As is typical of Asian children, I was given a choice … play the piano or nothing really. It wasn’t really a choice, more another chore that would continue for a decade and a half.
In that time, I was relentlessly pounded into submission by the same style of music. Classical.
Mozart this. Beethoven that. Hayden who? Bach what? Chopin where? Debussy how?
An endless slog of scales, chromatic or arpeggio, and constant rote learning of songs.
For a improvised individual such as myself, it was bloody boring work. Of course, hindsight is 20/20 and I can look back and say that, despite my horrible teaching methods, I actually turned out OK.
I could hold a tune, well enough until I hit Grade 7 in music, which in Australia is the 2nd highest away from proper professional playing. Had I preserved, I probably would have graduated with a diploma in music playing and enough to kickstart a music career.
But I wasn’t interested. My fingers had already become slender, thin and nimble after years of playing, and they were sick of banging on the same keys, on the same damnable upright piano. Playing the piano was a chore, a grubby feeling akin to a dancing monkey and I knew that my heart resented this skill instead of endorsing it.
So I called it quits. Walked away from the piano altogether. But to this day, my fingers still “phantom play” keys and occasionally I get this feeling to let my fingers across the keys once more.
But the rust had truly settled in and every time I think I might derive some pleasure out of piano playing, I get this strange feeling of Stockholm syndrome.
There was only ever one time where I felt proper exhilaration playing the piano and it wasn’t even on a damn piano, but an electronic keyboard.
It was at high school.
For an assignment, we were told to get into bands and practice a popular song. Due to my prowess with a piano, I was snatched up by two groups. One of which was a true “students in high school trying their best” experience and the other was a much more talented rock group that had big ambitions in music.
The rock group was an experience I had never felt before. They could somehow read each other’s minds, dip in and out of each other’s solos and could make playing a song an absolutely fun, technical and adrenaline-soaked experience. They were just so professional and in sync with each other, that I was really looking forwards to debuting their work in front of the school.
What was fascinating about our classroom, was that the entire front side of the door could be opened up and the entire school could arrive at lunchtime to listen to us play, thus giving us a live audience.
I forget what song we played, but it was here, that my music teacher gave me something completely new.
He gave me my first ever taste of jazz.
Showing me a jazz scale, he showcased how you could play that scale in any order and it would sound brilliant.
I became obsessed. Finally … a chance to experiment and be free of the rigid confines of someone else’ genius. Here I was in control of the sound, of the music and the order, speed and feeling of the tune.
Mozart couldn’t dictate the tune. Beethoven couldn’t tell me to be pianissimo here or forte there. Hayden couldn’t show me how to stretch my fingers. Bach couldn’t bore me with his endless Baroque scales’ variants. Chopin had zero input in what feeling I should be having whilst playing his song and Debussy especially could not tell me how many times I had to mess up his song and try again.
At last, freedom. I was unhinged. Freed from a cage.
I still love jazz to this day, because of the freedom it provides for improvisation and player’s skill.
In the concert, I managed to feel an incredible rush as I blurred 2 jazz scales together and kept my solo going for a solid minute and a half, before coming off that high and settling back into the song with a nod from the bass guitarist.
That experience I had, was the one time where I considered a music career.
I also knew that I wanted to be a part of a band, not a solo act.
That fact alone is what stopped me from pursuing a proper musical career. I didn’t know anyone else who loved jazz like I did, much less people who enjoyed less sexy instruments like trumpets, saxophones or clarinets.
Had I pursued the path of a musician, I would have specialised in jazz.
I love the idea of performing jazz in a darkly lit jazz bar in my hometown, sipping on cocktails and whiling away the night with music that I loved.
In particular, I wanted to master many different forms of jazz, from blues, to swing, to nu-jazz and really just sell my improv skills.
I have a big affinity for rock & roll, but I know that I would probably be happiest playing jazz.
Talking about it now, does make me want to pick up the piano again. Perhaps when the desire becomes a need, I’ll probably seek out a jazz teacher to get up to speed, so that I can practice on my own, at my own pace.
I’m at that age now, where my body can keep pace with my desire to learn things in a mature, rewarding way. I’m no longer really content whiling away hours on a video game, when I could be learning new skills to impress … mostly myself.
I like doing things, because I can do something.
I don’t regret quitting my piano training early, nor do I really obsess over the idea of becoming a musical performer.
But I do like the idea of being able to play for myself. That is what was missing in all my younger years of piano playing … actual enjoyment behind the skill. Perhaps if the system wasn’t so rote, and dull, I might have a bigger musical career.
Nowadays, I mostly collect music. Nothing fancy like records, or CDs, but endless hoarding of mp3 files found for free on the internet. My Itunes library is staggeringly large, with over 132 days worth of songs, and the library only grows larger every day due to the constant downloads of soundtracks.
I may not have even seen the movie, and yet if it intrigues me, I’ll download it.
Due to my childhood restrictions, I truly enjoy all forms of music, from Christian Heavy Metal to Synth-Pop. There hasn’t ever really been a genre of music, where I haven’t derived some type of pleasure from it.
Do I occasionally dream of performing before a crowd?
I think I have that dramatic nature in me, whether it’s amateur acting or impromptu musical acts. I like being before a crowd and seeing how they react to my siren call. I’ve never feared the crowd or gotten stage fright.
In a lot of ways, despite my quiet nature, I do crave the spotlight often and that desire only intensifies when I know I am good at something.
Music was something I was good at. I perhaps had a bit of natural talent for it, despite my own audio disabilities.
It would be a shame, if I never reached back and at least learnt to harness it for myself.
But we all have callings that we ignore, because they were never really suited for us. In a lot of ways, I think when we were designed as people, there is always an extra talent in us, that likes to be dormant.
No-one out there is talentless. We all have some myriad of skills in one way or another. Some hands are made to heal blood, whilst others are designed to strike through bone.
Mine were perhaps made to float across keys … but instead I dedicated them to a different type of key movement. The one you read now, as I write, write and write some more.
Typing is what they’re most suited for now.
Wasteful isn’t it?
To that I say … Astra inclinant, sed non obligant.
The stars incline us, they do not bind us.