From train wreck to nervous wreck

From train wreck to nervous wreck


Nerves, fear, trepidation, lack of confidence are all feelings that can cripple a musician and stop him or her playing for, and worshipping God.

Around ten years ago, I suffered from acute nerves when playing drums in front of an audience/congregation. At one point it became so bad that I would simply turn down any invites to play at worship events because the fear became almost uncontrollable.

I still suffer nerves, but not in the same way – most musicians will tell you that nerves, in their mildest form, can help. An element of trepidation before a ‘performance’ means you care enough not to make a hash of it.

I completely identify with those who suffer stage fright. It became part of my life as musician until I learned to manage my fears. Those who quote the scripture ‘Perfect love casts out all fear’ to a nervous musician might feel they are helping. I appreciate the sentiment, but it comes across as throw-away and glib. Platitudes such as this generally underscore feelings of inadequacy moments before ‘battle’ is due to commence.

The reality is you have to build confidence as a musician and this takes time. I started getting nerves after an incident of monumental ineptitude – I can laugh about it now, but only just…

I had been asked to dep for a band with, shall we say, an eclectic song set. It was a jazz/country/folk outfit with a strange line-up. Acoustic guitar, viola, flute, bass, mandolin, keyboard and drums seemed haphazard, but as a musical soup it just about worked.

The band leader didn’t read music and had little respect for the duties/concerns of a drummer. Time signatures were changed on what seemed like a whim, tempos were abused, modulations were fluked.

I had two rehearsals, but I might as well have not bothered with the second, since the structure of the songs changed on a minute-by-minute basis. The songs evolved you see. Come the gig, a sense of doom pervaded my soul. I knew it would be Train Wreck time for me. This was all about damage-limitation.

I managed to get through the first half of the set fairly unscathed but the song list still hadn’t yet got to the ‘Nightmare’ song that I was confident would be my undoing. As the 6/8 rhythm to Nightmare began I sensed a musical tragedy was imminent. I was supposed to wait for a ‘signal’ for the 4/4 change that would lead me into a linear phrase that would be repeated four times.

I’m sure I noticed a nod. I started the 4/4 phrase, but the band was still in 6/8. The band reverted to 4/4. I went back to 6/8. It sounded like rocks had been caught in a vacuum cleaner and I have never heard a drummer – before or since – so fantastically out of time

I can only describe this as ‘an unholy mess’. The audience looked aghast – their faces were ovular with no discernible features and soon they began to resemble that of ‘The Scream’ as I ploughed through to the end of the set. By that time I was a gibbering wreck – a shell of a man. Oddly, the band leader offered me the gig full-time for reasons I still do not understand. Either he was a) completely deaf or b) a total sadist.

I turned the offer down. I simply could not go through the trauma of that all over again. For years this incident cast a black shadow over my drumming and I never really got the same kind of fluidity in my playing.

I discussed this with a worship leader once. He told me that I should ‘repent’ of my fears. He wasn’t being offensive, he was simply pointing out that to worship properly you have let go of yourself.

All your fears, pride, talent, abilities, ambitions are secondary to the reason for you being there and that is to worship God.

The greatest worshipper was David. He played music and danced but his big ‘gig’ was to defeat Goliath. It’s a fantastic story but I still think that as he chose his stones for his sling, his heart was pumping out of his chest. He was only a man, like you and I, and he relied on God to help him.

Real worship, I think, in daily life, is when the desire to please God overrides everything… and that includes all your fears.