Stage Nerves

Throughout my 18 years of singing and performing I have felt stage nerves more than once. However, letting the nerves have a negative affect on my performance I only remember happening once. To me the most intense pressure for me to perform was not when I’m competing. I’ve competed in pageants for years, talent shows, etc. That pressure was never an issue for me. I prepared enough to have a solid performance and win if I was supposed to, and I just have a good time – I think I learned that from my father (Lanny Bassham). What I didn’t pick up on was how to handle the nerves when I wasn’t competing.

I realize now that I have to run the same mental program I run every time I sing when I compete or entertain. I pray the same prayer every time: “Lord, help me deliver a beautiful performance and please Lord help me remember all the words”. As long as I pray that prayer and do no other preparation before I begin my song I do great.

I was asked by my Mother-In-Law to sing at her brother’s funeral. I had been married to her son for 7 months. This was the first time I would meet most of the extended family. I had 2 days to prepare my song for the funeral. Both of those days I spent surrounded by very emotional people, especially my new Mother-In-Law who was also my biggest fan. I had not performed in months. I needed to prepare but I couldn’t. I was asked to sing a song I have performed many times, Amazing Grace.

Looking back I know exactly why I forgot the words to Amazing Grace. Today I can tell you where I went wrong just after “Twas grace that taught my heart to” What did grace teach my heart to do? – I had no idea. I bet I have sung that song 1000 times to my son at bedtime. I could sing it in my sleep. But that day in front of 500 people in Springtown, TX I had no idea what grace taught my heart to do. So I paused, looked down and shook my head and started back up again a few bars later. No one even noticed I forgot the words, everyone thought I was so choked up with the emotion of the funeral that I just couldn’t sing them and needed to cry a little inside. Great, now I feel guilty for making people think I was crying.

I forgot the words not because I was emotional, didn’t get enough practice time or I wasn’t prepared to sing the song. I forgot the words because just before it was my turn to sing I didn’t run my mental program. Instead I had grabbed the hymnal in front of me and looked up the song because I was afraid I would not remember my words due to the situation – I had never performed at a funeral before. I literally tried to cram like I would a test in college. As if a song that I had performed for audiences, sung for my child every night and even recorded on an album was not imprinted in my subconscious mind. I thought I would forget those words and I did. I told myself I would forget them. I didn’t lie to myself.

Later I was asked by my husband – “Why didn’t you take the hymnal up there with you? We are in a church, you aren’t expected to memorize the song.” What a concept! I was so worried about failing that I didn’t even realize I could have taken the words with me.

So, when it counts run your mental program. If you are a performer run your program. We have many singers, musicians and stage performers who read this newsletter. I have some advice for you:

Control your thoughts, including thoughts of forgetting your words, message, dance moves or thinking of something not related to your performance – stay positive at all times.


–Heather Sumlin

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