What holds you back?

Youth Sym­po­sium speaker chal­lenges stu­dents to work through hes­i­tancy

Standard-Freeholder (Cornwall) - - FRONT PAGE - ALAN S. HALE

Stu­dents St. Joseph’s Catholic Sec­ondary School were treated to some mu­sic and an in­spi­ra­tional speech by Juno Award-win­ning singer/song­writer Peter Katz on Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon.

Katz’s speech in front of the stu­dent body was part of the Youth Sym­po­sium be­ing or­ga­nized by the Corn­wall Com­mu­nity Po­lice Ser­vice. The sym­po­sium be­gan on Mon­day with a pro­fes­sion­als’ day, while Tues­day and Wed­nes­day were ded­i­cated to school vis­its with an in­spi­ra­tional speaker.

The Toronto-based mu­si­cian said he was ap­proached about be­ing that speaker by a friend who had been the speaker at a pre­vi­ous sym­po­sium.

“He rec­om­mended me for it be­cause he couldn’t do it this year. So I met with the staff sergeant and here I am,” said Katz.

The glo­be­trot­ting singer went on stage in­side a packed au­di­to­rium in front of sev­eral hun­dred peo­ple to tell them that there was a point where the mere thought of do­ing ex­actly that would have ter­ri­fied him to his core. Katz shared the story of how he had over­come the crip­pling vul­ner­a­bil­ity he had felt in front of crowds and how it led him into a suc­cess­ful ca­reer as a mu­si­cian.

He said the point he wanted stu­dents to take away from his speech is that feel­ings of trep­i­da­tion are nat­u­ral— but if they de­cide to work through them, they can find out what those emo­tions have been hold­ing them back from.

“The main thing is to see vul­ner­a­bil­ity and dis­com­fort as a good thing and to get cu­ri­ous about what is on the other side of those feel­ing,” he said.

Dur­ing his speech, Katz de­scribed how he had de­cided to get over his fears by try­ing to per­form at open­mic nights in Toronto, and although it was very hard at first, the dis­com­fort dropped ev­ery time he tried.

Even­tu­ally, he was com­fort­able enough to join a pro­duc­tion of the play The Laramie Pro­ject, which is a play writ­ten based on in­ter­views with towns­peo­ple after a young gay man, Matthew Shep­herd, was mur­dered after be­ing beaten and left tied to a fence out­side of his home­town of Laramie, Wyo., in 1998.

The pro­duc­tion’s di­rec­tor heard Katz had been singing at open mic nights and asked him to write a song for the con­clu­sion of the play. After two weeks of effort, he pro­duced a song called “Fence,” which he per­formed for the St. Joe’s stu­dents. He was told by the di­rec­tor thathe should be a pro­fes­sional singer/ song­writer but said at that point he wasn’t ready to hear that.

“I tucked those words away in my brain for safe­keep­ing,” he told the stu­dents.

It wasn’t un­til he saw the Os­car­win­ning Irish mu­si­cian, Glen Hansard, per­form at a con­cert in Toronto that he knew he wanted to be a mu­si­cian. Kats told the stu­dents he started off small, play­ing gigs in Toronto and even­tu­ally go­ing to more and more cities over time. Even then, most of his con­certs were very poorly-at­tended.

He recorded some al­bums, and when Hansard re­turned to Toronto, he stood in line to meet his idol and give­hi­ma­copy­ofhisal­bum.Hansard po­litely took the CD and left.

When the Irish singer re­turned again, Katz once again went to the con­cert, and Hansard spot­ted him in the crowd and called out to him from the stage to come up and sing one of the songs from his al­bum. Katz got on stage to sing, and Hansard joined in; he knew the words.

Katz had a video of this mo­ment shot on a cell­phone and showed it to the stu­dents and also played the whole song him­self for them. Hansard later agreed to sing on Katz’s next al­bum.

He told the stu­dents none of that would have hap­pened if he hadn’t de­cided to leave his com­fort zone.

“My ques­tion for you guys, which I hope you will spend some time think­ing about, is: what’s on the other side of your dis­com­fort and vul­ner­a­bil­ity? What are those things that you want to do, but you tell your­self you can’t? What are those con­ver­sa­tions that you are hav­ing that maybe you’re not hav­ing,” he asked.


Singer/song­writer Peter Katz per­forms for stu­dents at St. Joseph's Catholic Sec­ondary School as part of the Youth Sym­po­sium on Wed­nes­day.

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