April 30, 2024 - University of Exeter, England

My UK/Ireland tour is really two tours.

The first seven days I play three shows: Oxford, Dublin, Edinburgh

Then I have three days off to explore Edinburgh and London.

For the second phase, I play three shows in three days starting with Cambridge and continuing to Exeter. Exeter is a half day and three train rides from Cambridge. After a quiet morning walk around Cambridge and some breakfast, I begin my rail journey. 

The trains in the UK aren’t quite as luxurious as they are in Italy, but to an American they are astoundingly efficient and comprehensive. After less than an hour, I’m back through Kings Cross, onto a local train to London Paddington and then to my third leg, about two hours to Exeter, which is a city of 130,000 southwest of London by less than 200 miles, something like the distance from Chicago to Indianapolis. 

Exeter is gloomy with light rain and I have barely an hour to clean up before I’m in a cab for a short ride to the campus of University of Exeter. I attend an informal tea/coffee gathering with some professors and students and then it’s over to the performance space, a beautiful tiered lecture hall with full AV tech support and sound. 

Before the performance, one of the university staff who is helping with the set up asks me if I get stage fright. 

I don’t.

I forget which performer said it, but I’m more prone to real life fright. The stage part is easy: I’m in control there. I know what I’m doing, I’m in charge, I’ve done it hundreds of times, I’m confident in my ability to get myself in and out of anything that a performance might throw my way. 

And also to paraphrase something Kenny Werner wrote about in Effortless Mastery, what are the actual consequences of a mistake in performance? The only real consequence of a mistake in performance is injury to one’s pride and ego, which is really the exact opposite of (certain) mistakes in real life. 

Actually, that’s a place I think performing has helped the rest of my life. When I feel consternation or anxiety I’m often able to contextualize the consequences, which are almost never as dire as my anxiety is making them seem. Understanding that the consequences of mistakes in performing are functionally zero has led me to a more pure relationship to music, one closer I imagine to the idea of the bard as an egoless vessel for the Muse, as Nobody.

I feel that emptying of my ego as I perform for the largest crowd of the tour so far, a generous warm audience that sustains long applause after I finish, and continues to a lengthy wide-ranging discussion of informed questions.

My host professors and I go out for drink and food and I order something called a Cluck Norris sandwich.

At midnight local I’m back at my hotel firming up my early morning travel arrangements to the last show of the tour, another set of trains, this one with tight anxiety inducing connections.

And pining for the serenity of the stage and becoming Nobody again.

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