There wasn’t a second to lose. On the bus ride home I called my husband in a panic. Through frantic tears and gasps I gave him a run down of the catastrophe I had just been through. I listed the title of each song and told him to download them immediately. “I don’t care if you have to pirate, steal, lute - I need the songs on i-tunes the second I walk in the door!!!” Being the good husband that he is and having learned that you can’t reason with crazy, the songs were downloaded and ready when I got home. I walked straight to the music room with the laptop, shut the door, and listened to each song over and over until every note was drilled into my head.
I practiced all night long and into the next afternoon. I didn’t eat except for a few saltines which I took my hands off the keys long enough to stuff 2 or 3 in my mouth and went back to practicing as I chewed. I slept only 2 hours. When I felt like taking a TV break, I pictured that blonde girls' look of complete repulsion and how it would be magnified by a hundred if my accompaniment in any way affected her grand performance. Not to mention that my first real, respected, professional gig in New York City would be an utter failure and I would never have the confidence to try and play for anything again except children’s birthday parties.
By the time I made it to the show that evening, the worry and pressure had built up in my head so badly, I felt as though I was trapped deep under water, desperately trying to find air. My hands were wet, clammy, and cold and no matter how much I rubbed them against my black jacket (which was way too expensive, but made me look way more professional than I actually am), I could never get them dry. My foot tapped uncontrollably on the ground waiting for the show to begin causing my entire body to shudder. My heart was pounding into my ears. I was less nervous when I jumped out of an airplane for the first time. I thought about what a relief it would be to just run out the front door and not have to face this.
The show began and my walk to the piano felt like a dream. I played the first song. The intro was perfect. The singer came in confidently and with ease. The chorus, the bridge, the final not rang out with power – she nailed it because I nailed it. I didn’t claim victory yet. Four more to go. And although the night seemed to go on forever, somehow I made it through each song, recollecting everything I had rehearsed so feverishly in the last 20 hours. With every successful finish, I gained another ounce of confidence to begin the next one.
And finally the moment came when I hit the final note of the final song and took my foot off the sustain pedal. That was it. All those hours of practicing, listening, memorizing, and deciphering ledger lines had led to this moment. I smiled ear to ear. My husband clapped and smiled ear to ear. And although the crowd was applauding for the amazing job of the vocalists, each singer turned to look at me with a sincere nod of gratitude – even the blonde girl - knowing that their phenomenal performance would have been impossible without me. Suddenly my headache was gone, my shoulders relaxed, and I could breathe again. The air felt cool and refreshing and I was completely and thoroughly exhilarated. That was the moment that I first felt like a true musician.