Friday, August 17, 2018

Playing Musical Chairs (or Musical Clothes?) with Musical Instruments

Most of my life, I have focused on only one instrument: the piano. But then, in 2017, I decided to branch out. I wasn't playing piano that much anyway, and I'd always wanted to learn to sing and play guitar ... so why not?

I signed up for voice lessons first. It was December 2016, and a friend was taking voice lessons and encouraged me to do it. I signed up with a teacher at Asheville Music School, but I quickly learned that I needed a more experienced teacher. As a beginner, I didn't need to go to a conservatory, but I guess I've had so much experience with music teachers that I can tell a rookie when I see one.

At about that time, I also started taking guitar lessons, and my guitar teacher recommended a friend of his who was a classical voice teacher. So I called his friend, whose name was Andrew, and made an appointment.

loved Andrew. If we hadn't moved, I'd still be taking voice lessons from him. He helped me to be less "breathy" and to not be afraid to make some noise. I looked forward to our lessons every single week.

But then we moved. I found a non-classical voice teacher in our new town. She was very nice and I enjoyed working with her, but work took over my life and I couldn't justify spending $40 a week on voice when I wasn't able to practice. She was a good teacher, though, and she had a wonderful system for helping ensure I practiced what I needed to practice. I was sad to leave her, but money and time were tight, and it wasn't the right time for me to be taking voice.

I also looked for another classical guitar teacher in our new town. They were few and far-between, and no one's schedule could accommodate mine.

After we joined our church in January, I joined the choir. I'd always wanted to sing in a choir and thought this might help me to improve my voice. But really, I just felt worse and worse because I knew I couldn't sing well, and I felt like I was making the choir worse. (Truthfully, I probably had no effect on it whatsoever because I didn't sing loud enough for most people to hear.) And when you're feeling stressed (as I was), it's even harder to sing because your jaw and neck are tight from the stress (or at least mine are).

That's when I decided to get another voice teacher.

Right here in my neighborhood is a choir director who teaches voice. His prices are reasonable, and he's good. So I've been studying with him for, oh, about four or five months now.

Am I any better at voice? I think so. But there's a problem. (Why does there always have to be a problem?)

See, I have this new piano named Henry. And when I sit down to play Henry, all my stress washes away. I feel like I could curl up into the music and rest for as long as I need to. I lose sense of time from the very beginning. All I care about is the sound. I play Hanon to strengthen my fingers, then some Chopin, then some Bach, then jazz or hymns or Carole King or Billy Joel or Elton John, or stuff I wrote, or ragtime, and then back to my beloved classical, working on old pieces or sight-reading intermediate pieces from something like Music for Millions. I know my way around the piano, and I feel like I could stay there forever. The piano is home.

I would love for singing to feel like home. You'd think that would be an easier feat; after all, your voice comes from inside you, from your body, and what is more "home" than your own body? No giant contraption of wood and strings and ivory is needed to produce the sound; it's just you.

But for me, playing the instrument of voice is like wearing someone else's ill-fitting clothes. They're my own clothes, for sure, but they are scratchy, stiff, and uncomfortable. They need to be broken in, washed a few dozen times, cared for properly. That's all it is, right? I need to learn to wear them, and wear them a lot, and one day they'll feel like they fit.

The piano, in contrast, is the velvety-soft bathrobe that I've had forever.

I don't want to stop taking voice. That's not the question. The question is, Do I start taking piano? There are two barriers here: money and time. If it's $50 a week for piano, I can probably pull it off, though it wouldn't be easy. But time? I barely have time to practice voice. How will I make time to practice both? And if I sign up for lessons and don't have time to practice, what good is that? And what if I practice lots of piano but neglect voice-practice even more than I already do?

Many of my friends would say that I don't need piano lessons. And maybe I don't ... but I think I do, if I'm going to get better and play some of the pieces I've dreamed of playing.

So that's the question I'm struggling with. It's a lovely, first-world kind of problem to have: Do I take piano lessons? Do I make even more room in my already-overstuffed life for music? If I look at it practically, the obvious answer is "No." But if I look at it any other way--like from the perspective of myself as a 90-year-old wracked by arthritis, or from the perspective of someone who doesn't have an easy, first-world life--I think I'm crazy not to do it.

It's time to go wake up my daughter. Thanks for listening, blog!

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