His hands danced across the piano, each stroke of the keys pure impromptu. In his spastic yet somehow systematic performance, I doubt that even he knew where he was going. I was completely mesmerized by him.
The day before I moved up to UCF, my best friend of nine years and I took the plunge and decided to get matching tattoos together. We had spent months sending each other ideas and drawing them on ourselves, but there was a part of me that always thought it would just remain a fever dream. I never really thought that we would actually get tattoos together, but we beelined to the shop a week after my eighteenth birthday and walked out with identical designs: an eighth note on my wrist and an eighth note on her ankle.
The chaos in my world has always overwhelmed me; I’ve never liked loud noises. As a toddler, I clasped my hands over my ears on the Fourth of July and forbade balloons from my birthday parties. The only kind of noise I ever permitted as a small child was music. I got sensory overload a lot, but there was almost always a CD player nearby that could calm me down. When I was scared at night, my dad or brother would come and sit down next to my bed and let their calloused fingers pluck at guitar strings until I fell asleep. My days were filled with the sound of my mom humming James Taylor songs and my brother practicing classical guitar behind his door. I started playing the piano when I was five and singing when I was eight. Music has always been a part of my life, but it has always been a complicated relationship.
My brother was an otherwordly talent, a natural prodigy at guitar. I could listen to him pick at songs for hours without getting bored, and it only got better once he started to sing. He opened my eyes to the world of music when I was only seven or eight, and getting to share that passion with somebody was a gift that I will always cherish. We could spend hours cooped up together, working out arrangements for songs that only we would ever hear. He taught me how to harmonize and would encourage me when I practiced the piano. My mom was always a tough audience; any mistakes were met with harsh criticism that would leave me holding my hands over my ears until her noise stopped. My brother was never like that with me. He was kind, patient, quiet, and he reminded me that playing the piano and singing was supposed to be fun. I was performing for myself, not for the entertainment of anybody else.
My brother was the first to leave, and my house got quieter and louder all at once. When he left for college, he stole away his laughter and the days spent driving over the Indiantown Bridge and down Beach Road, singing Jason Mraz as he would take his hands off the steering wheel and drive with his knees. I was ten when he left for college, and with him went the safety and warmth I had always felt in my house. Screaming matches between my parents and my sister outside of my room replaced my brother’s music. Watching my family unravel while trying to navigate middle school wasn’t easy, and music was the only thing that made me feel sane during that time in my life.
Luckily for me, music was everywhere. I attended a magnet school specifically tailored for students who excelled in the arts. I had at least one chorus class a day and delved even further into music theory, beyond what a few years of piano had taught me. From 6th grade until I graduated high school, I was surrounded by some of the most talented musicians and artists I will probably ever meet. Some of my most formative experiences came from this time in my life. I found myself completely entranced by the girl who sat behind me on the bus after I’d watched her flute solo during my chorus concert; she was probably the first girl I ever had a crush on. Being in a position where I got to see individuals who were truly passionate about their art was such an amazing experience, but I found myself becoming disenfranchised with singing by the time I was fourteen. Everything was a competition, and if I wasn’t the best, then why was I even singing in the first place? Why continue playing piano when there was always going to be somebody better than me?
I quit taking piano lessons when I was fifteen and I switched out of the vocal program at my high school. I’ve never thought much about it, but looking back, I realize that I fell out of love with music right after my parents announced that they were splitting up. I turned to writing instead. My writing notebooks were significantly easier to protect and keep to myself. They were something entirely private, a part of me that nobody else was able to witness unless I allowed them to. With singing and playing piano, it was slightly more difficult to keep it to myself, and I no longer wanted to share it with anybody. I was tired of being compared to the other singers in my department. I was tired of practicing piano for hours and getting too frustrated with myself to ever get anywhere. I never had the opportunity to play music solely for my own enjoyment. My art always had to be good enough for somebody else. With each passing year, music lost more of its magic in my life. When the curtains closed, I was never happy with anything that I achieved.
But, I still couldn’t escape it. I spent (and still spend) at least three hours a day with my headphones in. My mom’s presence in our house became a more rare occurrence as the years went by, and I found myself absent-mindedly stroking the keys of the piano. Without the pressure that she always put on me, I could completely escape into a melody for a few minutes at a time. Even when I wasn’t actively pursuing music education, it still wormed its way into my everyday life. Singing and playing the piano was, and always will be, my passion — and passion is not so easily discarded. No amount of self-doubt could effectively remove music from my life.
I was captivated by her the moment her hands drew the bow across her violin. I could close my eyes and listen to his low voice sing along to John Denver for hours. I find myself falling in love with people and the beauty that they can produce.
For the first time in almost four years, I sat in front of my crappy $50 keyboard last night and ran through my old scales. I warmed up with easy pieces that I played as a kid and tried my hand at sight-reading. For a full hour, I practiced the way that I used to, and it felt like coming home. There is something so enchanting about doing something you genuinely love for nobody’s pleasure but your own. I do it for no one but me, and I am happier with what I create because of it. I hope that now I have grown enough to live a life where I let my love for my art engulf me, and I can steer my mind away from my own fears of inadequacy.