The Music in Me

Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

I look down and stare at my child-sized hands resting awkwardly on the keys and see a puzzled face staring back at me in the shiny black reflection. I squint at the music, deciphering the notes, and press what I presume to be a C chord: the piano’s most basic chord. Even though I was off by just one key, the sound of dissonance fills the space around me. I stop immediately, look behind me at my teacher, and shake my head.

“That was wrong” I state bluntly.

Wordlessly, she puts my hand back on the piano and repositions my fingers on the keys. I press again, and am rewarded with the beautiful, rich sound that only this C chord makes.

At six years old, my biggest fear was failure, and my biggest regret (at least for that half hour) was insisting to my parents that I was old enough to take piano lessons just like my big sister.

This back and forth of lessons went on for six months until my teacher moved to another state. In those six months, I’d mastered all the staple tunes for beginning musicians: Mary had a Little Lamb, Happy Birthday, and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.

But when my teacher moved away, I was just relieved that I could stop lessons. I’d lost interest in playing, and our piano sat in the living room, untouched and collecting dust, for years.

If it weren’t for my summer boredom, it probably would have sat longer. But thankfully, one July day going into the fourth grade, I hesitantly opened the piano top and, once again, took a seat at the bench. It’s really not a fair fight when you think about it: a piano vs. pianist. The piano has 88 keys, and a pianist only has ten fingers. How could those 10 fingers possibly cover all the sounds of the piano?

On that day, I looked down and was overwhelmed by all 88 keys staring back at me, but I took a breath and began playing. Eventually, I was able to sound out a semi-recognizable version of Mary Had a Little Lamb.

Since that summer day, the longest I have gone without playing piano is 2 weeks, while on vacation. When I return and play again, it’s like I never left my trusted spot on the bench. Melodious notes and chords surround me and let me play the things I’m feeling in the most freeing ways. Even though in reality I’m alone in my living room, in my head I’m performing for a sold out crowd at Carnegie Hall. I watch my fingers fly around the black and white notes, and smile at the sight of them fighting their battle against those 88 keys: they might be outnumbered, but they hold their own.

There are plenty of times that I give up on a piece. I never learned to read music, and teaching myself Mozart and Beethoven by ear takes hours of time and patience to learn, let alone perfect. And there are plenty of times that I slam my fists against the keys and walk away, but I always come back until that piece is perfected, then search for new ones to try. Since starting, I have learned other instruments as well, including the drums, ukulele, and xylophone, but there’s something about the piano and comfort of the keys that will always be a special part of me.

Though a classically trained pianist might cringe at my technique, I make music- music that soars and brings joy, that comforts and consoles, and that expresses who I am. My learning style is a curious combination of traditional teaching, hard work and problem solving, and sheer determination. Yet when I think of the little six year old desperately trying to play a C chord, I think she’d be amazed at where we’ve ended up, and where we’ll go.

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