If only... I had stuck with playing the piano.
I started playing piano at the age of four- no lie. My parents began training my brother and I with the Suzuki method, whoch focuses more on learning the fundamentals of playing music- rhythm, melody, fluidity, etc., rather than note-reading. As one advances, they must of course learn to read notes, but the key is a gradual building up to note reading, so that once you get there all you have to do is recognize which key to hit, and you're all set because you have all the other essential basics down.
So at the age of four I had my first suzuki lesson, which consisted of sitting cross-legged on the ground, hitting a stick on the floor, trying to keep pace with a metronome. Primitive, yes, pointless, NO. The suzuki method also incorporates lots of concerts in front of other students, so that children at very early ages become comfortable playing in front of others. Throughout the rest of my life- quiet though I can be- I can honestly say I never experienced stage fright during school plays, or singing in front of people, and of course, while playing music. I remember many Christmases where my parents would make my brother and I each sit in front of family and guests and play for them. I might have rolled my eyes like a true adolescent, but never did I experience any sort of fear.
Eventually, I moved on from the Suzuki method to a very strict, Classical teacher, one Ms. Uhlig, who used to grab my hands and slam my fingers down on the correct notes if I misplayed. I remember being so terrified of her and her house, how the smell of it made me queasy, and how she never really complimented my playing, but rather would say I'd simply "completed" a piece when I was able to play it to her satisfaction- completely memorized, of course.
After Ms. Uhlig there was a string of others. I even experimented with a jazz teacher for a while, but he unfortunately did not last long. Firstly, after playing strictly classical for most of my training, the concept of syncopation was very hard for me to grasp. I could not convince my fingers that this odd, untimely plunkering of keys was in fact the way the music was supposed to be played. But perhaps the main reason my jazz teacher did not stick around long was because he had the worst case of halitosis I've ever encountered. The man's breath smelled like feces- end of story. And, unfortunately, end of my jazz career.
I bounced around to a few different teachers after that but none seemed to fit. By age 13 I decided that I was just no longer interested in playing the piano. Nevermind the fact that by this point, I'd been playing for 9 years and was pretty damn good, if I do say so myself. Nonetheless, I was much more concerned about the fact that practicing for the necessary hour each day was interfering with my growing, teenage social life. I wish I could travel 10 years into the past and slap that Julia and say "you are throwing away the greatest gift you were ever given." Though I doubt she'd listen.
By the age of 16, I actually did begin to miss playing again. I started up with a little old woman who lived within walking distance of my house. The process of beginning to play again was painful. I remember being insulted when she started me off with very easy pieces, thinking I was way too good for Bach's early Sonatina's. However I was quickly humbled when the very same peices I had mastered at the age of 8 took me weeks to re-learn. In just three years I had lost so much of my talent. To say this was frustrating doesn't even begin to cut it. But I persevered, worked hard, and for maybe the first time ever I did not see practicing as an unwanted obligation. I looked forward to my time at the piano each day and would sit for sometimes two, three hours trying to perfect a piece.
Unfortunately, as my piano life was progressing, so was the rest of my life- quite rapidly at that- and I became part of a highly competitive crew team that practiced at 5 am each morning before school. When I got home each day I could barely keep my eyes open long enough to finish my homework and eat dinner, let along practice. My skills began to slip, my fingers began to slow, and eventually I had to quit my lessons to make Crew my number one priority.
Since then I have graduated from high school, moved to a different state, traveled and lived abroad in Europe, graduated from college, finished my first year as an 8th grade science teacher for Teach For America and never, ever, has the thought left my mind that giving up music was the worst decision I've ever made. Beautifully played piano pieces bring tears to my eyes, and anyone who plays them I see as practically holy. To make music is an incredible thing. To make your hands become vessels that bring black specks on a page to life to make a sounds- sweet, harmonious sounds that can silence and touch a listener- that, I believe, is one of the closest links between man and divinity. As human beings, I believe we have a responsibility to create; we should strive to make something tangible in our lifetime, something beautiful that we leave behind, to make our lives mean something, and to be sure that we don't take all the beauty around us for granted.
Recently, I acquired a not-so-old, but not-so-new Yamaha keyboard. It has a pedal, which is essential, but unfortunately it also has a pretty crappy sound. I stole some sheet music from my parents when I was at home this summer, and I have been trying to get back into playing over the last few weeks. I may never become the piano player I could have become, should I have not quit as a young teen, and this a fact that I will always regret. Nevertheless, I can try.
Current endeavors: Eric Satie's Gymnopedie #1