I've been debating whether to write anything about this here, both because it's intensely personal and because I feel like I've mostly processed it at this point. But I'd like to have it down in something resembling a narrative; I'm slowly accepting that musicianhood is a fundamental chunk of my identity. (Which is something that anyone who's known me a while - especially while I'm in the throes of learning a new instrument - could have told me, but that I'm only really processing in chunks. Ah, self-discovery.) It feels like the real question, though, is where to start. As with most thorny questions of identity, past and present are all knotted together, and untangling them is difficult.
I think I'll start with a bit of common narrative advice, and begin as close to the end as possible.
So, last week I bought an electric piano. Nothing fancy, just a Casio Privia, a line known for being a solid choice for beginners. (The other strong contender was a Yamaha - it had a slightly warmer and fuller sound - but the Privia line has scaled weighted hammers attached to the keys to make it feel far more like an acoustic piano; the mechanical resistance on the Yamaha just felt mushy by comparison. Plus the Yamaha was finished in a high-gloss coat that attracted fingerprints and dust like whoa.) Slight brag: I was originally going to buy the entry-level keyboard
for $500, but Guitar Center had the electric piano version
(same footprint as the keyboard, but with a built-in stand with pedals and a fancy cover to slide down over the keys) for $600 because the new model had just come out. I inquired about it, and the only one they had left was the floor model...so they gave it to me for $560. Sold!
I got it home and set it up in the spare bedroom, and made arrangements with my pianist friend for lessons. I even did a little refreshing on the basics via YouTube, no problem. And then I went to write about it here in my blog, and all my paralyzing ambivalence about music began to kick in - to use the metaphor from Come As You Are
, I could feel my flock of birds start to wheel about in different directions. Rather than try to push through or ignore the feeling like I usually do, I took the book's advice and began listening to each bird (i.e. my assumptions and experiences and values) and writing out what it had to say. Some particularly relevant ones:
--I love music. I love making music. I love learning music. It's right up there with bodywork and storytelling as things I'd say are fundamental to my identity. "Musician" is one of the few role descriptors that's felt right to me for my entire life.
--To become a real musician, I have to go through years of rigorous training, with teachers who berate and humiliate me until everything I play/sing is perfect.
--Becoming a real musician requires hours of disciplined practice every single day. Scales, drills, repetitions. Each new song needs to be completely perfect before it's ever performed.
--Performing in front of a live audience is one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences in my life.
--Real musicians are always hustling. Gigs are few, good-paying gigs even fewer. The only way to make a living at music is to be poor and constantly working, traveling to work, or practicing.
--Following from the above assumptions, being a real musician is both amazing and absolutely miserable.
--The only worthwhile way to be a musician is to be a "real" musician; otherwise you're just a hobbyist and a dabbler and you'll never actually be any good.
--Fun is completely incidental to music. If you're having a good time jamming with friends or trading techniques, this is nice but not real musicianship.
Yeah, can any of you tell that my mother was classically trained? :P
As with most such sets of assumptions, these are of course ridiculous and contradictory when written out. But I'm not sure I can convey exactly how much emotion I had invested in them. To borrow another metaphor from Come As You Are
(for a book about sexuality I'm seeing an awful lot of personal value from the non-sexy bits), these plants were pretty deeply rooted in my mental garden - some from my own experiences, a lot from the messages I got growing up with my mother and her own ambivalence towards musicianship. Pulling them up was fraught, to say the least; I spent about twenty minutes simultaneously crying and laughing with fear and rage and relief and anger and amusement at the sheer ridiculousness of all of it. It was more than a little terrifying - at one point I wanted to put my fist through the wall. I never get that angry!
I think, on some level, part of the fear was/is that pulling up those plants (i.e. facing these assumptions and letting myself feel the associated emotions) would mean that I'd no longer have any desire to pursue music - without that internal pushback, would I still have any kind of passion for it? It's a little early to tell, but I don't think
that's the case; I'm still practicing, albeit at my basic fifteen-minutes-a-day level. (It's not hours of discipline, but I've seen real results with it. I got to be quite a competent guitarist by setting a rule that I had to play fifteen minutes each day, and if I felt like doing more, great.) I'm hoping that, now that I've pulled up this particularly stubborn patch, I'll have an opportunity to replace it with positive assumptions and experiences. (There's no reason someone who plays as a hobby isn't a 'real' musician! Jamming with friends is 'real' music! Even if I never perform professionally and just play for friends, that's still a worthwhile endeavour!) But at the very least, I don't feel that paralyzing sense of self-hatred and fear anymore when I think about how much I still have to learn, or how I might go about pursuing music in the future. And that feels like a big step in the right direction.
On a related note (haha), I'm thinking about getting some kind of music-themed tattoo - sort of a promise to myself that I'm a 'real' musician, even without classical training or a performing career. Have you seen any particularly interesting designs? Tell me about them!