Saturday night lights and stage frights

The Saddleback Chamber Singers choir president Sierra Sutphin snaps a selfie with the choir at the Oct. 2 football game.

The Saddleback Chamber Singers started the Oct. 2 game with a bang with the way that they sang the National Anthem

Saturday night, Oct. 2, was the opening game for the Saddleback College stadium. The Saddleback College Chamber Singers Choir, myself included, provided the opening performance of the National Anthem at 5:58 p.m. sharp. The lights were on and expectations were high, but not from the audience, from the choir. 

Ran the same song three times for 10 minutes… Scott Farthing, the choir director and dean of the division of Fine Arts and Media Technology, had decided that we were going to sing the song a half note higher than we had been practicing, because he likes to keep us on our toes. 

Farthing made sure to explain that this was a decision made with good intentions, not just to throw us off, but to make sure our sound carried throughout the stadium. He clarified that higher notes, not necessarily a brighter tone, make for a sharper sound that can cut through opposing noise. 

Regardless of his very sound reasoning, doubt managed to creep into the back of my mind about whether or not this was a good idea. But as a member of the choir, I felt like it was not my place to question the decisions of my choir director, and knowing how much Farthing cares about the choir he is the last director that would make a decision that he thinks would harm the choir’s performance rather than benefit it. 

Alas, a war began in the back of my mind. It would be an understatement to claim that I am my own worst enemy when it comes to literally anything ever. Thoughts began racing through my head, doubting myself and the choices made by my director.

Why would he change it at the last minute? What if I forget the words because I’m so focused on trying to make sure I do the right harmonies in the new key? What if I’m overthinking? 

I was overthinking. I had time to kill before we needed to be back at the stadium, so I went to the mall with my friends. I had hoped this would distract me from my inner thoughts because whenever I’m around people I tend to be more focused on trying to make them laugh rather than anything else. 

Yet, my mind was still ablaze. Many factors contributed to my doubt: this is my first year in choir singing as an Alto one rather than an Alto two. I wasn’t very confident in a few measures of the song already and there were going to be 2,500 people watching us perform, minimum. 

The Saddleback College football stadium can actually hold up to 9,000 people, but due to COVID, the maximum capacity for Saturday night’s game was 3,000. I tried reminding myself that things could be worse, there could be more people, but I still managed to freak myself out for the next hour and a half before call time. 

3,000 people means 3,000 minds judging me and 3,000 people means 6,000 eyes watching me… Well, that’s assuming everyone can see out of both of their eyes. Do I have astigmatism in my right eye?

During this hour and a half of panic caused by a minor inconvenience because the slightest bit of change can and will throw me into a downward spiral, I went through a lot of self-reflection. 

I’ve been in choir since the fourth grade. There hasn’t been a single year of my life that my extracurricular activity wasn’t choir, yet I still find myself with butterflies in my stomach before each performance. It doesn’t matter who or what I’m performing for, the pressure is always on. 

This pressure isn’t necessarily an external force because it actually stems from within. Singing requires a certain amount of vulnerability, confidence and humility. The line between confidence and arrogance is paper thin when it comes to knowing one’s own vocal strength. 

As a choir member, you need to stay humble in order to work with the people around you to make a unified sound and agree upon tone. 

College choir is unlike any of my previous choir experiences for many reasons. There isn’t nearly as much drama, there is a certain unspoken expectation of understanding how to work together as a group and people seem to get the main objective, which is to perform and please. This is not only for the audience, but also for each other.

Being in choir means being a performer and with performing comes pressure. Everyone handles that pressure differently. Some people can’t handle it all and faint on stage, some people buckle down and give the performance of a lifetime despite their mind being a blur of anxiety, but there are some that just perform. 

I am one of those people who just performs. I get this feeling in my stomach, more so, I feel like my stomach is in my feet and my hands shake vigorously. Even if I’m not mentally convinced that I’m nervous, my body never ceases to remind me that I most definitely am. 

The cherry on top of it all is that my mouth twitches only during performances and only when I am unconfident in myself. The pressure of being in choir can most certainly come from within. Exhibit A: being me overthinking every little thing before and during a performance, but there is this default pressure that comes from this group dynamic.

No one wants to let the choir down. A choir is a team and we can either win by having a great performance or lose by not doing the best we can. The funny part is, even if we think we might not have had the best performance, the audience probably didn’t notice half of what we thought were obvious mistakes. 

Showtime arrived and we all lined up in our designated spot. Farthing gave us the queue to start walking onto the field with smiles plastered on our faces. We took our places in front of the JumboTron and waited for the announcer to introduce us and ask the audience to stand for the National Anthem.

Everything I could tell you about our performance would be from my point of view as a singer, which is completely different from what the audience hears. I could tell you that there were a few points I didn’t sing because my mouth started twitching and I was worried I would jeopardize the sound of the choir. More realistically, I could tell you that everyone that passed me or a member of my choir after the performance said we did a great job. 

Don’t get me wrong, the performance is without a doubt the best part about being a performer, but it can also be the worst part when you struggle with stage fright. The irony of it all is that as a performer, I will only ever know the pressure of performing. I will never be able to fully experience a performance of my own.