Journey Through Notes

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A five-year-old girl with dark hair swimming around her shoulders perched herself on a piano bench and proceeded to tap out the keys on the piano. As she heard the music transfer from the keys to the air, she tried different things, and she found it didn’t sound so bad. She turned around to hear her father say, “Hey, that’s not bad. We should get you some piano lessons.” She tried not to smile too widely at the mention of lessons.

That’s how I began my career in music. Over the next few years as my family moved a couple times, I took lessons inconsistently. My parents started one of my sisters and me on piano lessons again when I was eight years old, and we took from an older neighborhood teacher. We took from her for a year, and although she tried her best, I’m sure, my parents were unsatisfied in the progress we made, as well as some bad playing habits we were forming.

My mother found a lovely university teacher who studied at Julliard School of Music and performed at Carnegie Hall. Intimidated at first, I quickly learned to love this wonderful, quiet, Quaker lady in her late fifties or sixties. We made wonderful progress and took from her for six years until she retired, and she handed us to a colleague of hers at Vanderbilt University, who studied at the Royal School of England and some other really prestigious schools under some wonderful teachers. I also started cello two years before I transferred to Vanderbilt.

At this point, I had to enter the precollege program, and part of the program required me to take a music history class. Now, there are many sub-categories under the genre we call “classical” music. The furthest we go back for most instrumental music is the 1600s, and musicians call this the Baroque Era. The next era is the the Classical Era (1775-1825), then the Romantic Era (1825-1900), Impressionistic/Modern/20th Century (1900-2000), and finally, the Post-modern/current era (2000-present).

When I was young, I hated listening to “classical” (in the general sense of the term) music, even though that’s what I played most of the time. My parents never allowed us to listen to much pop music, and I remember resenting the fact that other kids listened to lots of pop music while the only thing I could listen to in the car was classical music, a few soundtracks, or hymns.

However, as I learned more about music and about its history, I began to appreciate things I previously despised, like operatic music, baroque music, or arias. I learned how literature, art, and music, all corresponded with each other, and I learned about how so many pieces of music were inspired by different art pieces or literature. In addition, the eras also correspond with the philosophies circulating at the time. That’s why Romantic music is very expressive, beautiful, with wide varieties of dynamics and wonderful harmonies. (You can tell my favorite era is the Romantic Era.)

Now I have played a wide varieties of styles all the way from luscious, beautiful, harmonious music to angry abstract music. I’ve learned to appreciate each piece for itself, although I don’t always love the piece. My father likes to call “pop” music, candy. It’s fun to listen to, and it’s entertaining, but it’s not the most edifying, and honestly, I now tire from listening to a ton of pop music now because I can hear the same chords and same patterns over and over. I’m thankful to my parents for giving us the opportunity to listen to different genres because I now have an appreciation for different types of music even though I don’t find it the most enjoyable. In addition to that, different types of music stimulates images into your head, and those images can be edifying or it can be a disconcerting and a confusing image.

Music is a tool we use to communicate, just as language is a tool we use. We can dumb it down or appreciate the full beauty of it. I enjoy dancing, jamming, and listening pop music, soft love music, and even some rock or alternative music. However, sometimes, I put my headphones and think, “It would be nice to hear some softer, expressive music.” So I put on piano soundtracks or classical music and let my mind wander through the land of Imagination, pausing on the stormy seas of a Schubert quartet or floating in a Chopin waltz. I love to improvise and let my fingers dance on the piano keys or the cello strings. It fascinates me to observe as the music in my mind somehow transfers to my fingers, and my ears hear the sweet melody of the hammer against the piano strings or my bow pulling the strings on my cello.

I suppose I wrote this in order to just reflect on the journey I’ve walked through music. It wasn’t easy, and there were pieces I played that I absolutely detested, but each piece and challenge is a step in progress, and with each piece, I learn to appreciate something that is either new to me or previously distasteful to me. What’s the most important thing I’ve learned? Patience, persistence, and practice make progress, and this applies to any skill or pursuit.

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