The joy of fear

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They say you should face your fear and do it anyway. But what happens when you do, especially when that means singing in front of an audience?

The last time ‘You’re the Voice’ made me cry was way back in 1986, when you couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing John Farnham’s anthem blaring from the speakers. Back then I really did just want to sit in silence.

Thankfully, as the years have passed, my active dislike for the overplayed megahit – it charted in 10 countries other than Australia – has evolved to a mere indifference. Now, as myself and the E’Clares launch into the final chorus, I can feel tears filling my eyes. I look down, take a deep breath and sing on.

Never before have I performed in front of a crowd of strangers. In fact, the only time I’ve ever tried to hold a tune outside of the confines of my shower was after a few drinks at a SingStar party. (Hey, I even held the high score for most of the night with a pretty impressive version of ‘Purple Sneakers’.)

Many of my friends are musicians and they regularly perform at venues across Melbourne. When they don’t they get together, playing song after song – classics, favourites and many they’ve written themselves. For some reason, even in that setting, I’ve never felt comfortable joining in.

Luckily, being scared – as long as there is no actual danger – is good for us. Physically, our heartbeat quickens and our rate of breathing intensifies, and you’re left with the same sense of euphoria as if you’ve just finished a good workout.

“There’s a sense of achievement, a sense of self-belief, it’s a boost in your confidence and it feels good,” Positive Psychology Strategies’ Patrea O’Donoghue tells me of the emotional benefits that come with stepping outside your comfort zone in the days before my singing debut.

“What it does is extend what we previously thought was possible for us. It shifts those limiting beliefs we have about ourselves.”

So, as I walk into Abbotsford Convent on a chilly winter’s morning to take part in Sing-Song Showtime, I try to remember, as Patrea told me, to take the judgement out of the experience – it’s not really terrifying, that’s just my interpretation of it.

This one-day class in singing, performance and courage is being led by Clare Bowditch, as part of her organisation Big Hearted Business. That’s another reason for my rising anxiety levels – Clare’s a singing, songwriting superstar and I’m not even sure I can hold a tune.

“If you can talk, you can sing,” is one of the first things Clare tells us. She leads us through a breathing exercise that’s not just good for singing but also for calming nerves. (It’s easy – breathe into your diaphragm for four, hold for seven, breath out for eight and repeat.)

There’s cake and chats. We dance to Taylor Swift and decide on the name of the E’Clares for our choir. And, of course, there is lots of singing. We learn ‘Let It Be’, Clare’s song ‘You Make Me Happy’ and ‘You’re the Voice’. Late in the afternoon, friends and loved ones – about 120 in all – arrive for the day’s grand finale.

Being tall, I’m at the back of the group, which makes me feel a little calmer. I remember the words, sing in full voice and am fine until that moment when I suddenly realise what I’ve done. The rush of emotions and sense of accomplishment is so intense it is almost paralysing.

At the end, the crowd rises and cheers, and all the tension is gone. I’d walked into the hall with flip-flopping stomach and sweaty palms and I was leaving exhausted but inspired. Perhaps not to sing, but certainly to never be afraid of things that can’t hurt.

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Feature image: © 2004 Lorber Films.