What an Honor!
It was a huge honor to present Make Weird Music to 850 people at Ignite Phoenix #18 on April 1, 2016 at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts . It was also one of the most nerve-wracking things I’ve ever done and it’s taken me several days to understand why.
Special thanks to Raoul Encinas for telling me about Ignite and inviting me to submit, and to Todd Weinstein, who coached me through the whole process.
In the weeks leading up to Ignite, I didn’t think too much about the reality of speaking in front of so many people. I also didn’t realize how personal my little speech would be and how vulnerable I would feel delivering it. Like a song idea in its infancy, I let no one hear me rehearse and only two people had seen the script I wrote: my assigned speaking coach and my awesome friend, Will Mejia , who designed the slides (and the MWM logo). Not even my wife really knew what I was cooking up.
Even though I speak publicly on a regular basis for my job, it’s usually to a crowd of 50 or fewer people. Plus, when I do that, it’s usually in a controlled environment with people who are known to be interested. If there are slides, they’re on my laptop and I advance them when I’m ready. Most importantly, I rarely have to get candid about something so close to my heart.
And even though I play at church to a crowd of 800+ people on a regular basis, there is a bigger purpose to that and it has very little to do with me and my playing. At church, I am supporting an event and an environment that lets people tune themselves into the right spiritual mindset, like Kerry Minnear talked about in his interview. My Ignite presentation was about me and my passion, with no instrument speaking on my behalf or representing me to the crowd. Totally different from church!
All of those things, plus some unpredictable personal and professional events/issues, led to my frenetic panic in the final 48 hours leading up to my presentation. My stomach was turning all day at work on April 1 and I was seriously regretting that I ever agreed to do it. I had a very real understanding of what artist Wayne White meant when he said, “Beauty is embarrassing .”
Thanks to the Guitar Circle
Thankfully, I had a few tricks up my sleeve I’d learned from Robert Fripp’s Guitar Circle coursework. The practice of doing nothing, Alexander Technique , and finding the silence within were all extremely helpful in soothing my nerves before the presentation. About 15 minutes before I had to go on stage, I realized how supportive the audience was and how much that factored into what Fripp shared during his 2015 tour with King Crimson.
It never dawned on me how important a supportive audience could be. It also never dawned on me how difficult an experience it could be to perform from the heart to an unsupportive audience. Had it not been for the wonderful support of the Ignite attendees, there is a high likelihood I would have bombed.
The good news is that I didn’t bomb at all. The presentation went much better than I expected. I only screwed up on one slide and recovered in a decent way. And here it is on the Internet for all to see and (presumably) enjoy.
All the practice in the world could not have prepared me for the experience of baring my soul to a crowd of that size. Practicing alone in a bedroom or while driving my car doesn’t leave room for audience laughter at my jokes, or for an emotional statement to make its mark. And to hear your own voice booming from loudspeakers in a non-nightmare context is a very strange thing. Thankfully, the stage lights were bright enough that I couldn’t make out a single face and the 5 minutes flew by faster than I could have expected.
People who know me personally tell me that I’m often non-emotional or “cool as a cucumber.” Doing this presentation exposed a part of me that has been well-hidden (or perhaps dormant) for many years. I was so nervous throughout the day that after my presentation, I had to leave the building and almost went home sick from all the abdominal tension that was suddenly released once I was finished. I was in tremendous pain that, thankfully, went away after about an hour. The mind-body connection is real, yo!
I am glad for the experience I had and grateful for the opportunity. It was great to hear the support of fellow enthusiasts of weird music. And many approached me afterward in gratitude for my work, which was totally unexpected and heartwarming. I don’t think it will lead to a great, big local following, but it was nice to have my 5 minutes of fame.
It is definitely nice to get back to normal life where I have no major deadlines with my MWM work.
What’s Ignite Phoenix?
Ignite Phoenix, started in 2008 by Jeff Moriarty , is part of a larger Ignite Talks movement that started in 2006. It gives passionate people a platform to present their personal pursuits in a 5-minute presentation format where 20 slides auto-advance every 15 seconds. It’s a very popular event here in the Phoenix, AZ area and tickets sell out in less than an hour.
All the people behind Ignite are passionate volunteers and they really make it a magical, diverse event. I presented between someone who talked about collecting sports cards of female athletes and someone who talked about a foster program in Arizona. The variety of ideas was huge and I strongly encourage you to attend an Ignite event if there’s one near you. I’m not sure if I’d recommend speaking unless you’re really super-duper passionate about a topic and willing to get out there and share it in a way that is totally unique and frightening. If anything, the networking opportunities make it totally worthwhile.
Thank you so much to the Ignite volunteer team. I am so humbled by what you do that I might find a way to volunteer at a future event!