Does anyone remember Michigan J. Frog? That talented little amphibian found in a time capsule in the 1950’s Merry Melodies cartoon called “One Froggy Evening”? He leaps out of the time capsule and does a rendition of the Michigan Rag that would bring the house down at Carnegie Hall. The construction worker that finds him knows he’s struck it big – this little froggy is going to make him rich! The problem is – the darn frog only performs in private – put him in from of any audience and the only sound he utters is “BRRRRR-RIBET.” No singing, no dancing …
The construction worker tries everything – he coaxes, cajoles and threatens – nothing, nada, zip!
In the cartoon we’re led to believe the little guy is doing it just to be annoying – but lately I’ve begun to wonder about that. You see I am Michigan J. Frog myself. When I’m alone playing my fiddle I am a virtuoso. Music actually comes out of the thing! Yet put me in front of a single person and I fold – my fiddle sounds like a “screeching howling banshee” that scares small animals and sends even my dearest friends running for cover. I practice faithfully, it’s going great – then I get to my lesson and I am all thumbs and tone deaf. Today, I practiced Happy Birthday a kazillion times – had it sounding fairly decent – musical, melodious, wonderful! Then I got to my friend’s birthday party and froze up. I scratched out a barely recognizable facsimile, she smiled at me warmly and hugged me in thanks. (Thanks for stopping, most likely…)
When I’m at practice with the “Silver Birch Minstrels” I can sing up a storm – belt them out like a pro (loud, not good, mind you… but still – there’s sound coming out of me and it’s sort of like music). Then Friday night rolls around, the seniors pour into the auditorium, I open my mouth and… nothing… “BRRRRR-RIBET.” I can only croak. My heart pounds, my throat is dry and my knees are knocking. I just hope I can make it through the show without keeling over with a heart attack.
Why is it that I turn into Michigan J. Frog in front of an audience? Why is it that I can lecture to an auditorium of 600 students with no jitters at all – yet I’m a bundle of frazzled nerves in front of anyone when I am holding that fiddle or trying to sing? I blame it on the mass media. A hundred years ago – most everyone who played an instrument would hop right to it in front of a crowd without being the least bit self-conscious. Everyone, good or bad, would sing along with them – bellowing out the song at the top of their lungs – mostly off-key and out of time with each other – all without being the least bit self-conscious. And they all enjoyed themselves immensely. It’s how people entertained themselves before radio, TV, and the Internet started bringing them professional entertainment.
Now we are bombarded with musical genius from every direction. So we’re all scared to sing in front of our friends, because we know they’ll be comparing us to the likes of Emmylou Harris or KD Lang – and we will NOT measure up. How sad it is that? Bringing the luxury of world-class musical entertainment to everyone’s daily lives has taken away our ability to enjoy one of life’s great pleasures. After all – it’s definitely way more fun to MAKE music that it is to just listen to it. So – just so you know my friends – I am not going to let this get to me anymore – I AM going to keep torturing you with my fiddle and I AM going to sing whenever I can…
Are you ready? Ahem… cough… cough… “BRRRRR-RIBET”