What are YOU gonna sing?

I’ve blogged before about how much I enjoy karaoke. I’ve been enjoying it more, recently, after a year or two during which I felt my range substantially diminish. I’ve been working on strengthening my voice and it seems to be paying off and I’m remembering what it’s like to really enjoy singing—and only just beginning to realize how much that joy had diminished.

Last night I was out singing and I had an annoying interaction I’ve had before, and it got me thinking about low grade anxiety, and how different people process anxiety in general.

I don’t suffer much from stage fright. I do get a bit of nervousness before I take a stage for any reason, but usually it’s the good kind–the hyper-alert in-the-moment adrenaline-rush that makes being on stage a rewarding experience, not a terror-filled one. So it might seem contradictory to talk about anxiety with regard to singing, but like I said, the nerves are still there, it’s just not particularly crippling.

So once or twice a year there’ll be some stranger seeing me getting ready to sing. Invariably I haven’t sung yet that night, or I sang before they came into the joint, so they haven’t heard me sing yet. And they ask me, “What are you gonna sing?” And I always react in kind of a stand-offish way. “Wait and see!” or, “I’m not sure yet!” And then they always get pissed at me and I’ve got someone in the audience guaranteed to be unfriendly to me.

But from my perspective, that can go one of two ways: 1) It’s a song they love, in which case now they won’t react with pleasant surprise once I start singing it because they already know it’s coming, or 2) It’s a song they don’t like or have never heard of, in which case their unenthusiastic response to hearing what’s coming will harsh my own enthusiasm before I even get to sing.

Or it’s a song they love but I won’t sing it well. Or it’s a song they love and I can sing it well, but I don’t look like the right kind of person to sing it.

(Last night, as it happened, I was getting ready to sing “Rosalinda’s Eyes,” a really obscure Billy Joel song that nobody’s ever heard of. I chose it specifically¬† because I’d never seen it on a karaoke list before, so I was excited to sing something I’d never sung before. Only then it turned out that even though the song was on the list, they didn’t actually have it. So I really didn’t know what I was going to sing.)

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about my own reaction, why I can’t just deal with it and move on, and I think it’s because it messes with that low grade stage fright. It makes me just a little more conscious of being judged, either on the coolness of the song, the quality of my performance, or on my own presentation. And so that low-grade not a problem stage fright becomes ever-so-slightly magnified by the interaction. Not enough to make me not want to sing anymore, but enough to make the experience just a bit less fun.

And it makes me think about other times when I or other people are dealing with anxiety. There’s this idea that anxiety is very visible—trembling, vomiting, stuff like that—but everyday anxiety can be much quieter than that. I do experience anxiety in other aspects of my life, and I think often people around me don’t know I’m experiencing it.

Maybe I miss the signs when people around me are experiencing their own anxiety, and I fail to be as . . . helpful/accommodating/up-building as I could be.

It’s something to think about.

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