Saturday, August 9, 2014

Back on the piano bench again

I've set aside my piano goals to make room for other things many times. In 9th grade it was because of marching band. In college it was because of, well, college. Same for grad school. But when marching band ended, when I came home for the summers, when I graduated, reinserting regular piano practice into my life was the first item on my What I Finally Have Time to Do Now That I'm Free list.

It was never hard to make piano a priority again. It was as easy as spending more time with my family or diving into a new book series.

But something was different after I finished grad school. I wanted to relax, try new things. That desire to play the piano was still there, but it was faint, and there was no immediacy to it. I played a few times, but it didn't feed my soul the way it used to.

After about four months of this, I started to worry that maybe I had "outgrown" my love for the piano. It always bothered me when people equated my quitting piano lessons in 9th grade with quitting piano, as if the lack of formal instruction automatically erased the bond I had been developing for nine years. I didn't quit eating after my parents stopped holding my utensils for me. I didn't quit reading after my teachers stopped drilling me on letters and pronunciation. I could no sooner quit piano than I could stop being tall—it was just part of who I was.

Until it wasn't anymore. I filled my life with other distractions—a new job, social opportunities, books, Netflix—almost as a way to protect myself from the reality that I just didn't want to play anymore.

Maybe that's why I didn't notice at first all the different ways my subconscious groped for other things to fill the hole my piano always occupied. I downloaded songs from iTunes with no restraint. I started talking about music. I even checked out a book from the library solely because it had the word "piano" in it.

I tried to fill my life with music, but it wasn't just music I needed. I needed to feel the tiny muscles in my fingers work to create beautiful sounds. I needed to sit on that piano bench, my left leg tucked under the bench while my right worked the pedal, and let the sounds surround me.

These thoughts ran through my mind as I read The Piano Tuner. It was like the piano in my living room was gently nudging me, saying "Remember me? We used to hang out all the time, especially when you were sad or confused." And finally, for the first time in months, I wanted to jump out of bed and just play. Stop feeling guilty about the neglect, forget about everything, and let my fingers do what they've done since I was seven years old.

So that's what I did, starting with my Hanon exercises. That rush of euphoria I often get when I've gone a while without playing the piano didn't come. Rather, my universe was slowly shifting, righting itself. A much more lasting feeling than euphoria.

And the piano isn't the only thing that has shifted back into its place. I'm writing again. I feel more like the strong, independent woman I like to envision myself as. My problems are still there, but they're so small now I can only see them when I squint.

Sometimes you have to be a little selfish to pursue your hobbies, but I've come to realize I don't like being me as much when I'm not pursuing piano. (And let's face it—as far as I'm concerned, playing the piano is no mere hobby.) Sometimes you have to fight for a little bit of selfishness to make yourself the best person you can be.


  1. I've been really bad lately too (if you have a two year old who doesn't want you to play, it's pretty likely that you won't win). I finally got on the other night after an exceptionally rusty performance on the organ at church. It felt like a much better use of my time than playing on my phone. And Jaxson didn't even try to hang on my arm the whole time! I should really do that more often. And yes, I can still play all of the first 20 Hanons by memory. :)

  2. Darn two-year-olds—so demanding. Any time you can get your way with toddlers hanging around is a pretty huge victory, I'd say.

  3. Right after I read this yesterday, I went to my room and played my keyboard. Thanks :)

  4. I miss you girls playing the piano at 5am every morning. I mostly miss you playing John Schmidt rather than John Schmidt playing John Schmidt.