Today's Thankful Project prompt: A talent you have.
Whenever I'm asked about my talents, piano comes to mind. I started taking lessons when I was eight years old with a professional music academy a few towns away. My mom said that I was always singing when I was younger and it was clear that I had an early love for music. If you ask my husband, he'll tell you that is still true!
My first teacher was Sonya. I remember lesson after lesson in her basement studio, and I remember even more the knot in my stomach before each lesson if I hadn't practiced well or wasn't prepared. I was classically trained and my teachers were hard core. I was supposed to practice at least 45 minutes a day, and that was when I first started taking lessons at eight. The requirement got progressively longer each year! They were training me for a profession in music, not just to play for enjoyment. I remember days where I'd dread practice time. We were home-schooled and my mom scheduled it into our school day curriculum. I would do everything I could to avoid practice time, purposely create distractions during it, and love when I could convince my mom to let me skip today's practice if I could double up tomorrow.
I can't count the number of recitals I've played in. Before each one I'd be a nervous wreck and always compare myself to the other students...more serious than I am, more dedicated that I am, more talented. When it was my turn, I would pray the entire way down to the stage that I wouldn't trip and fall on my face in front of a hundred or more people. I would walk to the piano, turn to face the audience hands at my side, shoot a glance at my teacher, and bow before taking a seat at the bench. You never just sat down and played. You always adjusted the bench, either forward or back or up or down. We were required to play by memorization and never had music with us on stage. My biggest fear was that I would lose track of where I was in a song and not be able to recover if I messed up or missed a few measures.
Once my skill level improved, I was able to widen my horizons. I began playing in church for special music and offering time and grew more comfortable with performing. There are a few things I never worked hard enough to get down pat, and sight-reading is one of them. I can read music, obviously, but I cannot just open a piece I've never seen before and play it through. It takes just as much work for me to learn a piece as it did when I was a teenager. It was around sixteen that I decided I was done with training this way. I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life, I was burnt out and lazy, and finally grasped on to the little bit of freedom I felt to make the decision.
During my time off, I realized I wanted to go back. I had decided I would be a music teacher and knew I needed guidance in my last year of high school to be able to be accepted to a school of music. Sonya, my first teacher, was booked, so I began lessons with a teacher who had just recently moved from New Mexico. I enjoyed my lessons with her and we prepared my audition pieces until the month before my first semester of college. I had decided on Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee and after making a trip down with my mom to audition, I was accepted. It was so exciting to get that acceptance letter in the mail.
Looking back on my time at Lee, I realize now that I hadn't made as much progress as I should have made, and that my ability to pass an audition really didn't correctly quantify where I was skill-wise. I was taking collegiate lessons, learning advanced music theory under brilliant professors, surrounding myself with talented peers, but I wasn't making progress with my piano skills. It was discouraging. One, because I was still reverting back to my old habits of putting off practice and being lazy when I did make it to the practice room. And two, because I felt stuck in that rut. I struggled with wondering if it all boils down to the work you put in, or if some of it is just purely God-given talent.
It was a really hard first year of college. I suffered from depression, didn't reach out to anyone, stayed holed up in my room, was not thriving in my classes and lessons, and dealt with feelings of failure. Looking back, I also lacked maturity to be able to pull myself out of that. I didn't have the same passion I had once had for music, and after giving a third semester a try when I transferred to Liberty, I decided that while I wasn't good enough or committed enough to play professionally, I also didn't want to be a music teacher. It was a hard transition to make, formally changing my degree. Music had been a part of what felt like my entire life, and I had to work through feelings of disappointing not only myself, but others as well.
Since then, my musical ability has changed and morphed into something different. I've veered from having to focus on classical and have taught myself improvisation and some worship style playing. I've found that I really enjoy playing in church when the opportunity presents itself, but my technical and theory limits hinder me even in that arena. I still break out my old music books and either play old songs or try to learn new ones. My sight-reading hasn't gotten much better, and I've forgotten the names of songs and composers I used to play. It's bittersweet. I miss the music culture...the conversations, the lifestyle, the beauty, the respect. It's hard to think about the regrets I have...the laziness, the depression, the feelings.
But there's also a sweetness in being able to look back on the sequences of my life so far and see where I am now as a result of those decisions. I'm able to clearly see the grace of God, that even in what feels like failure, he was able to work and bring about beautiful things. I also am able to see how much of who I am is different because music was and is such a huge part of my life. I learned discipline (even amidst dodging practice times!) and met many diverse people through the academy. Music touches a place in my heart where not many other people or things can go. Understanding music makes me feel a part of something beautiful. And even though my part in that something beautiful might not be what I had once hoped it would be, I'm thankful that music and piano has added such a richness to my life. I've worshiped with my fingers, I've felt invigorated when my hands have touched the keys, I've had musical victories, and I'm thankful that the gift of music has been a blessing in my life.