying it all out loud made it obvious how silly and unrealistic their worst fears were.

But then I asked in all seriousness, "Elijah, if I made a mistake, would you forgive me?" "Yes," he said. "If Shiloh here made a mistake, would you forgive her?" "Yes!" he said. "If Emme made a mistake, could you forgive her too?" "Yes, of course!" "Then," I said, "if you make a mistake, you must forgive yourself too."

Elijah looked at me like I just grew another head. "What?! You can't forgive yourself!" Boom. That right there. We are so seldom taught that we can and should extend ourselves the same grace we so easily give others.

I told him it’s not easy at first, but we have to practice because we’re not perfect and we’re all going to make mistakes. Shiloh piped up, “Yeah, even Ms. Kat makes mistakes when she performs!” “Yep!” I said, “Every time! I’m human and it happens. So I forgive myself and move on.”

I realize that this is a challenging idea – for performers of any age. But practicing our craft, practicing performing, doing our best, and then forgiving our hiccups here and there lets ourselves and others enjoy the beauty of what we create.

Then I looked in each of their faces and told them what I believe to be the most important thing: “When you perform it won’t be perfect, but there is no one in the world who plays just like you. You are unique in all the world and when you play it is a gift like none other. And people are grateful for your gifts. So do your best and let go of the rest.”

Then each of them took turns stepping up to our pretend ‘stage’ while the others were the ‘audience.’ They practiced walking on, playing, bowing. They giggled and cracked funny faces to let off nerves, but they did a great job and were so supportive of each other. Now when they go play at the nursing home tomorrow, they will have already had a success under their belts. And when the fall recital comes around it will be a little less intimidating, and so on and so on.

This whole self-forgiveness thing is a different sort of concept and I don’t expect them to truly get this right now. But I think I’ve at least planted a seed and that’s something.