Writers’ Workshop: A Case of the Nervous Knees

Did you ever notice that both nervous and knees start with the same vocalization and they are spelled differently? No wonder English language learners have a problem with English. That’s my plug for why we need ELL teachers in our schools. I’d really like the people I encounter in life to know the difference between nervous and knees. And know, for what it’s worth. If you have the opportunity, vote for initiatives that allow dedicated teachers to continue to integrate non-English speakers into the mainstream of our schools and society. I’m just sayin’… it’s important, and it’s worth spending your tax dollars on it.

Commercial over. Let’s talk about nervous knees.

A little known fact among most of the people who know (there’s that pesky word again — twice) me these days is that I was a voice major in college. Now I teach English.

Music majors have to give recitals in addition to writing papers and taking tests, and from thence comes my story for today. I will never forget that recital my freshman year at Miami University; it’s indelibly etched in my brain. As music majors, we were required to perform once a term; it was just one song at 11:00 on Thursday mornings. We all had to attend the recitals, even if we were not performing ourselves, and on that fateful day, pretty much all of my friends were in attendance. I stood on the stage in my very fashionable mini-skirt and started to sing. At the same time, my knees started to quiver. Picture it — in a small auditorium, my knees were pretty much at eye level with the audience — and they were shaking as if I was having my own personal earthquake. I finished my song, and tried not to disown my classmates, who were doing the best they could not to laugh out loud. After all, this could happen to them, too. I vowed this would never happen to ME again.

Once thing I’ve learned about singing in subsequent years of performing is that the old adage of “never let them see you sweat” definitely applies. Never let them see you shake, either. After that recital, I learned to wear long dresses when I sang in public. Your face can be a serene as a calm lake while your knees are rattling under your long skirt. As I continued to sing for church and events, I also learned that the lectern, podium, or even the little fence around the choir can be your friend.

These days, I’m pretty jaded. My knees no longer shake, but my beginning-to-be-an-old-lady-voice sometimes does. It’s a new kind of fear. Will my always reliable voice do its job? Have I vocalized enough to hit the high and low notes? It’s almost as scary as it was back when I was a naive freshman in college. Unfortunately, now I know my limitations. I’m no longer invincible, as I thought I was when I was eighteen.

The good thing is, I also play the saxophone. There’s no shaking knees in saxophone playing, unless one is stupid enough to try to march at Alumni Weekend, and that’s a story for another day. I can play the saxophone until I die, or they kick me out of band, whichever comes first.

There’s a reason why there’s a maxim that talks about “shakin’ in your boots.” Been there, done that.

It’s been a while since I’ve linked up with Mama Kat. Please visit and enjoy the work of other bloggers.

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10 thoughts on “Writers’ Workshop: A Case of the Nervous Knees

  1. Fall a cappella concert, junior year: I was debuting a new solo I was really nervous about, and I TOTALLY had visibly shaking knees peeking out from my shortish skirt, exacerbated by wobbling in my high heels, in a pretty intimate venue. Definitely learned my lesson to wear pants in scary performance situations after that!!

  2. Boy can I identify with both the shaking knees and the shaking vibrato. Luckily I never had to do a recital.

  3. I can speak to a huge crowd..but sing? I can’t even do that alone in front of my church. I can sing karaoke but then I’m just being silly. I definitely prefer playing my horn in front of people than singing. There’s a whole new level of nerves when the instrument is you!

    • I totally agree that it’s a little easier to speak or to play my sax in front of a crowd. I still shake some if I can’t conquer the nerves; I find that doing more than one song helps; the first one is “shaky” and then I can get control. Thanks for commenting!

  4. OOO, I love finding a fellow choir girl! I never got the knocking knees thing, but I used to get flushed all across my chest and neck. I always had to wear high-necked shirts to cover it up!

    • I’m reading My Week with Marilyn right now, and she used to flush like that. They would have to stop filming for at least an hour until her milky-white complexion returned. 🙂

  5. I am always in awe of people who can trust their voices to pull them through a song in front of a crowd. I think I sound GREAT when the radio is on, but boyyyy do things get different when you turn the radio off. Haha!

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