My piano teacher, Mrs. Goldman, had suggested the Moldau or Autumn is Here for the recital, but I wanted to play something different, something exciting for my first time on stage. I thought about playing Yesterday, Hey Jude or The Yellow Submarine, but I couldn't afford the sheet music; I'd already spend my allowance. Anyway, Mrs. Goldman disliked anything modern, and I was certain she would refuse to allow a Beatles' song at one of her recitals.
Hoping to find inspiration, I leafed through one of my sister's music books and found Something Stupid, a Frank and Nancy Sinatra song. It was big hit, and one of my mother's favorites. It didn't look difficult, and I felt confident I could master it before the recital.
As I sat backstage, on the day of the big event, I watched the other kids waiting to go on. I wondered what all the fuss was about. This was just a recital. Nothing to worry about. Yet, Billy Newgate had turned white and looked as if he was going to vomit. Betty Kolwalski, who sat next to me, kept taking deep breathes and murmuring, it's all right, it's all right. Even Alan Segal, Mr. Know-it-All, was sweating. I could see the Brylcreem running down the side of his face, staining his crisp white dress shirt.
I was scheduled to follow Jeanine Wallace, a girl who had spent the entire month working on Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. It was a simple song, but Jeanine was was either tone deaf or just stupid. She couldn't get the rhythm. When Jeanine had finished her song and had returned backstage, tears running down her cheeks, I asked her, “How did you do?” And then added, “there doesn't seem to be a twinkle in your eye.”
“Oscar, stop bothering Jeanine,” shouted Mrs. Goldman. “Do you have your music ready?”
“Yes, Mrs. Goldman, but I won't be playing the Moldau. I've decided to play Something Stupid.”
“You're playing what?” Mrs Goldman said, her eyes wide open.
“I'll be playing Something Stupid, you know, 'and then I go and spoil it all, by saying something stupid like I love you.'”
Before Mrs. Goldman could say another word, I was on stage. The William Cullen Bryant Elementary School Auditorium was full. Wow, I'd never seen so many people gathered in one place. I quickly spotted my mom and dad in the third row and gave them a slight wave and big smile. I took my seat and placed the music on the piano.
Then it happened. I looked at the music, and I was unable to read a note. It was like looking at Chinese. Nothing made sense. I sat motionless. I heard a few people clear their throats, then a few snickers, and then dead silence. I was in a daze. I had no sensation in my fingers, arms, or legs. I felt as if I was suspended above the auditorium hall watching a tragedy unfold.
It seemed like an eternity before Mrs. Goldman came on stage and whispered, “Oscar, are you all right?” I nodded, but I was unable to speak. “Are you able to play?” I looked at Mrs. Goldman and then at the audience. I shook my head no.
Heading home and sitting in the back seat of our 1964 blue Pontiac, my mother said, “Stage fright happens. Don't let it bother you. By tomorrow, it will be forgotten.” Of course, tomorrow and for weeks, even months later, it wasn't forgotten. I was the kid who had bombed on stage.
What had happened? Had it been my cockiness? Had God punished me for willfully defying Mrs. Goldman's choice of the Moldau?
I promptly gave up the piano and avoided listening to Something Stupid and any Sinatra song. I even hid the Something Stupid album for fear it would be played. Even today, I cringe when I hear the song, reliving the events of that day.