About a year ago, I found a post on Facebook from a friend of mine who was selling her piano. Many of you do not know this, but I got a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts (emphasis on piano) from the University of Utah in 1995. I started out as a dual major: piano performance and pre-med. I actually got a scholarship in piano (I’m wondering how that happened, because I listened to my audition tape a year or so ago, after my aunt found it and sent it to me, and although it was good, I wonder how it was good enough because I made a lot of mistakes (really fumbles… but I kept going, so there’s that).
I switched from piano performance to a general degree in Fine Arts after about 3 years, because being a dual major was really pretty stressful and the thought of putting together a senior recital AND studying for the MCAT was causing me quite a lot of anxiety. So much anxiety, that I literally froze performing on stage in front of 50-100 people several times. My piano professor was really understanding and said, “Look. You don’t have to do this. This is not going to be your life’s work. You can still play the piano and enjoy it, get your degree in Fine Arts, and go on with another career in medicine. You don’t have to put so much pressure on yourself.”
So, I took her advice in more ways than one. I switched to the non-performance degree. HUGE relief and weight off of my shoulders! I no longer had to practice 3 hours per day. I no longer had to try and learn the Beethoven piano concerto which was giving me tendonitis. I also no longer had to be pre-med (whoa).
I looked around the medical library one day while I was studying. Looked at the foothills calling to me to go run and hike and ski. I looked at the people there: many of them looking not very happy. I looked at myself and said, “You don’t have to go to med school. You don’t have to take the MCAT.”
And I left for the summer with my mom, who picked me up to drive cross country back to Michigan. I hiked in the Michigan woods, swam in the lake at my cousins’ house, played the piano here and there, and worked at a horse farm. I don’t remember how it actually all played out, but the next summer I worked at a podiatrist’s office. After my last day there at the end of the summer, I was thinking of where I would go and what I would do (more on that later) and I ended up running a red light at an intersection that had just been changed a week or so before. (Previously, there had just been a flashing warning light and cross-traffic was required to stop. Now, it had been upgraded to an intersection that was full-stop for all directions of traffic).
I went home and drank my sorrows into several glasses of wine and a plate of cheese fries, puked it all up, and went to bed crying. A week later, I was off to Germany. I think some of my savings went to fixing the car (which never drove the same way again) and into my pocket for my next adventure: studying in Germany. I stayed there for a year and didn’t touch a piano. After language school in the Fall, my uncle was able to get me a work permit (my dad’s side of the family is German) and I worked in Garmisch as a ski instructor for the winter. I stayed for the following summer, my parents shipped my dog to Germany, and I hiked around with her all summer.
Then it was back to reality: I had applied to nursing school at the University of Utah and would be taking some pre-requisites in the Fall. I decided not to go to med school, because I wanted to be in the medical field, but wanted more time to enjoy the things I loved (mostly being in the mountains and being with my dog, instead of holed up in the medical library studying my ever-enlarging butt away). I flew home to Utah, went to school, and taught skiing that winter. The next decade of my life, I never touched the piano (except for one time when I was visiting my cousins in Michigan and I tried to play a Bach Minuet. My fingers would not work.) It was pretty crazy to think that a few years prior, I was playing in front of 100 people and now I could barely get through something that I had learned how to play in the third grade.
So here I am now, 20 years later. 20 years! My how time flies. I bought the piano that my friend was selling last year, just before Thanksgiving 2015. I have worked my way up from the things I played as a first-grader to pieces of music that I played in high school and early college. Playing the piano is something that, when I get home in the evenings after work, I cannot wait to do. When I was in high school, I would get the urge to practice at around 9 or 10pm, when all of my homework and sports practice and TV-watching was done. It was the bane of my father, who typically went to bed around 8pm and would be woken up by my pounding (I swear, I used the “soft” pedal). Now I can play at 10pm and no one is the wiser.
I regret not having played for so many years, because my mother always told me how much she loved it. How she loved coming home from work in the afternoons and hearing me play. The contentiousness that my practicing created between me and my father, though, was almost too much to bear for many years and is likely the reason why I gave it up for so long. I have felt guilt over the years for having given it up, but relief in a way, too.
Now, both of my parents are long passed away. When I play the piano now, I think that maybe in some way, my mother can hear me and smile. I think that my dad can move to another cloud and not have to listen to me if he doesn’t want to (but I know he will, because he always told his friends how proud he was of me and my brother. He just didn’t tell us to our faces for whatever reason.)
The reaction I get from my pets is pretty amusing as well. I have a couple of elderly dogs who plunk down near me when I am playing. I think, because they have arthritis, that the vibrations from the piano must feel good on their joints. I have one cat who will play with my feet and sit on a chair next to me, pawing at me to get my attention as I am playing. I have another cat, who when I start to play she runs off and hides in another room. She must be the reincarnation of my father. I’m ok with that.