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What Open Stage is Teaching Me About Life
By Linda Dessau - 04/25/2005 - 06:46 PM EDT

After many years of performing as a vocalist, I switched my focus to my training and work as a music therapist. I love sharing my music with my clients with special needs and it continues to be an incredibly rewarding field of work.

Recently I got back into performing, only this time I brought my guitar with me. I started attending and performing at a monthly Open Stage afternoon. It's been a great musical experience, a chance to try out the Performance Wellness techniques I've been learning (and teaching) and a humbling chance to be a "beginner" again.

Here are five lessons I've learned so far:

1. Let go of the results

If I approach a performance with the expectation that it will launch my singing career, impress someone (everyone), that every note will sound exactly like it did at my best rehearsal or that I will have a transcendental experience, I might just be disappointed. If I approach the stage only with the intention of being fully in the moment and doing my best, I can't go wrong.

This applies to the rest of my life as well. I know that when I'm thinking ahead to how something will turn out, I'm not paying fully attention to THIS MOMENT. And if I'm not paying full attention to this moment, what's the point of being here?

2. Have a plan and be willing to throw it out

This one is similar to the first idea. While I can prepare a few songs and have a preset image of who will accompany me, what instruments they'll use and where in the order of performers I'd prefer to go, I need to be willing to let all that go, in order to be flexible and accommodating to the organizers and other performers. And it's these impromptu groupings of musicians that sometimes lead to incredible moments of music-making. I need to remember that this is not a polished show with high ticket prices that needs to be executed precisely.

And neither is the rest of my life. While I can certainly approach each day with an intention to do my best, stay in the moment and get a certain number of specific things done, I also strive to be open to surprises and new possibilities. Because God usually has a much better plan for me than I do!

3. Ask for help

In my first time at the Open Stage, I realized I'd be much more comfortable sitting on a stool to play, so I asked if I could do that. I even asked someone to help me bring it over. In my second time at the Open Stage, I arrived "sans guitar", trusting that if I was open to receive it, there would be a solution. Someone graciously lent me his guitar (thanks, Mike!) and it worked out beautifully.

Support from others is crucial to my self-care, health and well-being. And I need to remember that no one can read my mind. If I say I'm "fine", they're going to take that at face value. It takes a lot of courage to ask for help – and I'm also giving a gift to those I'm asking. Helping me makes them feel good.

4. Send love to what (or who) I'm afraid of

"Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love" — Ranier Maria Rilke.

In her Performance Wellness training for musicians, Dr. Louise Montello of Musicians Wellness, Inc. ( speaks about a "loop" of energy that flows between the performer and the audience. She also reminded me that most of the people sitting in the audience are there because they love music (just like me) and are looking to have a positive experience (just like me).

If I think about how I can help those people, what I can give to them through my music, how to help them have that positive experience, then all of a sudden I'm no longer thinking about myself (like what I might do wrong or what they might be thinking about me).

I've personally experienced this positive flow of energy. When I look into an audience expecting to find love and acceptance, and focus on GIVING those things myself, I'm rewarded with all of that positive energy coming back to me.

I find that sending love towards what I fear – and sending love to MYSELF when I'm afraid, helps me to loosen the hold that the fear has on me.

5. Experience (and only experience) makes an expert

When I went to that first Open Stage afternoon, I didn't know how it would turn out. I didn't know what would happen or whether I would be any good. I so much wanted to skip the step of experiencing it for the first (and second, and third, and fourth) time, and just get to where I already felt comfortable and could predict the outcome (uh-oh, there's a few lessons from above that I hadn't quite learned yet!).

The truth is that I have to be patient and let things unfold in God's perfect time. Though I've "paid my dues" in other musical and life situations, I have to humbly accept that I'm very much a beginner at this Open Stage situation.

When I want to stay safe by doing things the way I've always done them, or choosing the strategy that has a "guaranteed" outcome, I'm limiting my possibilities for all kinds of wonderful (and unexpected) experiences.

I can't wait to see what's next for me on the Open Stage. Stay tuned for my next lessons……

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