“Music…gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” – Plato

Ah, music. Everything from Tchaikovsky to Britney Spears, from operetta to traditional Japanese song – for as long as I can remember, music has been a constant love in my life and for every memory there is a soundtrack. But for someone who was so long moved by the sounds of instruments, it took me a really long time to decide to learn to play one myself.

I particularly love the piano and have wanted to play ever since I was big enough to reach up and put my fingers on the keys of my mother’s old upright. But we moved a lot while I was growing up, and my parents worked very hard for very little, so it was just never possible for me to have lessons. It was only when I reached my 30’s, that I finally decided to take the plunge.

I was a little nervous at first, and didn’t hold much hope in finding someone who wouldn’t take one look at my heels and highlights, and laugh out loud at the ridiculousness of a grown woman starting a new hobby plonking out ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’.

I had no idea where venturing down this musical path, paved with only vague intention, would take me. I wasn’t sure about grading, how long I would want to learn for or how it would go down with piano teachers who were probably used to teaching primary school students with no hang-ups or inhibitions. But I did have a somewhat geeky fantasy that I would keep going till I could at least play ‘Piano Man’ at dinner parties and have a good old-fashioned sing-along at the drop of a note.

Fortunately, once I’d made the decision to learn, it was quite easy to find the right teacher. I chose someone who offered the choice of private lessons or group classes, as well as contemporary, classical training, or a combination of both.

And so I began the tedious scale’ey process of learning to read and play sheet music. Starting at grade 1, alongside all the other 6 year olds, and feeling at times as though I had bricks for hands and mush for brains, it was a daunting task. My embarrassment was fortunately held at bay, due to the fact that I actually loved every moment.

The beginning was very slow and I was acutely aware that I was basically learning a whole new language. There were moments when I felt quite useless for not being able to just sit down and produce Beethoven’s Fifth, like I imagined most pianists my age would, but I kept reminding myself that they had to start somewhere too.

And, after a while, it all just started to click into place. I learned special little tricks that helped me hit the right notes and train the music into the muscle memory of my fingers. It’s like texting – we learn through repetition and our fingers eventually just do what our brains tell them, almost instinctively without even having to think about it or look at the keyboard.

The one thing I can say for sure? Practice does make perfect. I found that practicing once a day, even if only for a short while, made a significant difference to my next lesson. Similarly, one hectically busy week where I let it slide due to other pressing matters, and I could feel and hear the stagnation in my skill. Being an adult I was able to make myself practice diligently, knowing that I would be wasting time and money – two of my most valuable commodities – if I didn’t put in the work.

sheet-music-engraving

Soon enough I was enjoying playing and learning so much that I wanted to go for official grading to help push myself further – but it wasn’t easy! I was a nervous, panic-attacked wreck before each exam.

Performing for the examiner out from England was a terrifying experience and I never left the room without shaking each time. And the written exams were worse. I was often in a hall filled with all the other students – old enough to their mother! In fact, as one mom dropped off her son, I noticed her looking at me a bit funny. There I was, sitting at the tiny child-like desk, pencil and eraser all neatly laid out… I don’t even want to know what she must have thought of me, or worse still, what all those kids must have thought!

After exams, the next hurdle was to get over my little problem of performance anxiety (think tearful breakdowns and cold sweats). End of year concerts at my music school became the place for me to practice playing in front of others. Mortifying moments ensued with me playing my less than stellar pieces amongst the other students – most of whom were children. Once again I was nervous as hell, intimidated by the obvious difference in my age, but managed to play through each time, even with trembling fingers!

Truthfully, the concerts weren’t all nightmarish finger traps. It was amazing to see the abilities and unique styles of other students. I recall being really impressed by one boy who, even when he made a mistake, didn’t flinch a muscle but barged right on confidently through his piece. I realized that in music, much like life, confidence and presentation are all that really matters. That and knowing what you’re doing of course, which means practice, practice, practice!

Today I’m part of the furniture at my music school. When speaking to parents, they often ask me about learning as an adult, but never with any disapproval – they encourage me rather than snigger at the grown-up playing alongside little children literally half her size.

Even though I always regretted not having the opportunity to learn the piano as a child, I now believe that maybe I’m at an advantage coming into this later in life. I’m old enough to appreciate the privilege it is to learn something so beautiful. I can enjoy the process, feel rewarded when I actually play through a whole song. I take real pride in my examination certificates. I relish a personal achievement every time I learn a new scale, start a new song or play a piece by ear. I can truly savor this thing that is adding so much value to my life – to my soul.

“If music be the food of love, play on.” – William Shakespeare

My plan is to play on, indefinitely.

Live beautifully,

Pami-sign

 

 

 

 

 

* This post was originally published on the Tonic Productions website.