A few weeks back, Big Sister had her first violin recital. She's a determined little thing, and she practiced her heart out before the big day. We were singing Lightly Row all day long for weeks.
She had done everything she needed to do to prepare, including getting new strings when her bow started bumping along a string instead of gliding. She had rehearsed with the pianist and nailed the piece on her first try. She had a group class that morning. She had a new dress and a fancy hairdo, thanks to a YouTube video. She was ready.
But she was very nervous. What if I make a mistake?, she kept asking. We reassured her every way we knew how. Her violin teacher reassured her, even telling her stories of her own performance mistakes. But nothing could quiet her fears of messing up. It seemed that all the hard work and preparation had increased her performance anxiety, because she felt she had so much to lose.
We brought a little friend with us to the recital, for some extra love and support, in hopes that it might help calm her nerves.
The violinists were seated together during the concert. Although we could see Big Sister (and her little kitty) during the performances, we could not tell how she was doing. It was clearly a friendly audience, full of supportive parents and loved ones who cheered for their little stars. And there were plenty of students less advanced than Big Sister. Some even played cute little cardboard box violins. We hoped that would all be comforting to our nervous performer.
When the time came for Big Sister to play, she couldn't do it. It was as if she were glued to her chair and all the love in the world could not get her to her feet. Through tears, she told her teacher that she was too scared. The show went on without her.
Before I could get to my daughter, her teacher was seated right next to her, holding her hand. This teacher is gentle and patient, a personality so perfectly suited to working with young children. From the very beginning, Big Sister felt comfortable confiding in her about her feelings. In their first lesson, they talked through Big Sister's fear of participating in a group class with other young violinists. Big Sister responded surprisingly well to this teacher, agreeing to give the group class a try.
In that moment, when Big Sister was paralyzed with fear and had declined to play when her name was called, my child did not need her mother; she needed her violin teacher. She needed a violinist who had felt those very same fears and overcome them. She needed a teacher who had already helped her get past a very real fear of performing.
Before I knew it, before I had much of an opportunity to offer comforting words or do damage control, the two of them were walking to the stage. My daughter, who had been gripped by fear, was going to play.
They began playing together. Although I'd heard Lightly Row a million times, I'd never been so happy to hear that piece.
Soon the teacher quieted and backed away. By the end, Big Sister had the stage and the spotlight to herself.
When she finished playing, the applause was astounding. We cheered for her playing, which was beautiful. But, more than that, we cheered for her courage. Everyone in that room knew that she had accomplished something really big. She had conquered fear. She had overcome a feeling overwhelmingly powerful, something that we've all felt at one time or another. At seven years old, she had learned her own strength.
I don't know what the teacher said to her before they took the stage. But whatever it was, it was exactly the right thing. I don't know where my child found the courage and bravery to overcome fear so gripping. But I've never been so proud.
Best of all, Big Sister was proud of herself. Although the recital did not go how she'd imagined, there was a lot to celebrate.
Even this guy, who spent most of the concert wiggling and fidgeting around, was proud of his sister.