I was bitten by the performing bug early in life and never recovered from the experience.
While many shy away from taking center stage for whatever the show may entail, I confess I’ve always enjoyed it. It started when I was about 3 and was in what was called a Tom Thumb wedding.
I don’t remember much about the event, except my dress — and I can’t say why I recall it, but I do. It was pale green organdy, had puffed sleeves and a sash and was covered in ruffles. As I made my way down the aisle of the school auditorium, I dropped something I was carrying in the procession. According to family legend, I embarrassed my father when I bent over to pick it up because everyone could see my ruffled panties.
Hey, I was only 3, so surely they forgave me for that act of “indecent exposure.”
Later on, I was more conscious of my appearance and presented a more modest image to the public. (Except for the infamous green barmaid’s dress in an Irish operetta my senior year, but that’s another story.) Still, though, I never got over the pleasure of performing.
When I played the piano in recitals, I actually enjoyed being the onstage performer. There was one exception, however; I never really enjoyed playing duets, but was forced to at times.
Just think about that one: If you’re a solo act and make a mistake, you can get yourself out of the dilemma with just a little improvisation.
When it’s a duet, you have to stay the course or you’re both in trouble.
My only real gripe about my solo performances in recitals was that was I never got to play “Rhapsody in Blue” as my featured piece because I couldn’t memorize all 32 pages. (No lie. There were 32.) This was in the day when no one was allowed to play from music. You played from memory or you didn’t play at all.
One of my classmates always knew her recital piece ahead of time, but you could count on her forgetting it during the event because she’d experience sheer terror. The complete opposite from me, she got no enjoyment from performing and would become physically ill.
Now that I look back at it, it seems really cruel that she was made to take part at all. But in those days, you didn’t have a choice. If you were a piano student, you had to be in the recital — no two ways about it.
This particular friend — I’ll call her Gladys, but that wasn’t her real name — would break out in hives, her hands and body would shake and there were times when she even vomited. Recital performances were considered part of “learning” to perform and though our teacher was wonderful in every other way, she wouldn’t bend the rule on this requirement.
The only time I got nervous when I performed was when it was an impromptu “concert” for company at home.
My mother loved to entertain and we frequently had guests for Sunday meals, particularly if there were any visiting ministers and their families at church. If the visitors went to anyone’s house for mealtime, it usually was to ours.
After the meal, sitting in the living room — when I wasn’t able to make a clean getaway — Mamma would say such things as, “Lynda Lou, why don’t you play your recital piece for ---------?”
I would want to die at such moments. I didn’t mind playing for an auditorium full of folks, but deliver me from the home stage.
That venue was intimidating. It was like sitting in someone’s lap and feeling their breath on your neck.
I tried explaining my embarrassment to Mamma, but never got my point across. She would rebuff me with a compliment, such as, “But they love to hear you play ... “
Maybe it was even true, but then maybe not. But Mamma always had the last word, so I would play something and then disappear as quickly as possible.
I did the wedding circuit for years, particularly as the vocalist.
My funniest experience was at the wedding of a friend’s daughter. The florist had gotten carried away and banked the ferns and flowers so high that the other singer and I couldn’t even see the wedding party.
Just before the ceremony ended, he leaned over to me and said, “This is the first wedding I’ve ever sung at that I didn’t get to attend.”
Truer words were never spoken.
In earlier years, my spouse always accompanied me when I sang or played for such occasions. One time, though, we had conflicting engagements and he missed the wedding of a co-worker’s daughter.
When I received a thank-you note from her later on, I shared it with him without noticing a slip of her pen.
Ed caught the wrong letter right away.
He handed it back to me and said: “I think maybe I should have come along to this one.”
I re-read it and got his point. The note said: “Thank you for sinning at my wedding.”
Lynda Hollenbeck is associate editor of the Courier.