I am a musician | tryingtobebrave's Blog

There's is nothing I feel more sure about than sitting on a piano bench.  There's something so calming, something so reassuring; sitting on a piano bench, my foot on the pedal, my fingers delicately trilling over the porcelain keys as my eyes read the music.  To me, that is exactly where I belong.  To me, that makes sense.
I love the sounds the piano makes, I love the complexity, I love that the piano can project your mood better than words at times.  I love that I can sit down and play a haunting melody and feel relief because I'm no longer holding back my emotions I've been trying to contain.  I love that I can play something simple, clean, beautiful and feel warm and whole, satisfied and content with feeling those pure things I couldn't describe to myself with words.   
It may sound silly, being so passionate about the piano; but, I am a musician, and the ability to play is getting harder as my disease takes a stronger hold on me; it's made me realize what I might lose in the future: the ability to play the thing I love to play.  
I can't play for hours at a time anymore.  I can barely play everyday, more often than not I have to give myself breaks between the days I play because my arms hurt so much.  Playing complicated pieces with a lot of movement hurts worse and I can barely make it through the song before the pain becomes overwhelming.
Despite this fear that soon my condition will deteriorate to a point where I won't be able to play at all; I've also had greater joy in playing today than I did in the years before.  For example:
I've never been a shy person.  Never.  When I was little my older brothers and sister would dare me to go up to random people and tell them things, and I always did it.  My mom would bring me to her office as a teenager and this man would always come up to me and tell me the story of how mom brought me to her work as a child, he had been sitting on a chair and I just walked up to him, crawled in his lap and started talking to him.  I was an outgoing little girl, and that characteristic followed me up until this day.  
There was one thing that always made me nervous though, always made me clam up and go still, always made my hands clammy and sweaty and stiff and that, dear friends, was playing piano in front of people.  I simply couldn't do it.  At recitals I would be shaking so badly My fingers couldn't push the keys and my leg would be shaking the entire piano.  I would lose my place and mess up and feel like crying.  I didn't have a clue why I got so nervous, but I did.
I was often asked to play songs in church as a sort of special musical number.  I hated it.  I would walk up my hands shaking, through shear force of will I got my hands to stop shaking, but then my legs would start up and there was no way I could control those too but I would just think 'better my legs than my hands' and push on ahead.  I would get about three lines down in the music before my hands would start shaking again.  I remember I always rose from the piano after my song was done with my cheeks blazing scarlet, then I would quickly wipe the sweat from my hands onto my dress or skirt and then clench my hands together tightly so people couldn't see them shaking as I went back to my seat.
People always congratulated me after, and I tried not to be bitter against them.  You know how it is, you feel like you've done bad, so when people tell you that you've done good you think they are either lying or patronizing you.  Maybe you don't think that... maybe that's just me... I haven't a clue how my own brain works, so the odds of me knowing how your brain works too are in the negatives; like double digit negatives.
Anyways, I would go home after those mortifying experiences and just sit at the piano and play the song again and again and again until I got it perfect, wondering why I couldn't play like that in front of people.  I could practice a single song for months, get it perfect every time I played it; but put me on a stage, in front of people and there was no doubt I would mess it up.
Playing the song wasn't even the worst part, the worst part was the waiting to go up to the stage that was the worst part.  I would sit in the audience, clenching my hands together, and no matter how many layers I would wear, it was inevitable that my hands would be like blocks of ice by the time I would have to start walking up to the piano.  That's a strange habit I have I guess, my hands turn cold when I'm nervous, and I shake, I shake a lot; my legs, my hands, my voice.  I would have to sit in that pew and look up at the speaker and try as hard as I could to focus on what they were talking about I couldn't! All I could think about was those few pages of paper sitting on the bench next to me, glinting up at me like they were smiling sadly.  They knew I could play them! Play them beautifully! But they also knew that here, in this setting, that wasn't going to happen, and so they were resigned to the fact that they were about to be played as if by an amateur for all the audience to hear.  They're beautiful notes were about to be smeared by my frantic nerves.        
