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  • Kristin Kowalski Ferragut

A Perfect C+ On My First Solo Open Mic Performance

I’m resting my fingers and voice after a long practice session, although typing makes the fingertips of my left hand sore; they’ve had a workout! It feels good — suffering slightly for my art. I feel prepared to try three original songs tonight solo at an open mic. I mean, I’m not really prepared. I don’t have the strumming pattern I want on the slower song down well enough to sing while I play yet, so I simplified the pattern. I can’t play the fast one as fast as I’d like. I’m working on projecting my voice and seem to be making some progress, but haven’t practiced on mic, so I’m not sure how that’ll play out. And while I’d prefer to stand while singing, I tried that before at a jam with a cover I thought I had “mastered” and absolutely botched the song on guitar! I mostly practice sitting, so will have to stick with that on stage tonight and build in standing-playing practice in future weeks. But with all that said, I have recognizable songs that I can play near-fluently. And good enough just has to be good enough because in addition to the wild number of skills required to be a singer-songwriter, performing is a whole other skill! All those eyes! If I wait until I think I’m comfortably skilled and practiced enough before getting accustomed to playing in front of people… Well, I’m not thinking that I’m immortal, so I best get to it and work on as many skills as I can.


I typically sing better when En’s in the room. I don’t know why. In part, they may be my comfort human, or maybe I just want them to be proud of me. They usually take pictures I actually like of myself too. It’s a little bit of magic. However, sometimes having them in the room may not be conducive to productive practice. I’m attaching an absurd four-minute video of En hamming it up though my playing. It doesn’t flatter me, but I love it so much! It’ll be one of the things, like pics of floating on the river or little clips of waves stroking the shore, that I’ll pull out in short-light, long-work, cold winter days to remind myself to relax and smile.


Of course the “You’ll never be the drop-everything-to-find-me kind of love,” song isn’t a comedy. And I realize that a big chunk of singing is acting. I’m not a great actor. But if I take a minute to sink into a song, I can connect with the feeling. That is something I did not do in the video and only hope I can do it tonight. It’s shocking how many things I’ll need to hold in mind! few of which are automatic yet. Breath (only automatic in a basic sense), projecting, key, lyrics, melody, phrasing, strumming patterns, chords, dynamics, mood, connection to the audience... I’m sure I’ll write more about songwriting in future posts, it’s like creating a whole other world! And performing, now I’m realizing is similar — entering a whole other world.


I used to carefully measure where I signed up on poetry open mic lists. Of course, with Poets if you sign up fourth and there are no names above you yet, you’re likely to read first. (If any Poet outside the DMV might be willing to comment on that, I wonder if that’s just a local phenomenon.) I would not want to read first, but would avoid going after a powerful good-actor-reader and more carefully avoid going after a nervous reader that would escalate my nerves. And I’d try to go early in the open mic; otherwise, I’d be too preoccupied with my turn approaching to offer full attention to other Poets. I’m almost always excited at a poetry reading but rarely uncomfortably nervous anymore. The #1 cure to poetry stage fright is singing in front of others. That’s truly terrifying. I suppose it’s all terrifying for a while, maybe for most of us, until it’s familiar. And the only way to get familiar with it is to do it, practice, practice, practice, as they say.


I firmly believe that living abundantly requires no prerequisites. And also, if one feels compelled to do something creative, one should honor that, even or especially things that require one to put oneself Out There. In that spirit, I’ll pray for nimble fingers and a strong voice and go sign up to get on stage…


***


I give myself a solid C+ on last night’s performance, which makes me feel like an A! I messed up each song multiple times but kept moving. A few of the mistakes were probably obvious but, being original songs, I may have been the only one to notice some of the errors. Like in one song, I did the first verse as practiced, went to the Chorus punctuated only with down-strokes, then had no idea how to get back to the verse strumming pattern. Strange, otherworldly experience — while playing this whole song — keeping a wistful feel, making eye contact with listeners, adequately flying through chord shapes — I had this whole counter-narrative going on in my mind: How was that? down, down, up, down, down, up? down, up, down, up? When should I come in with an upstroke? Now? After this line? Does it matter?... I played most of the song with just down-strokes and the feedback was fine.


I showed up and signed up first on the list. The space was blank and I’ve heard some of the folks there play, no one I’d want to follow. We each did two songs then circled back for one song each. I felt most comfortable with my third song. Hard to know if it’s for whatever reason easier (it is the one I wrote entirely myself — chords, melody, and lyrics, with a little workshop help) or if I grew more comfortable. Either way, it was encouraging. Sometimes also it happens that you’re just so grateful to be around such creative spirits, and so humbled by their talent, that what you’re doing both matters a little less, feeling so small in such-a-larger-beautiful-world kind of way, and what you’re doing is uplifted with the rest.


In any event, I’m boldly going to update my bio to read “singer-songwriter”. I feel I have started to earn that. But will do that later. Now I’m eager to get back to playing and composing. Got a song for Coley in the works and have to gather it before it evaporates as inspirations are apt to do when left alone.





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