By Morgan Giosa
It was a Monday night after 10 PM, and I was waiting in the corner of the Hungry Tiger, a small Connecticut bar which hosts my favorite open jam blues night. I was awkwardly tuning up my guitar and listening to the house band – a trio of musical virtuosos – tearing through incredible renditions of tunes written by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Dr. John, and Stevie Wonder.
The band finishes playing a blistering funky 12 bar blues and the house guitarist, Geoff Willard, looks over and gestures to me, and says: “Morgan, come on up here”.
I confidently, albeit unassumingly, say “okay”, and hop up onto the stage, plugging my guitar into the 2nd amp and striking a couple of chords to be sure a decent tone is coming out.
“Do you want to do ‘Back on the Train’ by Phish?” I ask the band.
“Sure!” Geoff says.
Immediately after we are on the same page, I start strumming the opening chord of the song, an F dominant 9th chord, and from that point on, I am off and running, absorbed in singing and playing the best possible rendition of the song that I can muster up – completely immersed in the music and so in the zone that any possible distractions around me are irrelevant. Then, I work my way through renditions of “Stand By Me” and an original slow 12 bar blues. Nothing feels particularly awkward, and as I wind down and exit the stage after my 3-song set and the next group of musicians takes the stage, numerous musicians come to me and praise my guitar playing and singing voice. Then, a non-musician music fan walks up to me and says: “this is the second time I have listened to you play here, and you are a showman. You are incredibly fun to watch and listen to”.
Nobody made note of “Asperger’s”, “autism”, or social awkwardness at all. In fact, they judged me only on the merits of my musical playing and singing, and considered me charming and outgoing. As I left the venue at the end of the night, I felt a euphoria in my mind and throughout my entire body – a genuine high from the musical experience.
2 Years Ago
I would like to take a moment to rewind the clock about 2 years, because contrary to the description of my experience above, I had such bad performance anxiety, or “stage fright”, that I was incapable of giving a decent musical performance in front of a live crowd.
I would get up on stage, tense up, and make numerous mistakes. The other musicians didn’t know what to make of it, back then. While some heard potential and would offer encouragement, others didn’t have much patience, especially given that I’m now a regular piece of the Connecticut music scene as I type this and have since received praise from the people who previously weren’t too impressed.
It was quite the opposite, back then. Then, I would go through an experience opposite to the euphoria I describe above, when leaving the venue. I would self-criticize and be on the verge of giving up.
“I’m quitting guitar lessons!”, or “I’m never getting on stage again!”, I would shout.
I would feel like complete dirt, as if I had no talent whatsoever, in spite of the fact that I sounded pretty good when I played guitar in my room along with backing tracks from YouTube. Backing tracks are a practice tool used by guitarists which simulate the experience of playing along with a band.
However, while playing with backing tracks is how I’ve essentially developed all of my musical chops. What I’ve found the experience of playing along with backing tracks lacks is the element of interacting with other musicians. Backing tracks have a predetermined ending, so you never have to cue in other musicians to get them on the same page with you. Backing tracks have predetermined rhythmic subtleties very different from a live band which takes an organic approach to these subtleties and will sometimes even base their own subtleties off of what you are doing on your instrument. Basically, a backing track never alters itself based on what you choose to play.
Playing with a live band is much more of an experimental, spontaneous exercise. Playing with backing tracks doesn’t prepare you for the act of entertaining a crowd. Crowds can be a difficult animal. They can be unforgiving, in some ways. While I love improvising and experimenting, music always has some rules.
For example, if the band is playing in B flat and you’re playing in B, it will sound discordant and the crowd may boo or shout “you suck!” (albeit understandably so if you play blatantly out of tune). While I try not to play in the wrong key and have been told I have talent, my stage fright used to be so crippling that I was too anxious to be able to focus on the right notes and would indeed play in the wrong key at times, because I was trembling and shaking so badly.
So, what has changed?
To put it simply, having the tenacity to not give up after a negative experience, even when I felt like doing so, is what has saved me. I have continued to build more and more experience and I’ve gotten to the point where I am generally confident and talented enough to sound good. The more times I play on stage with other people and receive praise and applause, the more it reinforces in my mind that I’m doing something right.
It also helps to get to know the other musicians you’re playing with and gauge their personalities and playing styles. There are certain players I play with often, because they’re also fixtures on the Connecticut music scene.
As a perfectionist, I have realized I have more fun playing with the more experienced players who elevate me to their level, rather than the amateurs who drag me down. I’m a somewhat intermediate guitarist – not great, but certainly not the worst out there by any means. Just a couple weeks ago, I was on stage and one of the other musicians made a mistake that threw off the entire band, and while these things happen at open jams, it really cut down my enjoyment of the rest of the performance. However, the crowd still loved it, and that is just the perfectionist in me speaking – and this negative experience didn’t stop me from returning to the Hungry Tiger a week later and giving what turned out to be a much better performance.
Overall, the point I am
trying to make is one about perseverance. A little bit of fight and tenacity,
and a realization that you will absolutely fail and make mistakes
sometimes and that you shouldn’t let it defeat you even if it bothers or hurts
you at first, goes a long way in overcoming stage fright.
I am at a place now where I’ve had people asking the bartendress at the Hungry Tiger if I was famous and just happened to be in town for a night. They’ve told me they want to come back to the venue just to hear and watch me perform. It means a lot to me as someone who had very humble beginnings on the local music circuit.
Ultimately, it is my passion, tenacity and my tendency to dream big that continue to propel me, and will hopefully take me to the top one day if I continue to play my cards right. So, I advise others to find their passions and dream big. Any passion that runs deep enough is worth fighting for.
Morgan Giosa is a 26-year old web developer, blues guitarist, photographer, and visual artist from Windsor, Connecticut. From an early age, Morgan was raised around music and the arts. His brother Alex is a professional drummer and skilled visual artist. Many of Morgan’s peers are gigging musicians. Morgan has found his own natural passion in blues guitar and the visual arts through this frequent exposure to creativity. As a web developer, Morgan has worked (for established companies and as a freelancer) with with the content management framework Drupal for over 7 years to successfully deliver websites to local businesses, individuals and nonprofit organizations, and has plans in the works to launch his own web development firm in the near future.
Morgan has also taken part in creating his own visionary projects in the arts, including an autobiographical documentary film, “Outside the Box”, and a CD due out in mid to late 2019 under the band name Fake News Blues Band. More information on these projects can be found at www.outsidetheboxdocumentary.com and www.fakenewsbluesband.com.
Morgan’s personal art and music website is www.morgangiosa.com.