Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Song of my life

So, for whatever reason, I've been in a writing mood lately. The move and the current family crises have seen to that. Oddly enough, a lot has me thinking lately. And this is as good a place as any to "think out loud", even if I risk being heard. As I sat at the piano today, I realized something interesting had happened to me as a musician. Indeed, it occurs to me that my time as a musician describes my life well.

For so much of my childhood, and into my teen years, I was trained in classical piano. Every note, every detail defined. My piano teachers were the strict type with quick rulers that slapped hands. I never excelled at it. Indeed, I felt myself to be average. I would sit, and force myself through a religious song, or maybe a piece of classical music. And, I'd work with the metronome. I never could keep the steady beat of the music. I never quiet "got" the sound of the classics.

And yet, I had a passion for it. I lived in a strange world, sitting and playing the piano. Music flowing from one of the most grand instruments. But it lacked ... soul. An interesting thing, a person so passionate about playing music, but who's music lacks feeling and warmth. Indeed, I didn't realize it at the time but I worked actively to remove it. If it wasn't on the page I didn't play it - or at least, I tried. I felt a failure because I would change the beat, slow down where I felt the need for a change, or swing the half beat notes. I tried to fit the mold of what I thought was 'right': all within detail, everything as written, no thinking for myself.

And seeing people 'break' the rules and 'fake it' pissed me off. They weren't working as hard as I was to follow the vision of the songwriter. I tried to fit into my image of a classical pianist. But I didn't fit. I didn't realize that the image in my head was wrong.

I never learned to fit into that classical world. But, people did recognize something different in me. The last piano teacher I had, sometime my second year in college, wanted me to learn. He played at baseball stadiums and concert halls. He sat me down with some beginner sheet music, removed the left hand part, gave me rules, and told me to make it up. I felt insulted, being told to 'fake it'. Because clearly I had no talent. Little did I realize that this teacher was complimenting me on my ability. My feeling. The very thing I was trying to remove.

I quit not long after, and stopped playing piano. At first, it was a slow process, I would stay away, then maybe play a song or two. Before long though, I couldn't remember the last time I played. A part of me died then. The thing I was most passionate about left.

The funny thing, looking at it now, is that my 'spiritual life' followed the same pattern. I went to the Church, followed all the rules I could, and did my best to fit in. The years I 'dedicated my life' or went into special efforts of increased service, I was also most serious about playing the piano. And when the music stopped, my faith did something of the same as well.

It wasn't just my faith either. I lived through the majority of college doing nothing more than going back and forth between destinations in a perfunctory act of existence. I had given up with the notion of trying to fit in. In a very real way, I was in prison - not allowed to explore the multitude of things I desired. Forbidden friends. Forbidden sex. Forbidden passion. Forbidden the ability to ask who I thought God was. Indeed, who I thought I was. My faith kept me in a situation with no way to break out. My finances tied up because of church service. No friends because of church beliefs. In the end, I had nothing to live for.

The music stopped.

Eventually a final call of sanity pushed me to the edge of collapse. My mind had no idea how to react to the prison I had created for it, so I began to fool myself. I listened to people that told me I was crazy, mentally ill. In all reality, I probably was. But, this wasn't an illness caused by delusions, it was an illness caused by recognition of truth. Eventually, the day that changed my life forever happened. I realized that I didn't have to stay in prison. I realized, that very real freedom existed outside the bounds of the Church. For the first time in my life, I was sane. And, in that one instant, I had what can only be described as conversion. For the first time in my life, I had faith. I did not know in what or who or how, but I knew it was there.

Of course, I still lived in prison. My living situation did not allow for this freedom - but it was there, in my head. I began to have interests again. And while, I didn't play the piano yet, I took the time to find my music books. I wanted again.

Eventually, I would meet several wonderful people. People that would take my hand, and pull me up and out of prison. As I came to Kansas City for the first time, I didn't realize I would call it home. I didn't realize the storm that would come. I just knew I needed to escape.

And escape I did.

Within the first few weeks of leaving my old home, music began to flow again. It was odd, playing piano. The notes and keys felt so unfamiliar. I had lost a lot of time. No longer could I scale up and down the piano effortlessly. I lost the robotic dexterity. Friends overheard, they said they liked what they heard. Before long, I tried out for a part in a musical. The music director told me the strangest thing then: something I never realized:

"You play with so much feeling, you really are a pianist and not just a player"

What is this? I didn't get how someone could say such a thing about my inept music. When I started working and got on my feet, I practiced more and more at the piano. And then, for some strange reason, I pulled out the 1st year book the teacher so long ago had given me.

I would try again, to remove the notes, and "Fake it". It felt strange, like riding a bike for the first time. I knew the rules, the chord structure, but the notes were no longer there. What was I to do without every last detail arranged for me?

I never realized it until a few days ago, that I now spend more time improvising and creating than practicing the written page. Indeed, I no longer have to force myself to improvise, and instead, have to force myself to read so I can learn new melodies and technique. I no longer work to master a given piece of music, but instead to learn new sounds and creations.

Oddly enough, even having to work at relearning technique - something I am nowhere near doing (most of my technical music is still far beyond my current ability) - I am a much better classical pianist. I never realized that part of classical music, an important part, is interpretation. Even when every note is out there, you must inject feeling into the song. It was an odd thing, in the middle of a piece by Debussy, to have this feeling that I knew what he was going to do next - like the soul of the long past musician was whispering in my ear. And that feeling happens more and more often as I continue to practice.

And so, what does one do without every part of their life written, categorized, labeled, and predetermined?

They live.

I sometimes laugh as people notice me, looking at the world with the eyes of someone so young, as if seeing everything for the first time. Some people go through their entire life without ever seeing anything. So, I celebrate this week, my second birthday. Because it is now 2 years since that rainy October day of conversion. October will be a special month for me always. You see, I started to live on October 22.


Janet said...

I'm so very proud of you and how far you've come since then!

steve said...

Very well written Andrew...I can 'feel' your thoughts. I would love to hear you play sometime.

Kristina said...

I loved this post. You sure have a way with words. I love reading your blog. (bet you didn't even know that did you :) )

Spyder said...