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Monday, November 13, 2006

Stage Fright

I layned this morning at the early minyan. As part of my “continuing improvement program,” I’ve made a commitment to keep up my layning skills and read a parsha whenever feasible. This has to do with the “being useful to the community” or the “use it before I lose it” or the “I can therefore I should” philosophy that I seemed to have picked up when I approached 40. (They say 40 is the new 25. Kreplach! 25 was much better!)

This isn’t as impressive as it sounds, by the way. I volunteered to layn this one because I had layned it in the past. About 27 years in the past, but it was still up there in the recesses of my brain waiting to be reactivated. On Shabbos I went over it 5 or 6 times and felt pretty confident that I had it memorized. And then, when I got up to layn this morning, I got a sudden case of stage-fright.

My pulse quickened, my palms got sweaty, and my voice began to quiver. And with the accompanying nervousness I forgot the trop about halfway through the middle aliyah. Fortunately I was able to fake my way past a few words until I caught the rhythm again and I managed to make it to the end of the reading correctly.

This may seems surprising to you. I know it surprises me. After all, I can get up in front of thousands of people and play bass and sing and I don’t break a sweat. And I can lead the congregation in the normal davening without feeling self conscious or nervous. In fact, I had just done the entire service up until the layning without any difficulty. I didn’t panic until the Torah was rolled open in front of me.

I can’t be sure, but I think it has something to do with being up there on my own, working without a net, as it were. When I’m playing with the band, I’m never alone. I always have my mates up there. So I don’t obsess over making a mistake, forgetting a line of verse, blowing a chord. I know someone will be there to pick up the slack. And when I’m leading the minyan, I have the siddur in front of me, and everything is there, and there’s nothing I need to juggle in my mind. In fact, when I’m leading the service, my mind is totally clear. Unlike when I daven on my own, where my mind is constantly wandering, when I’m up there, I focus only on the words on the page, so as not to get distracted and lose my place.

But with layning…I don’t know. The words are there, but I have to memorize the melody and punctuation and I have this constant fear that I will forget it in the middle, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy as I actually get more and more nervous about it. I realize it’s silly because the guys in the minyan don’t care, and it’s rare that I get totally screwed up, but still….I want to do a good job and I’m finding myself a little lacking here.

This is making me even more determined to keep doing this. I see this as a personal mountain for me, and I know I am capable of climbing it. I’m not talking so much about the layning now. It’s the stage fright. I know I can get over it.


Ralphie said...

Perhaps it is your awe of the holy Torah?


Anonymous said...

yah I agree with ralphie. If u start playing ur music in front of milllions, it goes well,great, if u forget the words and play a g instead of a b, well ur bandmates r ur friends and they wont yell at you too much. If u mess up ur laining though, thats a whole shul that did not get to hear kriyat hatorah this week bc of YOU (u jerk). anyway one of the ways to deal with it is to realize every1 apreciates that ur the guy who has to get up and lain and not them, they get to sit back and enjoy, so just do what u want, no1 is really intersted in switching places:) Brad

~ Sarah ~ said...

practice makes perfect.... just keep getting up there to lain whenever you can!

(maybe if you wear that hat from a recent post you'll feel more confident. although i'm not sure the rabbi would approve or consider appropriate shul attire. it's a headcovering nonetheles!)

Anonymous said...

I feel like there are certain things in my life that take me back to being 12 or 13, and momentarily, it feels like I'm really there, with all of the discomfort and awkwardness that comes with the age. Maybe layning is that visceral, exposing thing for you - shul/upbringing stuff you've spoken of before, or feeling like there's a certain in-crowd of machers that just does these things, or something. Or I'm just projecting.
Off topic, why doesn't your wife blog anymore (other than probably being one of the busiest people alive)? Where are you, Mrs. B.?! I need parenting info and anecdotes more than layning stories, if you know what I mean :)

debka_notion said...

