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Living with stage fright: One singer’s story

She's known for her personable on-stage manner as much as her sublime voice, but Halifax-based indie singer Jenn Grant was once so rattled by stage fright as a teen that she put off the start of her career for years. Currently touring behind her fourth album The Beautiful Wild , Grant talks about her long bout with performance anxiety:

"It was something that developed. It never crossed my mind that people would really want to hear me – specifically me – sing. I once wrote a song for my cousin who had died a few days after her birth. When I sang it in junior high school, the school gave me a standing ovation. Everyone was talking to me the next day and congratulating me. People wanted me to sing, and for whatever reason that freaked me out. Up to that point I had also been singing on Friday nights at a coffeehouse, but I stopped doing that altogether.

"I'd been wanting to sing again for people for years after that, but I wasn't able to do it successfully. I tried again when I was 18 or 19, and I was really enjoying practising. I didn't feel too nervous, and I was getting excited 'cause I thought I'd be able to do this. But when I got up there in front of all my peers, the stage fright escalated. I had my blue guitar that my dad gave me for my 16th birthday, but when I got up there I couldn't get my fingers to stop shaking on the strings. It was as if a little earthquake was going through me. And it also went to my voice. Everything would shake and tremble. The song was Landslide, by Fleetwood Mac, and I must have played the whole thing, but with my head down and my voice getting quieter and quieter. I quickly got off the stage. I was upset with myself the rest of the day, and for months after. I can't think of anything more upsetting during those years. There were about 10 years of these moments altogether.

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"At age 23, I came home from a Tegan and Sara concert at the Marquee in Halifax. I felt so sad during that show because I felt like I was watching my destiny pass me by. That was enough for me to do something about it. Without asking, I pencilled myself in at a little coffeeshop called Salvation in Halifax for January 30, 2005. I'll never forget that first moment. I had my cousins helping me, which was enough that I suddenly felt like myself on stage – very comfortable and at ease. It was very loosey-goosey. But that was much better than the opposite. I never looked back after that day. I started playing with my cousins for the rest of that year around Halifax, until I started my solo project and got a band together. "

"I don't talk about stage fright unless people ask, and musicians never ask me. I feel like I had enough time with it, and I don't like to rehash things too much. I used to feel bad that I didn't start my career until my early 20s, but I don't feel that way any more. I think not being able to sing for a decade because of nerves means I will never take for granted how lucky I am now."

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About the Author

Brad Wheeler is an arts reporter with The Globe and Mail. More


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