Fear and Loathing in Clayton.

This past weekend, I got to sit in with Central Presbyterian’s evening service. Eric Stiller is a professional bass player who leads the music there. Eric hires musicians who he plays with from the local jazz community to play in the band, building bridges for the gospel through music. He asked me to come play with them sometime, and so this weekend I had the opportunity to get some perspective of what it’s like to be out of the director’s chair and back into a follower role.
I have to confess that my sin was exposed in a vicious way through the experience. I felt desperately insecure (a feeling I often get around accomplished jazz musicians.) I began to loose any confidence that I could make competent musical decisions, so I started criticizing myself while repeatedly asking the other musicians to tell me exactly what to play. My insecurity twisted any affirmation into sounding fake or patronizing. I was amazed to hear myself saying or thinking some of the same things that I have become so tired of hearing from my teammates:
“I could be a lot better, but I just haven’t practiced enough.”
“I’m sorry for messing up that intro.”
“Is there anything that I should be doing differently?”
“You guys sound so great, I feel like I am making things sound worse.”
It is so irritating when musicians apologize for their perceived failings or constantly berate and criticize themselves, like the host who apologizes for his untidy house or the beautiful woman who is always complaining about her thighs or crow’s feet. I know that I have told other musicians who can’t overcome their insecurity to “just be yourself,” “don’t be afraid to make mistakes,” or “just play and let things happen.” But this weekend these kinds of platitudes just caused me to become more self-loathing and fearful.
Earlier that same day, Jesse Heirendt and I were musing about the days when we once played music in a state of fear and loathing. I told him that I have come to a point where I like the way I play, and I embrace the Gospel’s promises over my gifts. Then just a few hours later, I was sweating bullets over playing an F-blues (probably the most basic form in jazz) forgetting what happens in the 9th bar. The truth is that there is no sin that we grow out of or that is no longer a struggle. In my pride, I judge those musicians who struggle with insecurity, and yet that same insecurity is still there in my heart. I still struggle with living like an orphan despite my Father’s unfailing love.

  1. #1 by Neil on April 12, 2006 - 10:04 am

    Thanks for the honesty about insecurity, man, and for the link to the helpful Sonship chart. Both are helpful.

  2. #2 by David Whitwell on April 12, 2006 - 4:55 pm

    I hear you man. Also coming from a perspective where alot is expected of me musically, I can really relate to self-pity when I make a mistake. I just hold onto the fact that God made sound so it is very short, and as soon as I draw another breath I can try again.

  3. #3 by Chris on April 12, 2006 - 4:56 pm

    I also dug the sonship chart. Where did it originate from? It seemed a little out of left field, but good.
    After reading your story, I realized that I have often acted in that same manner and I didn’t realize how frustrating or annoying it was for others. For the first few months of me being on the worship team I felt pretty lame.
    Anyway, thanks for the post, it was encouraging.

  4. #4 by Rinnie on April 13, 2006 - 6:48 am

    It’s amazing how my insecurities keep showing their ugly heads over the same things over and over – sometimes I despair that I’ll ever learn. Praise be to God for His forgiveness and patience with us!!

  5. #5 by kirk on April 13, 2006 - 9:03 am

    The orphan/son chart if you scroll up is from the NCF website and it comes from the “Sonship” class that we offer on Sunday evenings. I highly recomend the class.
    I wrote this knowing that a few people on the team might think, “Hey, is he talking about me?” But, insecurity is something common to all musicians (and human beings.) So, how can we as a team help people to not feel insecure when they are getting acclimated?

  6. #6 by Aimee on April 13, 2006 - 12:55 pm

    and so it is illustrated that no matter how well one intellectually “knows” that one is adequate and competent and under grace, one may at any time experience those feelings of guilt and inadequacy anyway.
    after my many musical leadership experiences, i no longer find it irritating when people express that they are feeling this way. it is important to recognize it when that is happening and to counter it with support and and suggestions while not making a big deal about it. all depending, of course, on how each individual musician responds to certain amounts of “constructive criticism”.
    i also think, though, that it’s important for musicians to realize when they DO need to work more or to sit out. it helps for the leader to know whether a musician is aware of such shortcomings or if he/she is unaware and thinks everyone else is the problem. pointing that out requires a different sort of tact and grace, but it is also necessary.

  7. #7 by odetta on April 13, 2006 - 9:40 pm

    I had a conductor at Mizzou, Ed Dolbashian, who told us if we were going to play badly, play loudly. I laughed when he said it, but it makes sense. If I’m going to make a mistake on the violin (and believe me, you can’t hide mistakes on a violin too easily) might as well do it with gusto! At least then I can fix it and begin to build some sort of confidence.
    Now when you add a microphone to the mix and several people staring at you from those hard, folding chairs. . .well. . . . But you know what I’ve noted? When I play with conviction, even the Lord can use the errors for His glory.

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