Whenever I layn somewhere new, the first time or two, I get really nervous, even if I know the laynen really really well. It's a big deal, and there's a lot of pressure that a ba'al kriah feels, especially when they are not used to the expectations involved in the job. For me, one of the major ways that I start being calmer is when I really trust the gabbaim to correct me if/when I mess up, to catch me if I get off the trope and get confused by that, and to do so in a way that I can understand. Once that relationship is there, it's much easier to feel confident that if something does go wrong, it won't create a big problem, just a little blunder- and then fewer problems happen, because you're calmer.

Anonymous said...

Good for you! I have terrible stage fright in general, but I wish I had the guts to lead a minyan or layn. I agree with everyone: practice will make perfect. I think it's also perfectly normal to be more nervous about reading from the Torah (not only because of the trop, the lack of punctuation), but, also as Brad said, it's a bigger deal than singing or leading services from the Siddur.

I also second Sarah's motion of wearing THE hat.

Neil said...

I was very surprised to read about your "stage fright," considering your experience, but it's good to hear that you are human as the rest of us.

jewish said...

I'm a seasoned stage performer. I trained to sing in front of thousands as well, a real performer. But sometimes, certain scripts are particularly awesome, and no matter what you do, you want to honor the author... Shakespeare, Marlowe... you catch the drift. I still get nervous whenever I layn.

Ayelet said...

In a high school public-speaking class, I gave a presentation on stage fright. I learned some interesting stuff in my research. There's a whole list of major actors who describe the various symptoms of stage fright that they go through with every performance. Also, when asked about their greatest fear, the most common number one fear was...public speaking! Death came in at number 4.

fudge said...

Abba: I know this will sound trivial, but I had a similar experience this morning in Hebrew class.

I have no trouble understanding the teacher, but I also like her, and I don't want her to think I'm stupid. Usually I try to achieve this by making only very short statements in class, using such simple words and tenses that I know I'm not messing it up. This morning, though, I tried to say something intelligent about the poem we were reading, something a little more involved, and when she called on me, and the whole class was quiet, I could actually feel my cheeks burning as I stumbled clumsily and nonsensically over the most obvious grammar.
I haven't been so embarrassed to speak in class since at least third grade.
I think it may have something to do with the fact that in laining, and in a language class, there's a standard by which people can measure you - you think everyone there knows how it's supposed to be read, so if you screw it up, it'll be obvious.

Anonymous said...


I have to say that I just don't buy this. Up until your pop passed away, you came to minyan when you could, certainly davened, but were not in up to your neck with doing all sorts of public worship type things (at least that is what it seemed like to me). And I thought that was cool, because evidently you had come to a level of Yiddishkeit that worked for you, your family, and your place in the community. I thought it was even cooler because you did NOT hop on the bandwagon like everyone else here and shave your head, grow payos down to your bellybutton, wear garb from the 1800s, and somehow discover that you were the scion of a lost dynasty and reclaim your rightful heritage.

But then your pop passes away. Okay. I get trying to make minyan and say kaddish, but why feel bad if you miss one or two? Or you cannot make minyan for once and have to daven b'yichidus? And this leining thing - what is up with that? What is making you say that your Yiddishkeit as it was before your father's passing was not good enough? (Bad grammar)

Maybe just as big a question to me is why the need to PUBLICLY express this newfound Yiddishkeit (assuming that there is justification for it - see my questions above)? That is something that really bothers me - why can't people have a good relationship with Hashem and leave it at that? Why do they need to flaunt (sp?) so that we can all see it? I am not inspired by them; my connection to Hashem comes from my own awareness, knowledge, and learning. It almost is like they are trying to prove to me that they are frum.

Whatever. I sign this as anonymous but I think you might know who this is. If so, when you see me in the AM (not in either minyan but learning) then we can schmooze about it, although probably not then since you need to get to work and so do I.

Sorry for being such a party-popper. Maybe it is that time of month for me.

Ralphie said...

