THE BLOG
09/30/2016 04:04 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Shy Girl Learns to Own Podium

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By Carla Magnus

I heard a "Thump," and looked down. A kid passed out as we were about to start our first song. I was horrified. I just knew I would be next. The lights beamed on me and I felt like I was in the middle of Death Valley without an escape. I found a way out in the middle of the song. I walked off the stage and rushed to the bathroom.

As soon as I exited the bathroom, my family was standing with the directors.

"Do you want to go back on the stage," Ms. Logan asked.

I was too embarrassed. I already made a fool of myself walking off and didn't want all the attention on me if I returned.

That time, it was my performance with the All County Choir in fifth grade. There were so many other examples of shyness. I often hid behind my parents and never left their side. I ate lunch in the principal's office in elementary school because the lunch room was too noisy. I cried everyday in kindergarten and begged my parents to let me stay home. My confidence was drained by people who told me I was too light skinned to be Black and I never thought of speaking up when facing the wrath of criticism from peers. I often tried to make myself invisible.

I thought I would never change.

In high school, the band directors helped to crack the shell of my shyness. I played the flute, but there were too many flutes so the band directors selected me to switch to the bassoon with a compliment--"It is difficult and we need someone who is quick to learn how to read notes all over again on a bass clef."

I was flattered even though I had no idea what the bassoon was. At first, playing the instrument was like trying to go to space in a paper airplane. First, I had to get used to a reed -- a double reed and to playing an instrument as large as me. I ended every practice with cramps in my hands and a painful mouth, but there was no more hiding behind the fifteen other flute players.
It was my first year performing at a major band festival. The year before, everyone bragged about receiving the gold score. Now that I was in the band, I wanted to help us earn it. I was ready to go -- I had my music, my reeds, and then everything took a turn for the worse. As I was holding my bassoon, a gust of bad luck knocked it to the ground. Everyone was already seated and I had to run up on stage by myself holding my broken bassoon. It was like deja vu, but instead of exiting the stage, I was walking on and stayed. Only one note worked, but that was a major note. For the others, I fingered the notes and we won a gold score.

My experience with the bassoon helped to unload my fears of an audience and discomfort with my skin color. My band director inadvertently helps launch my journey to confidence with a mere comment about me being the best fit for a difficult instrument. This inspires me to mentor children and leave them with encouraging marks. At the Breast Cancer Walk, Anelia, who is 9, clings to her mother. I mentor Anelia through Jack and Jill, an organization of African American families. I am with my friends but invite Anelia to walk with me. She gives her mom a hesitant look but eventually joins me. We find kids her age that she knows and I do not return to my friends until she is comfortable.

I now participate in oratorical contests. Delivering speeches and a lack of confidence do not deter me from seeking leadership positions. Today, I could never see myself walking off the stage.

Carla Magnus, a graduate of Baldwin High School, is a freshman at Temple University.