By: Matt Topolewski
“Introducing next to the stage … ”
My heart pounded so fast that I thought I was going to die from a heart attack, even at age ten. The nastiest butterflies forced my stomach to curl up in pain while looking across the distance. Fear spread throughout my body like a hungry beast holding me captive. My hands felt clammy, frigid like a snowstorm in the middle of January. My knees collapsed without moving them, and the air in my brain left in big chunks every second. It sounds like the beginning of me fighting against a tiger who is about to attack me. One strike and I’m dead at the scene. No! Even worse, doubts continue to pop up about why I made this decision, soon realizing that I would be performing in front of the whole school. Thinking about being up on stage alone with everyone watching made me shake in fear. I was the next one up, and I could already picture myself messing up in front of the whole school. They would be laughing at me the next day, calling me the biggest joke they had ever seen.
“ . . . performing Do Re Mi on the piano … ”
I knew I was going to bomb this. Pints of cold sweat started rushing down my face, around my chin, and into my collared shirt. I was quaking in my boots and couldn’t concentrate, trying my best to remember the notes to my song. Second-guessing if I practiced enough, I panicked, taking deep breaths to cope with my anxiety.
“. . . Matthew Topolewski!”
It was time. It was too late to turn back now. I slowly crept towards my piano, which was already set on stage. The chairs squeaking left and right were the only sound heard in the gymnasium. My breath was louder, revealing my horror to everyone before my act even started. While approaching my piano, I tried to keep my head down since I did not want to see the packed audience, who was staring at me. I was frightened of these monsters, their eyes wide open and focused with their patience running thin by every second. However, my curiosity got the better of me as I tilted my head towards the right and saw these reticent beasts. I tried to remember what my teacher told me about pretending that the audience were in their underwear, but even that comical spiel couldn’t save me now. When I arrived at my piano, I made sure I knew where my seat was because if I fell off my chair, I would be laughed at for the rest of my life. The reflection of the bright lights shone on me, providing the direction of my chair. Sitting tensely on the edge of my seat, I made an effort to take a couple more deep breaths to remove the bundle of nerves in my body. Gently, I placed my numb fingers on my piano, making sure I had my ring finger on the middle C note. I was performing without any music playing which made performing even more nerve-wracking. Five long seconds later, I played the first note. Do – Middle C. Then the next notes. A deer, a female deer – D E C E C E. As I finished those notes, I heard silence from the audience. I wasn’t sure if they were liking it and just trying to focus on the act, or if they were hating it and were just shocked at my awfulness.
However, the audience didn’t matter at this point in the performance. Instead, what was important was that I finished this song, not as an embarrassment to myself and others. I continued playing the song, making sure I replayed what I practiced within my performance. I was digging deep to find the next notes that were stuck within my brain. However, all of a sudden, I didn’t have to think about the next notes anymore. My hands were taking over my body, guiding me to the next note. With each note being played, I felt more and more confident on stage. The stage fright in my body started to disappear and I started to feel the blood vessels shoot up into my numb fingers, and my nervous adrenaline started to cool down. I finally felt warmth throughout my cold toes, and now, I had a smile across my face while still playing. I hummed the song in my head with a new surge of faith in myself. I was as determined to finish my performance on top like a mother lion is while hunting for its next meal to feed her family. As I was finishing my first part of my act, a full rendition of Do Re Mi, I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. With the last C note, which was a full octave higher than the first note, the audience quietly clapped at the first part. Maybe they weren’t beasts after all. They weren’t angels yet that’s for sure, but instead they were quiet dogs that wag their tails at the meals they enjoy. These quiet dogs, however, were not prepared for what I had in store for the second part of my act. I planned my second part to be five times better than the first part and extra to put it into overdrive. I activated a fast tempo beat that was stored in my keyboard and turned up the volume to full blast. The mood in the gym changed. It was as if I launched a rocket out of space with my mind because as soon as this quick beat played, the atmosphere in the room lit up. These dogs shot up from out of their seats and clapped vigorously along to the beat. I would never have imagined in my wildest dreams that I could get these people to clap, let alone stand up. I knew I was in the groove now. My head was bobbing to the beat, and inside my soul, I felt the claps of the audience. I understood now that I wasn’t performing to the audience, but I was performing for the audience. As I started wrapping up my performance, I changed as a person. Five minutes ago, I was a scared little boy crying for help, and now I was taking a bow in front of these angels. Yes, the audience are angels now, not dogs or beasts anymore. Having them alongside me, I have fulfilled the best moment of my life, conquering stage fright while sharing my passion for music with the school that had helped me grow up so much.
Finding different ways that you want to express yourself is the hardest thing in life. After listening to Jacques Offenbach’s Can Can orchestra song on my desktop computer, I didn’t know what hit me. I was unsure of what to think, both amazed and stunned at the same time. Something about that song changed my perception of life even at 9 years old, reducing the pain I have felt from a lasting disability that I had been recovering from. Since that song, I took on creating my own songs, singing my tunes in front of family and friends. Each song was about a topic that mattered to me. Colors, Love, My Uncle, Thunder. Every dinner, I would grab my parents’ attention, and blurt out,
“Oh thunderstorms… will you stop raining… into my heart… at the bottom of the sea.
Oh thunderstorms… will you stop raining… into my heart… so the children can play.”
Each song meant something to me that only music could express. While continuing to sing my songs, I tried to learn how to play instruments. Getting Rock Band drums before the start of school defined music as a true passion of mine. I rocked out to every classic song available on the game and more. Eventually, I increased the difficulty of the game, and soon I was rocking out like a true drummer. A note per millisecond was flying out from the screen towards me as I had to act quickly and play the correct note. However, I knew that I could never discover my full potential performing music just by playing a video game. I explored all avenues of how I could be linked in with music. In first grade, I applied to play the violin, an instrument I knew nothing about except for the name. For crying out loud I didn’t even know how many strings were on the violin, or if the violin was even a string instrument. After being taught Twinkle Twinkle Little Star during my first lesson, I immediately fell in love with the instrument. I had a mission to be the best violinist at all costs, so I practiced every other day at my house by following the Essential Elements Guidebook, which taught many songs to beginner players. It turned out that by the next lesson, I already knew how to play 12 different songs. I even started linking my violin practice to the piano and learned how to play the piano by using all the songs I learned. My teacher was so impressed with my hard work, dedication, and practice that she recommended me for the school talent show one week after I met her. I agreed to perform in the talent show, practicing day in and day out for the moment where I had to be alone on stage in front of the whole school and more. However, that day prepared me to continue my music career and allowed me to do so much more in life, conquering fear and adversity. Any stage, anytime, anywhere, I can overcome anything.
Categories: Lit Magazine