Published 11:30 am Thursday, February 1, 2024
I grew up playing piano. Ten years of lessons, from age eight to 18.
Somewhere in between, though, I wouldn’t say I became less interested in music. . . I just picked up a new craft. About six years into piano, I wrote my first book, which triggered a whole new fascination––a new preoccupation, if you will––that took my focus off music and onto words.
Don’t get me wrong, I still played piano, took my weekly lessons, and, if I can say so myself, I was pretty darn good. My performance of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata First Movement even made a woman cry at a recital once.
Throughout my musical years, I used to walk down to my neighbor’s house and play a few pieces for her. This 98-year-old woman, who played piano herself, would sit in the chair beside her baby grand, close her eyes and listen to me play (and mess up).
Her name was Mrs. Burch, and she was also a writer. With age, however, her fingers could hardly allow her to play piano, and due to her eyesight she couldn’t read the notes, much less the words in her own books. By the end of her life, she had to give up her crafts altogether. Every time I walked to my mailbox, though, I’d still tilt my ear toward her house to try and hear her playing.
I’d seen her in the hospital some time before she died, and I starkly remember standing over her bed, wearing some athletic clothes that I’d thought made me look like a normal teenager. Uncomfortable in my phase of trying to dress normally, I recall that I had hoped Mrs. Burch wouldn’t think I looked like a regular girl.
She had said in her frail voice, cracked with age and fatigue, “Are you still playing piano?”
The truth was that I was on my second novel and hadn’t practiced piano all week. My mom nodded at me to say “yes,” though I already knew.
“Yes, still playing,” I’d told her.
“Good,” she had responded.
She passed away some time later, and I didn’t wear those clothes again. I’m not sure why what I was wearing matters to the story, but there’s a message in there somewhere.
I’m almost 25 now, and throughout the past seven years of being an author instead of a pianist, I’ve passed by several pianos. I’ve seen them on the streets of Atlanta, in coffee shops and antique stores, and yeah, I hit a few keys, but I’m not the pianist I used to be. I mess up, a lot.
I could go into how I went to college for music but chose writing instead, and how a music professor told me I’d never measure up to the department’s standards, and how, after years of rejection, I found my path as an author who can find her books on a shelf at Barnes and Noble now.
But I won’t. If you look closely, there’s a message in there somewhere.
Because growing means missing notes. Missing the beaten path and going off on your own. Choosing one craft over the other and hiking until you’ve made it to the top.
I’m still learning that I can’t be everything to everybody, and while I’m finding that to be true in my little life of words, I’ll be wearing the clothes that make me. . . me.