"When she started to play, Steinway himself came down personally and rubbed his name off the piano." -- Bob Hope, on comedienne Phyllis Diller
I can't say I always loved music, I really discovered it on another level as a teen, but then I was hooked and deep. Music suddenly seemed the most important voice in my heart, the most authentic, the truest, the most "me". I could suddenly hear the voices of the ages expressing profoundly my fears, joys and innermost thoughts. Then the dilemma. How could I learn to "speak" this language that I felt so close to?
When I tried to suddenly "become" a musician, I was 16, had no instrument, no encouragement, no reason to think I had "talent", only a deep love and fascination, as if I had grown up with the girl next door and suddenly fallen in love. I could understand and feel everything she said, but could not reciprocate, only admire, not engage, only listen, not create, only watch and wish. So I tried to learn. I rented a saxophone, and got some books, and tried to figure out the fingerings, and make some music. My siblings begged me not to play, I resorted to playing with a sock stuffed in the bell of the horn and inside the closet of my bedroom. Still they threatened to call the ASPCA, as they were sure they were preventing the torture of some poor cat.
Someone stole that saxophone, and I put those dreams on the shelf for a few more years. Finally in college, I got the courage to try again, this time my girlfriend was the one putting the damper on my practice and dreams. By then I had bought a sax again, and hit the same roadblocks, even taking private classes, but very discouraged, the gap between my feelings and the music I could actually play was so large.
What was a breakthrough for me was seeing the Preservation Hall Jazz Band play in the French Quarter in New Orleans. I looked at those guys, in their 70s and 80s, and saw how they lit up and became young again when they played, and did a little math. I was 20, they were 80, that gave me about 60 years to practice, even I must be able to learn to play in that time. I decided to try again, but as a private, spiritual quest, not for fame, fortune or even to get a girlfriend (it had the opposite effect for a long time).
I transferred to a new school, SIU Carbondale, and decided to just start taking music classes as electives. Now studying music in an actual music school might sound like a better plan, but realize this, every single other person in every class had years if not more then a decade more experience than me. The gap I had felt in my heart was now public, and with the exception of my piano teacher, who was extraordinary, most of the other teachers were tired old musicians who hated their destiny and jobs, and still looked at music as a kind of drop quiz from hell.
I won't go through the varied, petty and mean things said to me by fellow students and most teachers, but I felt supremely inadequate most of the time, and ashamed of my lack of basic skills, and so I recognize this shame whenever I see it, identify with it, and feel real compassion for people who feel that. What is interesting is that it is a bit like beauty in a woman, it does not matter how good a musician or how beautiful the woman, somehow, some way, someone made that person feel inadequate and not good enough, and they feel insecure, and shame about some thing that is wonderful about them.
I see this every time I demonstrate the Piano Wizard game, in fact I look for people that gave up, that feel music is never going to be a part of their lives, at least as a participant. These people don't start the game at zero, they start at negative 50. Sometimes the shame is vague and non-specific, but often they can remember exactly who humiliated them, when, where and how. It was usually a teacher, a parent, a fellow student, a sibling, or all of the above, but that delicate flower of musical ambition never stood a chance.
It still gives me goosebumps to turn that vision around for people, in just a few moments, and suddenly those brick walls turn into rows of green lights. That flip of the conventional wisdom, that opening of doors to years of joy, still rocks my world, and is why we have never given up, in the face of a pretty tough row to hoe in this economy. Because this gift I have been given is the gift I have to give, it is my destiny, and duty in a way. After all, I received the gift of music almost against all odds, how can I not pay it forward?
Having a product to sell is one thing, but this post is not about that. It is about pointing a way, and encouraging you to go for it, no matter what tools you use or teachers you find.
I am lucky enough to have married my soul mate, but I have no prescription or plan for anyone else to find theirs. But when it comes to music, I can and do try and help people realize that it is not only possible to learn to play music with ease and grace, but it is also their birthright.
Our game obviously helps dramatically in the first phases, acting like a kind of training wheels for the piano, but the computer is also non-judgmental, ever patient, always there, and ready to go as far and as wide as you would like to.
The soul mate I would like to introduce to everyone on the planet to is their own musical soul, their own creativity, their own tools and comfort to express the things there are no words for, either alone in their room or together with their friends.
We unfortunately live in a very competitive society, and I personally think that things like piano competitions are more damaging than not, but I lived in Brazil for many years, and there music is not only considered a birthright, but a joy to be shared with your friends, a game everyone can play, even just a little, and one that is better the more who play. "The more the merrier" is really talking about music.
So my request and encouragement to all of you, is to take on music as a personal, spiritual, joyful hobby or project, with patience, perseverance, and good humor, and realize it is a bit like any language, and we only get fluent by speaking or playing. I have traveled the world as well, speak about 3 other languages well, another 3 badly, and can swear in a few more, but what I realized is that in order to master a foreign language you must make about 10,000 mistakes.
The shyer you are, the more you hold back, the less you learn. Books will only take you so far, we learn best by doing, so get busy and make those mistakes as quickly and consistently as you can, being content to move gradually to fluency, first on limited topics, then expand your repertoire of notes, rhythms, chords, songs and sounds, and make it your own.
Find the yin and yang of dissonance and consonance, of expectation and deviation, of pattern and variation, and let your soul be its own partner in the dance of music and life.
Be gentle with each other, and avoid the cruel, the thoughtless, but above all, don't be ashamed. We are all somewhere on the learning curve, and the fruit is there, if we persist and move forward. Having been on the outside looking in, I can tell you with all honesty that learning to play an instrument changed my life, on a DNA level, dramatically for the better, and while I am not the master musician I would love to be, I can appreciate and partake of that conversation, or have one with myself, and it is among the great joys in my life.
Be brave, the words and judgments are only stopping you if you let them, and I can honestly say that they were all wrong, you CAN play, and music can be a language you can be fluent in, and it only grows with you your whole life long.
Best. Garden. Ever. Plant it now, and just keep weeding, watering and pruning, and it will bring you joy for sure and forever.
"Knowledge takes no space, is portable and renewable." -Ricardo Faleiros
Invest in your self.