“To be able to perform music for yourself is a wonderful thing.”

Written Saturday, April 16, 2011, while staying with my family.

This morning I’m reading Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami and listening to my brother downstairs playing the piano.

I’ve always been jealous of his skill. I taught myself to play the piano as a kid, and had only a month or two of lessons in high school. I played the piano for hours every day until my second or third year of college, but I kind of reached a certain level of skill that I’ve never been able to get past (and stopped having access to a piano when I moved off campus). I’ve also tried several times to learn to play the guitar, but it never sticks. And when I played the bass clarinet in high school, I was good—but I could have been better if I’d ever bothered to practice.

The problem was that I never could practice. I would take my bass clarinet home, play through a couple times, and then go, okay . . . now what? I have always loved playing music, but at the same time I’ve always been frustrated by my limited skill, and I think I have finally realized why.

It happened that the part I was reading while listening to Joseph play was about a pianist. She’d trained to be a classical performer, but in her senior year she had a breakdown from the stress and ended up not playing again for many years. About a decade later, when she’d been married and had a baby who was then starting kindergarten, she began to play just a little bit here and there—and what she realized was that she loved being able to play for herself.

This is what I want. I don’t like practicing music. I don’t like making mistakes, going over certain passages again and again, playing one hand separately to learn it better, slowing down the tempo to get my fingers accustomed to the motion. What I want is to be able to perform music—for myself. I don’t play for other people; I get intensely self-conscious and mess up even pieces that I know how to play perfectly, if I know that anyone is within hearing distance. I don’t like the pressure of playing for someone else. I just love playing for myself.

This is why “Moonlight Sonata” has always been one of my favorite pieces to play. It’s the one piece of classical music that I can always play from start to finish with no mistakes, with or without the music. I know others just a little bit less well, and there are many that I can play perfectly up to a certain point and then not at all. I just don’t know how to learn better. I can’t learn the guitar because I don’t want to be learning it, I want to be playing it. It’s been a really frustrating dilemma for almost my entire life so far, but I never knew clearly what the problem was before. Now that I do, I can only hope that one of these days I’ll pull together enough self-discipline to finally make myself learn. to. practice.

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