When I was elven, I participated in one of the famous classical music contests in Japan. The section I had enrolled in was the piano section for primary school kids. After about five months of intense practice through the rainy season and the boiling summer, one early September, my mother and I travelled to Tokyo to attend the first round of the contest.
Growing up in a rural city in the North Japan, it felt like the most special thing to play at a concert hall in Tokyo, even for the first round of the contest, since the city was not only the nation’s capital but also its largest cultural hub. As we got off the bullet train at the main train station and took a cab to the venue, I felt nervous all over my body.
The contest started at 10 am, but my turn was not until in the afternoon. My mother and I first watched several participants’ performances, then headed over to a YAMAHA music studio nearby so that I could practice my piece one last time before I went on the stage. After lunch, we came back to the venue, went to the participant’s dress room and I changed into my stage dress. Then my mother wished me good luck and left.
There were several other girls in the dress room, all looking nervous and focused before their turns. On the tiny old screen in the room, we could see what was happening on the actual stage. One by one, we left the dress room and appeared on the screen, playing the piece that we must have practiced for thousands of times. And those of us in the dress room would watch the person play, praying in our hearts that they would perform well.
Finally, it was time for me to leave the cozy dress room and walk down to the backstage to prepare for my turn. At this point, I was feeling so nervous that my body was cold and my mind was racing. I stood next to the stage door, listening to the person before me play with a pounding heart.
Then, it was a breaktime.
After the person before me finished playing, a 15 minute break was announced. I hadn’t known about this, but it was a breaktime designed for the judges.
By that time, my focus and tension level had reached its peak. The moment the breaktime started, my body could no longer hold the tension and started to loosen up like a shrinking balloon. I wasn’t quite sure if it was a good thing to loosen up like this just before my performance.
As I paced around the backstage impatiently, the old, experienced-looking stage technician and the lady who was in charge of reading the heat number of each participant tried to speak to me and calm me down.
“But I can’t wait!” I said. “I’m so ready now! Let me go on the stage!”
Finally, the long breaktime came to an end, but they didn’t yet announce my heat number. In fact, the judges were not yet back from their break.
“Oh, there they are,” said the stage technician in a kind voice as he looked into the monitor screen. “See? They are coming back now.”
As I looked at the screen, I saw several figures moving in the darkness of the concert hall finding their way to their seating.
“Those are the judges?”
I asked. I was surprised that they didn’t seem to be in any hurry even though they were late.
“Why aren’t they in a hurry? Don’t they know that we are waiting for them?” I asked. Then I turned to the monitor screen and said to the moving figures, “I mean, who are YOU to make me wait like this?”
The moment I said the last sentence, the stage technician and the lady burst into laughter.
“There you go!” The technician smiled at me. “That’s the attitude you should have. Now I’m certain that you’ll rock it!”
“Yes, you’ll be amazing!” The lazy also cheered.
When the judges finally settled into their seating, the stage technician signaled to the lady, and she announced my heat number. The stage door was opened, and I walked into the bright stage feeling a strong support on my back.
I had never been more present during my stage performance. I was able to put everything that I had practiced over the past five months into that 10 minute performance. And that conversation on the backstage became a treasured piece in my heart.