And there you idly sit by the exit sign off of stage right, waiting for the auditorium to fill up; a gradual crescendo in mutterings, greetings, tappings on keypads as the audience swells and the air becomes charged with a strange electricity. Check your watch; only a few minutes remaining. No time to go get a drink or squeeze the lemon; everything you have on you and inside you, goes with you out onto the stage. In a cruel trick of nature, the hands become clammy and cold; those precious extremities that you need under these extreme conditions seem to rebel against you, as the lily-livered blood is able to squirrel itself away deep within your core while the rest of your exposed, unfortunate flesh has nowhere to hide while it faces the enemy. Deserters! Turncoats! Traitors!
Suddenly you become aware of the stage technician repeating a question to you, his tone more insistent; he could have been talking for ages, as far as you're concerned. You nod to him, and the house lights are extinguished - ker-chunk, ker-chunk - you take one deep breath - make that two deep breaths, an additional one for good measure - and walk out onto the stage. The applause rumbles and swells and for a few moments it is a supremely pleasant experience, standing there in the blinding klieg lights and completely unable to see anyone in the audience, only hearing the disembodied plaudits and cheers of the crowd. The walk-on and bow is incredibly easy for any fully functioning, ambulatory being, and were it up to me I would continue to stand there and bow, and let the applause continue.
But it is only a short bow - two bows, an additional one just to make sure - and then its time to seat yourself down on the firm black vinyl of the bench, briefly imagining what other callipygian musicians have sat there as you mindlessly twist the adjustment knobs on the sides. Up a little, down a little, to the side a little, if that option were present. Place your hands upon those surprisingly cool keys, while wondering whether the tremors quivering throughout your body are noticeable by anyone else, or merely insensate. Lastly - and this is the benefit of performing chamber music with a fellow sufferer - you make eye contact with your partner and nod. And then away you go.
As I am happy to rediscover every time, the actual performance is never as horrific as it is played out in my most disturbed nightmares; and although it presents its fair share of anxieties and mistakes and recoveries, it is, on the whole, tremendous fun. The well-timed execution of choreographed looks and gestures, the spontaneous phrasings that you would never have imagined possible, the beautiful chiaroscuro of the piano keys from the angled light, the feeling of having the audience completely enthralled - this is all that is needed to form a healthy and robust stage addiction.
And when the last note is played and the final cadence still reverberates through the air, those few pregnant moments before the cascade of applause are some of the most savory, delicious seconds I have ever had the pleasure of tasting. And even after all of that backbreaking preparation, the cold and windy walks to and from the practice building, the anxiety and worry and the acrid taste of adrenaline in the back of my throat - all I can do is look forward to the next time I hold such ecstatic, terrifying congress with the Muse.