Anonymous - Dude, you're being a little harsh. I don't see layning as publicly flaunting any newfound sense of yiddishkeit. It's something that the good doctor wants to do, and it just happens to be a public duty. It's not like he's suddenly flipped his tzitzis out of his pants, or wearing a shatnez label on the outside of his coat.

LittleBirdies said...

Best of luck. Based on what I've "learned" about you from this blog I am confident that you'll succeed!

outofAMMO said...

oh, thanks a lot, abba. I was perfectly confident of upcoming Bar Mitzvah till this post.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

i leined one alíya this past shabbos, after not really leining much for the past few years.

i recorded myself practicing on the computer, transfered the sound file to an iPod, and listened to it looping over and over again as i went about my business thursday night.

worked perfectly :-) . i don't guarantee it'll work for everyone, though.

PsychoToddler said...

Ralphie: Naaaa….. If that were the case I would think the rest of the davening would be just as intimidating. I think it’s more of a lack of self-confidence issue.

Brad: I think in the morning minyan, it’s certainly true that you are cut more slack because none of them want to be the ones layning (and they all know that on any given Monday, it could easily be one of them faking their way through). Regardless, it makes no difference in how I feel. I have little control over it.

Sarah: Maybe I could pass it off as the authentic Shtreimel that my forebearers in Poland wore. Yeah, that’s the ticket…

RM: I wonder if you may be on to something. When I was 13, I was petrified of all things related to shul. I never davened from the amud. I was too intimidated. Maybe some of that is coming back through this association, because it was also around that time that I learned all of these parshiyos in my initial attempt at being a baal koreh. Ironically, I was SO overprepared for my Bar Mitzvah that I was not nervous at all up there.

However, in the weeks that followed, I did a less than stellar job learning other parshiyos, and I had a harrowing experience on the bimah layning Vayakel where I got severely heckled by the Young Israel crowd. Hadn’t thought about it till just now. Thanks a lot.

RE your other questions to Mrs B, I think she would probably answer them all the same way: spend less time on the internet!

Debka notion: Welcome to the blog. You have a good point. The relationship between a gabbai and a baal koreh is not that different than that between band mates, and if I had that going, I probably wouldn’t have any problem. I really need that safety net. I plan to provide that for Curly when he layns.

Jessica: Believe it or not, there are funnier hats in the shul.

Neil: I know I have been the model of superhuman perfection up until this post. I felt the need to take it down one notch. Glad it was appreciated. You may now go about your humdrum lives.

Jewish: I don’t know. I still hold it is more of a self-confidence issue than an intimidation issue. I have little confidence in my ability to retain the flow of the text and the trop. And that feeds into itself until I lose it. If I could relax more up there, I think I’d do better. Repetition is the key.

Ayelet: I’d buy that. And that may also explain why I have an easy time singing. Singing is a form of acting. You’re putting on a persona, adopting a voice, and it’s not really you up there. You’re doing an act. If you give yourself over to it, you divorce yourself from the performance. When an actor has to get up and speak as himself, he loses the façade and suddenly he feels alone.

Fudge: I’m afraid you’ve inherited more bad stuff from me. You kids probably don’t know this about me, but I was the kid who NEVER raised his hand in class. And if I did, it was only because nobody else was and I felt bad for the teacher. I had a real issue with speaking in front of people for many years. A fear of saying the wrong thing and looking stupid. Even now, if I’m at a public meeting, and I feel like I have something important to say, I hesitate, and when I do get up to say something, I can feel the flushing and heart racing begin. In retrospect, I think if I had just pushed on, I would have become more comfortable with it, and I think it would have gone away.

Anonymous: I’ll get back to you.

Ralphie: The issue is one of fulfilling my own potential, something I can do but have failed to live up to. I’m not saying everyone needs to layn. As far as shatnez goes, I still get daily hits on that post.

LB: Thanks! I often use this blog to prod myself into doing the right thing. Once it’s up here, I can’t really ignore it. I’m keeping myself honest that way.

