In her new book about stage fright, journalist Sara Solovitch describes her earliest memories of the affliction in physical terms. “Pushing myself out of my chair, I felt my thighs cling to the wood. I . . . tried to smile, but my mouth was dry. And now, I realized, my hands were sopping wet. When I sat on the piano bench, I became aware that my knees were knocking and my feet were shaking.” Like many people who struggle with similar fears, she felt that her mind and body betrayed her every time she took the stage to perform her piano pieces, no matter how arduously she practiced. Even playing for a few friends in her own home was traumatic.
Approaching 60, Solovitch decided to try to overcome her stage fright. She challenged herself to play a public concert for a crowd, giving herself a year to conquer her fear. Playing Scared is a compelling account of her journey, from the first awkward piano recitals, to playing in airport lounges for strangers, to booking the hall for her final test. Along the way, she introduces readers to an array of teachers, coaches and experts who help her understand stage fright from all angles and suggest a variety of techniques to improve her performance. As a result, Solovitch’s book is not just a memoir, but a practical guide for the multitudes who share her public-speaking or performing fears.
One of the unexpected pleasures of the book is Solovitch’s description of playing the piano. Despite her struggles to play for the public, her dedication to her craft and the joy she experiences as she immerses herself in the music are the closest I have ever come to imagining life as a professional musician.