“A Musician Who Doesn’t Play?”
by Tony Scaltz
Maybe you’ve been listening to our show for a while now. Honestly, I very much hope that you have been. And, if you’ve been listening to the three of us talk about everything from the gauge of strings we use to our philosophies of how to correctly baste a turkey (that’s coming up on our Thanksgiving episode), it’s probably safe to say that you can tell where all three of us stand on performance, teaching, writing, gear, band etiquette, etc. What you may not have yet figured out is how can there be a musician with a clear, deep knowledge of the mysterious workings of music, with the equally deep desire to not make a living as a performer? Come on…I know you were asking that question, right?
Well, I can’t speak for Aaron’s take on why he took a hiatus from live performances, especially with his compositional and guitar prowess; I can only give you my take on things and how it came to be that a guitarist with over 28 years of playing experience and experimentation made a deliberate and conscious choice to throw away a promising performance career.
At age 19, I left the Berklee College of Music in Boston, not because I didn’t think it was a good school. If anything, the school was and still remains a veritable hub of thinking and performing musicians, and I would recommend the school to any upcoming virtuosic musician. No…I left because I had my first experience with a now very old friend, one that has kept me away from social gatherings on numerous occasions, one that causes me to sweat at the mere sight of crowded places, and one that vetoed my confidence in my own musical abilities for decades.
Keep in mind that when I left Berklee I was just beginning to feel the tendrils of this monster, with a confusion as to why my mind was telling me to stick out my coursework, while my hands were writing the check for the bus fare out of Boston to some unknown geographic.
The years that followed my exodus from the Berklee school were marked by castigations from people I was close to, sleepless nights concerning my next move, and even questioning whether music was right for me anymore. Well, after many examinations of my own desires, dreams, and professional pursuits, there was a singular truth in the distance: as much as I wanted to be guitarist on stage in front of millions of adoring fans, I simply was not a performer. And it wasn’t because I didn’t have the skills on stage; it was because I am a sufferer of something called ‘social anxiety disorder’.
There may have been a time in my 20’s, when I would have been too ashamed to even tell this to a close friend, let alone an audience in my blog. But, with age comes wisdom I guess…it also brings with it a sense of not really caring about what people think of me anymore. So, in the end I’m writing about this today to give some context to musicians who may be in a similar situation and struggling to bridge the gap between the intense love of music and the incapacitating fear of being the center of attention.
Living with an anxiety disorder is a very difficult thing, not only for yourself but for family and friends who need you, and in some ways, rely on you to be strong and fully functional. It did take me until my 40th birthday to come to terms with the fact that while I may feel my physiology fly out of control during anxiety-laden moments, the one thing I can always control is how I react to those moments, which then dictates how I speak and act around those that need me most. This was very much a 20-year realization, but the important part is that I can now explain why my career in music diverged from the expected path of recognition and respect, and in a lot of ways this gives me a metaphorical slap-in-the-face. The stinging-waking up kind.
I am not, nor ever will be a performing musician, but I am a hell of a teacher.
I am a player, but I can’t play for others.
I am a talker, but I rarely speak.
What is interesting is that I finally learned how to use my introversion in unorthodox ways…in a sense to weaponize it in order to produce ideas, works, and projects that still connect beyond the stage lights. One of the most glorious things about self-discovery is that once you find out who you are and how you tick in that brain of yours, you’ll most often find it was in moments when you were present in the world, and not stuck in others’ expectations, or things that you screwed up 25 years ago, or over obsessions of a future inspired by someone else’s life…who has any time for that?
So now, I embrace my weird brain. I’m not the most intelligent person I know, certainly not the one completely free of ignorance.
I’m just a weird guy. And I know it. And I like it because that’s all I know how to be.
So, maybe someday if I ever drum up the courage to sell tickets to one of my concerts, go ahead and buy one….just don’t be surprised if when the curtain and lights come up, I’m there but not there.