OOA: You sounded pretty good when we went out to the shul and took out that sefer torah. Just keep PRACTICING! And what are you doing on the computer now! Why aren’t you working on that SPEECH!!

Steg: That is actually not a bad idea.

Jack's Shack said...


I have been layning the same portion for 25 years now and every now and then I get hit with a case of stage fright too.

Just one of those things.

PsychoToddler said...


“I sign this as anonymous but I think you might know who this is. If so, when you see me in the AM”

I THINK I know who it is but I’m a little thick and I may be wrong. I’m confused because the person I think it is had more positive things to say the last time I wrote about layning. I’m sorry I didn’t see you this AM; we had trouble getting a minyan in the beginning.

“Up until your pop passed away, you came to minyan when you could, certainly davened, but were not in up to your neck with doing all sorts of public worship type things (at least that is what it seemed like to me). And I thought that was cool, because evidently you had come to a level of Yiddishkeit that worked for you, your family, and your place in the community.”

You were wrong about me. I was in a bad place. I tried to act like that was the practice of Judaism that I preferred because I was too lazy to do anything about it and too resistant to change. There were a lot of inconsistencies about me that were eating away at me and having negative influence on my family. I needed to change. My father’s death was the kick in the butt that I needed.

“I thought it was even cooler because you did NOT hop on the bandwagon like everyone else here and shave your head, grow payos down to your bellybutton, wear garb from the 1800s, and somehow discover that you were the scion of a lost dynasty and reclaim your rightful heritage.”

Scroll down a few posts and read the one about my new HDTV, and go over to DovBear and read my post about hats, and tell me if you really think that I’m “flipping out.” Because I’m not. The problem is that I think YOU have bought into the program a little more than you realize. You’re starting to think that putting on a uniform equates with higher frumkeit, and you’re confused about me being more stringent with certain things while still not adopting the “levush.” Well the truth is that I allowed my resentment of that attitude to be a barrier that prevented me from observing Judaism correctly. I came from a background of Modern Orthodoxy, where people who went to movies and rock concerts still managed to make it to minyan twice a day and could layn and lead the services, and from that perspective I have been a disappointment. It’s not a matter of me being yeshivish or chassidish and failing to live up to THOSE standards. It’s that I have my OWN standards and have failed to live up to even those. I’m sorry if I can’t be as much of an inspiration to slackers as you’d like me to be.

Go back to the beginning of this post and read why I think that layning is important to ME. It’s because I have a certain potential and I’ve used all kinds of excuses to avoid reaching it. I’m not saying that layning=higher observance. For me it is something that I was once good at, and that serves the community, and therefore I think for my own benefit (and yes, maybe to serve as an example to my children) I should try to maintain. To quote our favorite alternative rabbi, "It's not for everyone."

“It almost is like they are trying to prove to me that they are frum.”

You’ll get no arguments with me there. I have written over and over on this blog and elsewhere what I think of that attitude. Your actions tell people who you are, not your hat.

“why feel bad if you miss one or two?”

Because that’s just the way I am. I am a creature of habit. I know that it’s either all the way or not at all. If I take a very lackadaisical approach to minyan, I will have plenty of excuses to blow it off, and eventually I will stop going altogether. I am capable of looking at myself analytically and realizing what my strengths and weaknesses are and addressing them (no matter what some of my relatives might say). I may be wrong, but I think most people are this way about habits and momentum. Employ a little intellectual honesty.

“why the need to PUBLICLY express this newfound Yiddishkeit”

Other than the fact that tfilla betzibur is by definition “public”, I don’t think that I’m publicly flaunting anything. Aderaba (on the contrary), I am painfully aware that the other people who make up my minyan (and you, too) have been doing all this for years, and without the excuse of having to say kaddish. If anything, I still have a ways to go to make it to their level.

If by “public” you mean putting it on this blog, maybe you have a point. Except that this blog is still MY private home on the web, and nobody is forcing anyone to be here. Also I have found that the blog by its nature has helped me to reexamine myself, my priorities, my excuses, and by holding them up to the light, see which were valid and which were empty. The blog keeps me honest.

