Monday, February 21, 2011

have piano, will travel?

since i can’t seem to write clearly about what’s really on my heart (oh boy), i will forge ahead with what’s on my fingertips. tomorrow, i have my first formal music lesson in five years. i didn’t quite tell the whole story of my music evolution in “have guitar, will travel”, so it’s definitely time to fill in a few holes and get self-examining.

my evolution as an artist has been through quite a number of phases and mediums. music and storytelling have always been dual-held interests of mine, though. when i was very young, i would sneak out of bed at night and turn the radio on, putting my ear right to the speaker so i wouldn’t have to turn it up above a whisper. i was always fascinated with putting together the meaning behind the songs. i met a boy (literally, we were nine!) who introduced me to alternative music, and snuck tapes to me under our catholic school desks. as for the storytelling, i delved into poetry and personal journaling as an early teen and, to my shock, was published in a few anthologies. i considered trying to self-publish my poetry, as well as short novel ideas i kept stumbling through, but nothing ever really came of it (though it did spark my interest in an english/creative writing concentration in college). 

musically, beyond being a rabid listener and shower singer, i studied flute from age 11 through 15 (though i originally wanted to play drums!). i begged for a guitar for christmas at age 13, but didn't learn to play it at all until age 15, shortly after i wrote the lyrics and melody to my first simple song. my best friend, at the time, taught me the chords i needed based on the melody i sang. i played my first solo show a short four months later, built almost entirely of my own songs, and kept playing shows through age 23. i realize now that there’s a lot of undescribed space in between ages 15 and 23. these were prolific, busy years, for me. as i said in “have guitar, will travel,” :

“throughout high school, that was my identity, my art. i lived and breathed my music, craved the outlet. i wrote song after song, played shows to tiny packed-out coffeehouses. they were simple songs, simple expressions of the chaos of my teenage life. moving into my early twenties, i made my first relocation. the city had a bigger and better music scene. it was more difficult to break into, and i lost my nerve. instead, i began to enjoy listening to music, attending shows rather than enduring the pressure of playing them. i tried to keep up the practice schedule and writing sessions, but my previous desperate need for it was no longer there.”

unfortunately, that’s not the whole story. there’s a much deeper reason, and it contributed to why i not only stopped playing and writing music, but even stopped attending shows and buying new tunes. in case you haven’t gotten the picture yet, i have pursued none of these arts to the true professional level, or any end, for that matter. so, what’s holding me back? fear, bigger and badder than “lost the nerve” could begin to describe. actually, the fear even kept me from taking in new music, lest i be inspired or challenged, and thus reminded of my failures. it perpetuates. if i want to move forward, and i do, the only thing i can do is to face it, and myself, inside and out. scary and nervous-making, yes. the weight of it is much like the impending doom of a piano dangling over my head, in cartoon-like fashion.

for what mass media requires, i am not skinny enough, pretty enough, compelling or talented enough to sustain a music career. don’t fight me on that, please. i know where i stand, and trust me, i don’t want to BE those things only in order to be considered successful. if i honestly look at my life right now, yes, those are things i want, but for shallow reasons -- to get the boy, to gain the recognition. my heart of hearts knows that i need none of them to accomplish what i want -- the form of expression, the thrill of spilling my heart. it’s complicated even further though, because i’m so terrified of failing at anything i do, that i seem to get paralyzed halfway through doing it. that’s something ingrained in me from childhood. failure was unacceptable for me, even in small ways. trying to break out of what my heart has been conditioned to believe, even though my head knows it’s not true, has been a failure in and of itself.

while the skinny-pretty-compelling-talented line might by true, if i actually get something out of playing shows, spilling my heart (which i do, in an incredible way)... then why let that hold me back? i'm not asking for super-stardom, a record contract, or even paying shows. i just want to express. my heart aches for it, even now. lately, i've been grasping for it in small ways; karaoke at a birthday party, helping a friend lead a group of college kids in song, surrounding myself with musicians and attending shows, finding new music. i've also found myself finally penning lyrics again. sure, i've laid down a line or two in times of complete emotional distress over the past few years, but recently it's been pouring out, so much so that i HAVE to write it into a lyric journal or record a melody into my phone. i haven't formed a whole song yet, by any means, but i have a dozen different places to start.

ultimately, it all comes down to shifting my measure of success and failure. i don’t desire to be a professional musician. i desire to be an artist. i’ve thought hard about it, and my only real goal is this -- be competent enough in all of my art forms to express myself however i currently see fit. yes, i want to get back onstage with my own original material, and play just one completed new song live before the end of the year, but that’s kind of a sub-goal. the most important part is to work on on becoming a better artist, a better person. maybe i won’t meet society’s definition of success when it comes to any of my art, but as long as i’m not actually held back by myself, then it’s not a failure. so, off to my piano lesson -- here's hoping it'll be better under my fingers, than over my head.

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