The Lightbulb Moment: Toil And Trouble
It’s finally jacket weather. The leaves are falling, the sun is setting earlier every day, and the pumpkin spice latte has returned. Halloween is just around the corner, which means that my friends will search for the creepiest haunted houses and hayrides, only to force me to join them on an adventure that will make me extremely uncomfortable. I have a tendency to jump at the slightest noise, to shudder with the rush of a cool breeze, and to hesitate at the thought of walking down a dark hallway. There’s no telling what may be lurking behind a corner, what may be resting silently in the dark, or what creepy, crawly creature may fall from above and feast on my brains. My friends tend to get a kick out of it; I am the scardy cat of the bunch.
It’s hard to say why I have such an intense and irrational fear of haunted houses. After all, I know that they’re specifically crafted to make people shriek and that the scary guy with the hockey mask and chain saw will always see me coming from a mile away. I suppose it’s because I don’t know what’s out there. My stomach churns with feelings of uncertainty and a lump in my throat forms when I’m ushered into the abyss. The hair stands up straight on the back of my neck and I get goose bumps as I’m shoved down the rabbit hole. I wish I could say this only happened once a year, on the annual Halloween outing, but the feeling is far too familiar. It’s the same thing that happens as I step into a jam session.
On the surface, there’s a big difference between stepping into a house full of cobwebs and onto a venue’s stage. One place is dark and mysterious, the other is brightly lit and exposing. One is manufactured to induce fear, the other silently tugs at our insecurities. One is considered a fake — a place with actors, ketchup posing as blood, and a clearly defined road map. The other is real — complete with players that live in the neighborhood, amplifiers that have seen better days, and only a song title or key to guide the way.
But then again, the two places are strikingly similar. Both result in an adrenaline rush, a bubbling of the blood, and perhaps a bit of anxiety. You enter, you experience, and you exit with a new sense of self. Sometimes you come out the other end with a smile on your face, happy to experience something that was better than you expected. Other times you come out feeling beaten, frustrated, and with your head held low. You may also experience the frightening aftermath. Nightmares where zombies and ghosts sneak up behind your or where you happen to show up at jam session without knowing any of the songs and without your tuner, your cable, or worse, your instrument. What could be scarier than that?
The funny thing is, that the more you visit jam sessions, the sooner you realize that they don’t need to be scary. The fear, nervousness, and apprehension that you feel is a construct of your imagination. Maybe you’re afraid of the people in the crowd and how they’ll perceive you as a player. Maybe you’re afraid of playing the wrong notes, not knowing a song, or missing an ending and jeopardizing your reputation with the other musicians. Telling yourself not to be nervous is easier said than done, but the only way to tackle that fear is to confront it.
Eventually, you’ll learn what to expect; you’ll end up playing songs you’ve never heard, you’ll make mistakes, and people will form opinions about you (for better or worse). You’ll make connections, learn new songs, and become more comfortable performing. Jam sessions are great training grounds… the give you the unique opportunity to play music on a stage without having the pressure of doing a show. And, after awhile, you’ll realize that you don’t need to be afraid of the space labeled “stage.”
As for the haunted houses, if you find yourself next to a coffin with the word “Dracula” written on it, you’ll know that a vampire is probably going to pop out and pretend to suck your blood. Perhaps, one day, you may enter both jam sessions and haunted houses with a stronger sense of ego, where you brush off mistakes, laugh at ridiculous costumes, and enjoy tasty cider beverages.
Ryan Madora is a professional bass player, author, and educator living in Nashville, TN. In addition to touring and session work, she teaches private lessons and masterclasses to students of all levels. Visit her website to learn more!