Creative Thursday: Pianos and Songs

Years before I had I clue what I was doing.

Music is – and has always been – incredibly important to me.  I can’t remember a time before I began listening to lyrics intently.  I do remember that before I could read, in church, I memorized the words as they sounded, each week trying to piece things together.  I remember this most distinctly because, having learned the story of Daniel in the lions’ den, I thought the words to part of the liturgy were, “Oh, Daniel, oh, Daniel, oh Daniel in the lions.”  I don’t know how many Sundays later, my grandma noticed and told me the words were simply, “Hosanna… in the highest,” not, “Oh, Daniel… in the lions.”  Oops.

Anyway, I loved music.  It was my favorite part of church.  When I was with the younger people in my family, I listened to Nirvana and Three Doors Down and many more.  When I was driving with my grandparents, we listened to KJUL out of Las Vegas, which they called “oldies but goodies.”  At home, it was classical, instrumental, orchestral, with lyrics only coming from people like Tennessee Ernie Ford at Christmastime, VBS tapes during the summer, and musical soundtracks (The Sound of Music, in particular).

I begged my Sunday School teachers to let us (you need to understand that there were 2-3 of us on any given Sunday) sing “one more” song.  I was made fun of on the school playground because I’d make up songs or sing the ones I knew.  My grandfather constantly made up little poems and songs.  We even sang a hymn in lieu of a bedtime prayer!  My first cassette tape was the soundtrack of Titanic, which was given to me – along with a Walk Man – for Easter 1998.

When I was in third grade, I began piano lessons.  From what people told me, I was actually pretty good.  I had a hard time with rhythm, so counting the correct beats for each note was a struggle, but I could do it.  I was allowed to play a song for the prelude and postlude in church one Sunday.  But from the start, it was also a battleground.

My grandmother insisted I practice half an hour every day.  The piano bench was hard.  I wanted to be outside.  I’d just been in school for eight hours and I had to practice right after school if I wanted to get any TV time at night.  I hated it.  I felt so crunched for time.  We argued about it every night.

Gets me every time.

Gets me every time.

Eventually, after countless arguments, angry words, renditions of what I called “Ode to Gloom” (It’s super easy; just put the middle finger of your right hand on middle C and your left hand in the same spot an octave below and place “Ode to Joy” the way you normally would.  You’re welcome.), and a lot of tears, I said it.

“I quit.”

My grandmother called my piano teacher – who I’d known for years and loved since the first time I met her as the instructor of the accelerated learning program at my elementary school – that night.  I cried long and hard.  To this day, I can’t watch this episode of The Wonder Years without crying my eyes out.

Truthfully?  I wanted to keep going.

I loved playing.  I hated the fun being torn from it.  I hated arguing with my grandma about whether I was playing the songs correctly.  I hated repeating that my teacher had told me to get the notes done first and to worry about timing after.  I hated that I wasn’t progressing as quickly as I wanted to.  I hated that I my grandmother sat behind me and read a book while I played.  I hated watching the last few moments of sunlight fall behind the hills, filtered through lace panels on tiny windows.  I hated feeling the perfect breeze come in through the screen door and not being allowed to savor it.  I hated that I was already starting to sneak to that piano when I thought no one could hear – just like my aunt who quit playing for the same reasons years before.

And nowadays, I sit down at that piano in my aunt’s home and play because no one cares.  And it feels like home to me, perhaps more than any other place.  I’ve sat on its bench – which still holds some of my lesson books – and cried for all that could have been.

But of course, I moved on and I participated in other activities:  gymnastics, ballet, softball, basketball, volleyball, yearbook, and show choir.

I’ve never been great, but I have always sung.

So stylish.  Such show choir.  Tom's in the middle and I'm on the far left.

So stylish. Such show choir. Tom’s in the middle and I’m on the far left.

When I get a new CD – or, nowadays, when someone puts all the tracks of a new album up on YouTube – I listen to the songs in order, over and over.  My dad says my mom used to do the same thing.  I want to understand that the singer is really saying.  They don’t put the songs on the album willy nilly.  There’s a science to it.  I remember that my favorite tracks on my first two lyrical cassettes were both number five.  That’s *NSYNC’s “God Must Have Spent (a Little More Time On You)” and Britney Spears’s “Sometimes,” if you’re keeping score.   The first time I hear a song, I have to listen without any distraction.  I need to hear every word and savor it.

As you can imagine, driving has had a negative impact on my first-listen experience.  I often run into my house and over to my laptop just to search for a song – so I can really listen.

I’m a big shower singer.  I mean, really, the acoustics are awesome.  I have been in choirs on and off for fourteen years now.  I was passed up every time there was an opportunity in my show choir, so I get super excited when people ask me to sing solos – it’s happened three times ever, I think.

  • Once I was asked to sing a verse of Amazing Grace
  • Once I sang the Elphaba part of Wicked’s “What Is This Feeling?”
  • Once I did it without asking permission or warning anyone
  • Once I sang my bedtime prayer hymn
  • Once I was talked into singing a hymn I detest

I’m not a particularly bold person when it comes to my voice, though.  I get nervous.  My anxiety manifests itself in my vocal chords.  I have to imagine no one is seeing me while at the same time imagining that everyone is liking what they hear.

It’s completely nonsensical.

So, I’m taking a jump.  This is Barely Rebellious, right?  So, in celebration of the fourth anniversary of when I stopped feeling like this in an old way (because unrequited love was returned) and started feeling it in a new way (long distance relationships are annoyingly difficult), here’s a track of me singing one of my favorite songs.

Be gentle.  I know I’m no Samantha Barks.


I hope you’re all having a happy January 29th.  I tease Tom that he decided to wait to kiss me until the 29th so that we’d have no one month anniversary.

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8 thoughts on “Creative Thursday: Pianos and Songs

  1. that “phonetic memorization” can really wreak havoc on perception. The one I remember from my pre-reading days is from the Apostle’s Creed. I always heard the line “From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead” as “then NANCY shall come to judge…”. We had a woman who attended our church whose first name was Nancy. I treated her wit a LOT of respect.

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  2. Pingback: Quick Thoughts Friday: Second Week | Barely Rebellious

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