I’ve made many changes in my life that go beyond shul. I’m exercising, I’m taking care of my health better, and there are other aspects that still need a lot of work.

Look, as a human being, you’re either growing or you’re dying. You have to decide which side of the line you want to be on. My father spent his last 20 years on the wrong side of that line. I’m not going to let that happen to me.

Anonymous said...

Wow - a lot to respond to, but we can do that over dinner (or maybe lunch or maybe kiddish; I guess it will depend when I am coming over). One point - your last paragraph is too true. Rabbi A.B. Rauch said that we are facing upward on a down escaltor; you have to climb just to stay even (let alone make upward progress); if you don't, you are just going down.

tuesdaywishes said...

First of all, Mark, I think your stage fright was just a kind of "anniversary reaction". I bet when you last layned this parsha, 27 years ago, you had plenty of reason to be nervous, and possibly got a rough ride from the crowd. I assume you are layning again on Thursday; please let us know how that turns out.

Second, about the much deeper issues of frumkeit that you and whoever 'anonymous' is are exploring: If Mark feels a need for greater or more intense contact with his G-d and his community since his father passed away, I am not surprised. One of the functions that Kaddish serves is to push the mourner into contact with the community, and into dialogue with G-d. The experience of loss often makes people want to just shut down, be alone. Sometimes the anger at that loss causes people to want to turn away from G-d, to stop speaking to Him. Kaddish might be thought of as our halachic 'foot in the door'that prevents a mourner from cutting himself off from the community or from Hashem.

Thirdly (sorry if I'm bloghogging or blogjacking here) thank you Mark for standing up for Modern Orthodox frumkeit. We don't have to wear the uniform or speak the jargon to be as intense in our religiosity, as committed to our observance of Halachic, or as devoted to our learning as those who do. And if "anonymous" doesn't believe me, I'll be at OOA's bar mitzva, and I want him to meet my kids.

Anonymous said...

The part about you examining your excuses, seeing which ones were valid and which were empty, really resonates, and it makes me thing you deserve a lot of credit for your honesty. I'm wondering, when you talk about inconsistencies (who isn't inconsistent at least to some degree?), how is it possible to have kids the ages of your kids and 'get away with' being inconsistent? I feel like my daughter is calling me on stuff, and she's three years old! When I think of my upbringing, going to yeshiva without being shomer shabbos, etc., I made mental promise after promise that whether I'd be religious or not as an adult, I'd aim for consistency. It was too messy and confusing to have such a disparity. It's one thing to make certain compromises for ourselves, but it's very hard to give those over as a half-baked mesorah to our kids, or at least to do it and have them respect us for that. So I totally get that you are trying to align belief and action, and it doesn't matter why, really, as long as you're getting to it. I do think that any time you have a household where you are not "buying into" one camp or the other, are toeing the line on certain issues, send your kids to schools that are not exactly where you're at, etc, there will be things that feel really inconsistent. I also think that people I know who find their own path and do not follow the herd in full sheep costume, are the ones whose struggle I respect a lot more, whether or not I should. Whew! Done for now.

Anonymous said...

PT: I can really relate to this. I have been layning for many years, at least 8-10 times a year, but each and every time I get up there to do it, I feel exactly as you described. On the other hand I am far less nervous, if at all, when I daven for the amud or speak. I think it's because layning has such exactness to it, and even a tiny mistake can be significant. Nobody corrects you when you speak/sing or serve as chazzan.

For me there's a personal issue as well. My dad Z'L was a baal koreh for nearly sixty years, and I know no matter how well I do, I can never come close to his level of excellence. That said, I am quite the perfectionist when I layn, and practice each parshah a lot, no matter how many times I layned it in the past. I do find that more practice cuts down my tension, at least somewhat.

Anonymous said...

Practice makes perfect, but nobody is perfect, so why practice?

