Music and Me: A Story of Love, Hate, and Redemption
By Lady J
The story my parents tell me is that as my mother was in graduate school, one of her professors saw my two year old fingers and said I have piano hands. They wanted me to have a skill to hone anyhow, so why not piano? Fast forward to age 4 and Girl J is seated at a piano for her first lesson. I loved music AND receiving praise (still do!) so I practiced what I was told with little drama. My concert debut was that October and my Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star opened to rave reviews. I suppose that I was more motivated to practice by myself (INFJ hayyyyyy) and get the applause by myself, so my parents allowed me to quit my dance lessons soon after. I am told that when I was 7, I told them that I didn’t remember asking for lessons. I can only assume that this was around the time when I began learning scales. 🙂
Other than having to practice technique, life as a beginning pianist was good. Practice. Go to lessons. Go to the mall afterward. Perform. Get the claps. Lather, rinse, repeat.
By now, I was starting to delve into more advanced piano literature – you know, stuff by the guys civilians have heard of – Beethoven, Bach, et al. I struggled but I loved the payoff. So much so that I told my piano teacher at the time that I thought I wanted to study music in college.
I started entering competitions, which I LOATHED. Sometimes I would win, sometimes I would lose, but the glory of winning did not compare to the shame of losing. Normal teenage foolish thought. As much as competing sucked, the music was boss. I spent two high school summers at piano camp and was inspired to practice 4-6 hours daily. Long before I ever experienced runner’s high, I was having musicgasms (Chopin was my first, thanks boo) and wanted to learn more and more. Though performing made me nervous, I knew I had a stage presence worth watching and talent worth hearing and the payoff was worth it. More notes brought more claps. Bring it. High school graduation brought on my piano performance majorness.
Practicing 4 hours a day for funsies in the summer as opposed to practicing 4 hours a day all the time to avoid getting your ass kicked by your professor. Entirely different game. I remember frequent conversations with my high school teacher telling her how burnt out I felt, wondering if I belonged there. I knew I loved playing, but I didn’t quite feel like I fit in with the other performance majors. My professor saw it too and encouraged me to switch majors – incidentally, to music education, but we’ll get to my twenties later. 😉 I
had caused a car accident my sophomore year which prevented me from practicing as much and had to delay my sophomore jury by a semester. I felt like I was making it by the skin of my teeth. Not so comfortable for the overachiever that I had always been.
About that tendency to overachieve – junior year comes along, which meant it was time to start thinking about graduate school. I took piano pedagogy classes for the first time and was really enjoying them. I also learned that that path would allow me to both study teaching and performance, which appealed to me. The music ed people seemed like they were not into performing. The performance people seemed out of touch with reality. A middle way! I made it out of college with my performance degree and accepted into a pedagogy program. Off I go to learn more about how much I don’t know yet!
Sooooo I kinda had a meltdown in graduate school. Big. Time. Essentially because I thought I knew things then I realized I didn’t. And every time I turned around there was something else I didn’t know. Looking back, I know now that it was because I had laid my foundation on how good I was at stuff. Not too solid, especially at bloody 20. I needed that meltdown. I can’t say that I have ever been a cocky person, but my knowledge/playing ability definitely isn’t something I should be taking to the bank like I take God’s faithfulness. By His grace, in 2 years I had a master’s degree in pedagogy. Naturally, the glutton for punishment that I am, I went on for a doctorate.
When I started the Doctor of Musical Arts program, I had wanted another pedagogy degree, but the school decided to eliminate the program. I was given the choice to pursue performance or accompanying. Accompanying? Other people? Bump that! Why don’t I do performance? My original pursuit? I could handle it. Even though it made me MISERABLE in undergrad. Yeah, Joan, why don’t you do something you disliked at about 57204720274820 times the intensity? Makes perfect sense.
This did not go well.
I was VERY unhappy. A lot of people pissed me off. No worries, I pissed them off too. I made some poor decisions and found myself with a choice to leave school or get a second master’s degree – in music education. By this time, I had stopped swearing off classroom teaching and it seemed like an option I would enjoy. Coming out would mean alternative certification and feeling like a failure. Not. An. Option.
I switched degree programs. Was I happy? Nope. I didn’t trust many people, so I found myself very lonely. Go to class. Come home. Eat. Write. Intern. Blah. I enjoyed the coursework, but looking back now I wish I would have opened up more. I was around some really great people that I’m thankful I still get to be in touch with professionally. I made it, and off to the workforce I went. I got a job in elementary music, just as I had wanted, very close to where I grew up. Three degrees and nine years later, it was time for Homecoming. Perfect.
New job. You already know. Feelings of inadequacy All. Day. But you know what?
It wasn’t until I stopped seeing performance as my vocation that I embraced myself as a pianist.
Ass backwards, perhaps. I feel that teaching is my therapy, in many ways. I spend upward of 50 hours a week telling students the things that I am still working to internalize as a student of life. I see them play and grow and love what they are doing and it has helped me to appreciate what I love to do. I tell them to own the fact that they are musicians and dammit, I don’t want to be two-faced. If they should embrace their bad ass Minuet in F, I should embrace my Waldstein Sonata. Seeing them reminds me that it is okay to be a work in progress. I’m a – music sharer. I own that proudly.
Today, I showed a video of an excerpt Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 to my Kindergarteners. I asked them what they thought. A girl raised her hand and told me she was mad. “Why are you mad?” I asked. “I loved it. I’m mad that you turned it off.” I get paid to share joy with people. That’s blessed, y’all.
Our Silver Anniversary
When it comes to my passions, I’m a bit of a tramp. Some people are happy doing one sport. I like three. Some people are happy only teaching or performing. I need both. I’ve decided the best way I can honor my relationship with music is to give a recital. You’ll note that there is a date on my calendar that is not a race. I’m looking forward to a throwback summer of hours of practicing – now mixed in with hours of triathlon training. Not gonna lie, irrespective of how I sound, I’m going to look bloody fantastic.
My hope is that after 25 years, I will finally be able to share my love with the world without apology.