I would pray silently that the speakers would go on talking, talking right past their allotted time so I wouldn't have my chance to play.  That prayer was never granted.  So horrified and trembling I would pick up my few sheets of paper, stumble out of the pew and into the aisle and walk up to the stage like a prisoner would walk to the guillotine.  
Somehow I would finish the song.  I've never understood how I could, but I always did.  No matter how badly I messed up during the performance, no matter how embarrassed I felt, I always finished.  And I was always mortified at the end of it.  
I swear I would have given up on the piano a long time ago.  Performances were my Achilles heel, they were my chink in my armor, they were my downfall.  So it made no sense that I felt so at peace, so completely comfortable, so totally relaxed whenever I sat at my piano bench at home.  I was like polar opposites of myself.  There was the calm, quiet, confident musician I was when I was playing for myself, and then there was the raging hurricane, natural disaster musician I was when I was playing for other people.  It was like I had a spit personality.  One that only came out when I was performing.  
It took me a long time to figure out when I got so freaked out when I was performing; but, eventually, I did. 
When I'm playing the piano, I let all my guards down.  I live my feelings, which, unfortunately, is something I don't really do in real life.  So, because it's something I don't normally do, it's hard for me to be so vulnerable in front of people, so completely and totally myself, so wrapped up in my own world, in my own emotions and know people can see me while that's happening.  
I'm not the kind of person who can trust easily, I have major deficiencies in that department.  So letting people see me when I play the piano, when all my guards are down is hard.  Very hard.  I didn't use to get that before, but I understand that now.  
I've also come to understand something else.  People don't care if I mess up, it's the act of playing, the act of hearing, the act of feeling they care about.  My putting myself out there just intensifies the feelings they already feel.  I believe in something called God's spirit - the Holy Ghost -, and I have never felt the Holy Ghost more present than when I'm playing the piano in His church.  God doesn't care whether I mess up or not.  If I put myself out there with the goal of having people feel the spirit from the music I'm playing then he'll help people feel that spirit, no matter how poorly I end up playing.  That's why people always congratulated and thanked me after service was over; because they did feel the spirit, and they didn't care that I mess up.
When I play the piano, I give myself over to the music.  That may sound stupid or whatever to you, but for me it makes total sense.  Playing the piano is the only time where I'm completely me, where I'm completely at peace, where I feel like I can do or be anything.  Piano is my outlet - everyone has an outlet whether they know it or not.  For you it might be painting, writing, reading, sports, talking, friends, anything; for me it's piano.  
Recently, playing in front of people hasn't been as bad as it usually is.  I'm not saying it's still not bad, because it is; it's just manageable now.  I can get through a song and feel like it was a good representation of the music instead of just a disaster.  I even played a mini concert for my boyfriends family over Thanksgiving.  I was nervous, and scared, I didn't have music with me so I was doing everything from memory - and normally music is my safety net.  But I did it, I let them see me, I let my guard down; and the best part was, they felt it, and they were grateful for it.

I don't know how much longer I'll be able to play piano.  Because of my Mixed Connective Tissue Disease my hands have already developed early stages of arthritis which means my hand function will continue to deteriorate.  I'm trying to accept that I won't have the ability to use my outlet for very much longer; not nearly as long as I would have wanted.  That doesn't mean I'm going to give it up.  I'm going to play until I can't, and then I'll probably keep playing even then.  I'm going to always remember the feelings I have when I play the piano, and I'm going to find an outlet that lets me feel the things the piano does so that I won't feel lost when I can't play anymore.  I've written a song on the piano, a couple actually, something I never thought I would have accomplished; and I've recorded them so I'll always be able to listen to my songs, and the passion that I put into them.  
I am a musician; and I will always be a musician no matter what.    


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