PsychoToddler said...

There are two other points about layning:

1. There is a prevailing sentiment around here (maybe elsewhere) to the effect of "if something is hard then it's not worth doing." I think it actually came from an episode of the Simpsons. Or maybe it's just from the latest Anonymous up there.

I don't subscribe to this philosophy, and I think we are selling ourselves and our kids short. I want to show my kids that if something is worth doing then it doesn't matter if it's hard.

2. I think one reason I get so nervous with layning is that it is a continous stream of words which are connected, and so if you forget the trop or punctuation even briefly, you can throw off the entire flow of the reading and really lose your place. You lose where the start and stop of the verses are, and then you really get in trouble. That's what happened to me on Monday, but fortunately, I eventually got back on track and kept going. But it's kinda like going through a forest and following a trail. If you get too far off the path, you really get lost.

LittleBirdies said...

I really liked your long response to Anonymous. It's so true that the garb doesn't make the person and unfortunately in today's society you're not yeshivish if you don't wear a white shirt and dark pants and have peios behind the ears. My husband was in Chofetz Chaim.When I was doing research on him I was told he was not yeshivish because he didn't have peios behind his ears and wore colored shirts (and I grew up in an area where white shirts were the accepted dress for a yeshiva guy.) In the begining I had a hard time with the "colored" shirts bit, but later came to the realization that the dress doesn't make the person.

Eeees said...

Yasher Koach on your laining PT! Despite the stage fright, I'm sure you did fine. And, if you truly "make a habit" of laining, you'll eventually lose the stage fright.
I've had the pleasure of listening to Wolf lain for the past 18 years. I remember the first time he began laining in "our old shul". He wasn't "perfect", but you could tell how much he enjoyed laining. His laining has improved over the years. I think part of what makes him so good at what he does is that he makes sure not to rush through the layning,(nor to drag it out!), enunciates each word clearly and carefully, and has a pleasant voice. (Not just my opinion, I've been complimented on my hubby's laining often). I know that he practices his layning every Friday night after the meal, and goes over it again on Shabbos morning before shul (assuming he has the chance). What's funny is that he has a hard time speaking in public, yet this doesn't seem to bother him. I guess he's used to it by now. I think you will get used to it as well should you decide to continue laining as well.
BTW..I'm sure Curly will do fine as well, especially with his Abba rooting for him.

Neil Harris said...

"Most Impressive", to quote Vader.
I wish I could lain. I completely agree with the stage fright issue. I find that I often sell myself short, mostly at my own expense.

PsychoToddler said...

Thursday update:

Much better today. No mistakes. Much less nervous. Probably because I had time to go back and focus on the areas where I messed up Monday. Also probably has to do with all your votes of confidence.

Sheyna Galyan said...

I've only been layning just over a year now, about every other month, and my stage fright is horrendous. In fact, I purposely continued layning in part to get rid of the stage fright.

One gabbai told me that corrections were nothing personal; it was more important that the Torah be read correctly than that the ego of the reader be spared. He was simply there to assist with that goal. That helped. On the other hand, I created an expectation for myself that I'd never have to be corrected. (Didn't happen, btw.)

On the third hand, I get stage fright when davening, too. Or teaching a class. Or doing a book reading/signing...

Ari Kinsberg said...

" I have this constant fear that I will forget it in the middle"

i am a "retired" baal kore. i never had stage fright, but once in a while i still have a nightmare that i get to shul and i've forgotten the entire parsha.

(i always wondered if a baal kore in a conservative shul where the bimah faces the minyan gets worse stage fright.)

as far as worries about being corrected during layning, i think this is made worse when the people doing the correcting don't really know what they are doing themselves. (http://agmk.blogspot.com/2006/07/layning-and-getting-in-over-your-head_04.html)

so when are you layning again?

PsychoToddler said...

Right now focussing on Curly's layning this coming week...

fudge said...

if it makes you feel any better, 25, from my experience, is the new 11.