Wednesday, 19 January 2011


I watched the film 'Shine' quite recently. The biography of the genius young pianist David Helfgott, driven by his father and teachers, to a terrible nervous breakdown, which tormented his whole life.


Based on the true story of Australian pianist David Helfgott, this delightful movie charts the early and traumatic early years. Telling the story in flashback we see David as he grows up and into a child prodigy while his father abuses him and his siblings with the memory of his childhood in Europe and the loss of his family in the concentration camps. David finally breaks away from his father and goes away to study overseas, he later suffers a breakdown and returns to Australia and a life in an institution. Many years later he is released and through several twists of fate (in reality even more unlikely than film portrays) he starts playing a piano in a bar before finally returning to the concert hall.

During the story there was a sentence said to him by his teacher at the Royal College of Music. He was preparing for a recital, yet in a fragile place, and his professor was magnificently unaware of the delicate state of his mental state.

For a performer, the most difficult thing to cope with is often the sheer 'risk' of facing the public and delivering the goods.

The statement to this poor confused soul was brutal, yet absolutely true.

" Performing, David, is all risk taking, and no safety net ".

Never a truer word, and never a more scary statement. We put ourselves out there, naked, and with our hearts on our sleeve, in the hopes that the listener will be kind, appreciative, moved, or uplifted. Sometimes the listener is not in the least impressed, finds faults and is downright disinterested. This risk can be the breaking of a performer, and it takes many years to build up the rhinocerous hide able to deflect the barbs.

The flip side of the coin is that the very lack of a safety net gives a frisson of excitement, a rush of adrenalin, and afterwards such an elevated moment of elation, it is indeed worthwhile, and one of the most fulfilling of emotions.

Poor David Helfgott was not even close to the stable mental state which allows one to pass through the fear, feel the adrenalin, and consequently the joy on completion.

Most of my performing life, I always thought, whilst standing in the wings about to set foot into the unknown and into the searing heat of the stage lights, 'Why am I doing this, when I could be working in Marks and Spencers ?!' The thought of a job where the fear did not make one feel sick, or the horror of memory problems had no place, seemed infinitely preferable to that first horrendous step onto the stage.

Post performance however, was a totally different ball game. Marks and Spencers faded into the distance, and heady with applause, I always realised just why I did it !

Why oh why did that realisation never happen prior to performing ? I could never work that out. Deep down I knew I could 'do it', I rarely failed, I always achieved a performance which was good / very good / extremely good / even more on the best of days !

Perhaps the 'lack of safety net' kept one's feet on the ground, and one's heart in one's mouth - and maybe that is just how it should be!

Hire, or buy 'Shine', it will move, uplift you and bring tears to the eyes.

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