Messy and complicated
College life from behind the keyboard
This constant state of uncertainty reminds me of when I took piano lessons. As amazing as it feels to finally get a piece right, sometimes the best part about music is what’s in between the start and finish: all the time you spend not knowing and trying to figure it all out.
My favorite part about playing piano is beginning a new piece. I sit down and open the music, folding back the glossy cover, creating a crease that will grow deep and wear with time. I never allow myself to look at the ending — that would be like reading the ending of a book before you have even begun. I take a breath and dive in.
When I work through a new piece for the first time, the first few notes are sometimes a little shaky, and the sound comes out wobbly and unsure. But I don’t let this distract me, and I keep moving through the song. I play slowly, wading through the notes and relishing each one. Some sections are full of dissonance, while others line up in perfect harmony.
While playing through a portion of the piece, I am still not entirely sure where the song is headed. I don’t yet know whether it will change keys or how it will end. As I continue to play, I get a sense of what the composer intended — though I sometimes misjudge, getting to a chord and thinking it is the answer to everything, only to have the song shift directions in the next few beats.
I frequently miss notes and form chords incorrectly. The rhythm is sometimes off, and it is often only after I play a certain measure that I realize I should have shaped it differently or altered the rhythm slightly. I get lost, but I never look back or pause in the name of complete accuracy.
Ultimately, my initial renditions of songs are messy. Some of the notes are broken, but it is this version which sounds the most beautiful to me. This raw beauty exists only in that first play through — after I practice, the sound becomes smoother and more routine. The way I play becomes more intentional, shaped by what I think it should sound like or by what my piano teacher tells me I need to fix.
As I perform the finished piece, I find myself missing the mystery and messiness of the first time I laid eyes on the music. The sound was imperfectly perfect.
Throughout my entire life, and especially in the past year, I have found I am the happiest when I am lost — when I just wander and stop worrying about making every thing in my life go smoothly. I would rather spend my life making mistakes and failing while taking risks than never straying from the beaten path.
Sometimes, I just need to get lost and stumble through life — or through a song — and let the notes tell me where to go.
Abby’s column runs biweekly Wednesdays. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.