To sing or not to sing?

Sara Hedvicakova

open mic

I guess to some extent we are all a little bit starstruck.  Every time we see a really great performance, we wonder how it feels – singing in front of a crowded room exposed to everybody’s judgement. What we cannot imagine is the bittersweet feeling after leaving the stage. Surely a part of each artist wants to stay a bit longer to enjoy the applause and take in their very own moment of fame. For those who wonder about how all this feels, the Open Mic night is a perfect solution.

A couple of hours before the dreaded event the only thought that keeps popping up is: ‘This is a massive mistake, what the hell are you doing?’ Paradoxically, I am used to being on stage: I started playing the piano at the age of four and haven’t stopped performing ever since. Though I was soon about to find out that there is a big difference between playing an instrument and singing – at least for me. I became used to the comfort of having some sort of ‘hiding place’ behind the piano. But here, there is nothing to hide behind. When you stand on that stage, it is just you, the bare microphone and the crowded room with the audience ready to judge at every turn. Sound discouraging?

Even though this might seem like a completely horrifying experience, things start looking up the moment you force yourself to get on stage and start singing. About 20 seconds into the piece I found myself loving every moment of it. True, I can’t recognise my own voice and I can feel the piercing looks of the audience, but soon all this fades away and what is left is the excitement and the urge to do my very best. The reassuring smiles on my friends’ faces persuade me that I’m not doing that bad after all.

I am fairly certain I can say the same for the rest of the artists. Almost every performance we’ve seen that night was outstanding, original, and full of a genuine passion for music. To be entirely honest I felt a bit ashamed; I expected a couple of sad intoxicated guys with a guitar, crying away their sorrows and broken hearts. What, then, explains the talents of the night? After interviewing some performers, my curiosity was satisfied. They were no amateurs! Most of them either had bands with which they were regularly on stage or had previous experience with open mic nights. I still managed, however, to dig out some old memories from the very first time they had the courage to stand up to the ‘crowds’ and show what was in them.

Nick Lauener, the present host of the Queen Margaret Union Open Mic night, shared that one of the things he distinctively remembers before going on stage the first time was: ‘Oh god, oh god, I can’t remember any of the lyrics!’  Nice to know someone shares my pain since about ten minutes earlier I was frantically dealing with the same problem. When I asked him about hosting the show, he said: “I had a lot of fun doing the open mic and was good friends with the people here. So when the opportunity arose I just went for it.” Even though most of the performers usually cover folk and indie songs, Nick and his co-host, Cat Mundill, tend to cover popular songs that appear in the radio charts. Nick explained: “My biggest inspirations are probably Damian Rice or Glen Hansard and I do like to cover their songs in private. But here, we prefer to cover fun pop songs just to make people smile. We do it for the laugh; then you can see all the energy in the room.”

I moved on to interviewing a very lively group of three boys, who call themselves The Tennents. The group, heavily influenced by the rock’n’roll star Elvis Presley, was the previous act to my own two minutes of fame. Their cheerful songs took my breath (and let’s face it, a fair bit of confidence) away. You can only imagine my surprise when I learned they weren’t even a proper group: “We all live together, so when studying gets stressful and we have too much piling up, we just come to the QMU and sing a few songs.” Curiously enough, none of them studied music at the university and their explanation was fairly simple: “We didn’t want to make it an object of study. It’s good to have an extra ‘thing’ outside all the responsibilities you have.” No mixing of business with pleasure, then. My last victim, Scott Lowry, was also more experienced: “I’ve been doing this for about two years now; I participated in the open mic nights in Glasgow. I come here every so often with a couple of friends just to relax and have fun.” Unlike The Tennents, Scott linked his passion for music to his studies: “I study music and I play the violin, I just can’t stop, you know.” I couldn’t relate to this more.

The reason for performing at the open mic was common to all of my interviewees: It’s just great fun. Would they consider music as their main career? Absolutely! And as promised, this definitely was a new and different way to spend a Tuesday night. The performers vary. Some of them study music as a university subject; some try to keep their passion as separate from their studies as possible, and some don’t even attend the university and simply keep music and performing as their biggest hobby. And the moral of this story? As cliché as this might sound, at the open mic night it really doesn’t matter who you are or what you study. If you are ready to stand up and bring the best of you on stage, you are guaranteed to have a great night full of enthusiastic musicians and beautiful memories.