Play Wit It
I have this vivid memory that I will always replay: I’m sitting next to my grandfather, watching him play his baby grand piano when he asks if I would like to play. He joins my family on the couch and I excitedly start to press these mysterious buttons. I’m barely two years old and it obviously sounds terrible, but I don’t care. It’s not about sounding good or impressing anyone. I’m not thinking about the right notes or the proper technique; I’m not trying to imitate anyone. I’m simply “playing” the piano.
It’s funny – I’ve spent almost twenty years learning music, and although I sound better than ever before, I’ve gotten worse at playing it. I’m sitting here now, with all this skill and experience, wishing I could express myself as freely as I did the first time I sat down at my papa’s piano – with all that innocence, amusement, pleasure and carelessness.
I often find myself in a constant state of self-evaluation. Part of what I hear when I make music is what I’m not capable of doing – the lick I haven’t learned, the drum fill that’s too fast for me, the notes that I can’t sing yet – and it’s not just music, it’s everything. As I read this, I see my inexperience and lack of vocabulary; as I look at my accomplishments, I see the failures I’ve made in-between. As I stare out the window of this studio, I can see the life I don’t have yet, and when I look in the mirror, I can see the man that I’m chasing, the person I wish I could be. I see everything I’m not, and it’s blinding me from everything I am.
I traded in a playful child for a stern professional. I gave up my amateurism for expertise, but in the process I lost some of the fun. I forgot that I didn’t fall in love with music because I wanted to be the best; it was because I enjoyed playing it. I don’t perform a song so that I can get to the last note and hear the applause; I’m not alive so I can get to the end and look back on everything I accomplished.
It’s hard not to live like this. Having fun was always scolded in school; achievement was celebrated. There’s no mark on our report cards for joy, no reward for the happiest child. My teachers always told me to stop playing around and start working. We’re taught to abandon our inner-child and grow up, but they can coexist. You’re never too old to play on the playground.
I also think it’s really hard not to judge yourself when you start working towards something because you expect progress, inevitably putting you in that constant state of self-evaluation. Music became my way of making money – my work – so it makes sense that it started to feel more and more like work. I think it’s important to set goals and put in the hours to get there, but don’t let prudence numb the thrill; don’t let your goals keep you from being present. It’s ok to go from playful child to stern professional, but don’t stop there. I’m learning to be a playful professional!
My friend JT always tells me that the best dancer is the one who’s having the most fun. I’d rather have a good time looking like a fool than be worried that someone is watching. Whether life becomes beautiful or dark, filled with tears of joy or sorrow – wherever this road may take me –I’ma play wit it!
—September 17, 2015