Wednesday, 8 June 2011

The music room

I have been playing my piano all day today, which is a rare occurrence these days.
It's partly that I don't have time to play - modelling admin takes up practically every spare minute that I'm not shooting. It's also partly because I used to be quite good and every time I play something these days, I'm just reminded of how I let my ability go. People say playing the piano is like riding a bike; you never forget - but they are missing something really important!
I haven't forgotten how to play and I don't think I ever would. I have just lost my ability to play all my old pieces to a high standard. I am frustrated when I play stuff I used to play really well.. not so well! My fingers know all the right notes to press, know all the right rhythms, dynamics and note speeds, I can even still hear a piece of unknown music in my head by reading the score, (it's like reading another language) but it's like my fingers won't function. It's just lack of practice - they no longer have even strength and are not so flexible. I suppose it's similar to when you get older, your brain and your physical body deteriorate at different speeds - you know exactly how something should be done but you just can't physically do it.
I probably sound really bitter about giving it up, but I'm really not. I'm bitter that I was rushed into it so young by over-forceful guardians, my mother and maternal grandmother. I'm not going to deny I enjoyed playing the piano because I did immensely and I was mega excited each time I passed another grade - I thought music was going to be my chosen career without a doubt. But now I'm older, the picture is clear and had I been left to accomplish my achievements in my own time, the way I wanted to, I honestly think I'd feel more positively about my musical past now.
Instead, I was used as a trophy - in public, it was "look at my wonderful granddaughter, she has Grade 8 piano and she's only [ ]" but back at home, the insults and put-downs were flying - "you're mad, you've got Schizophrenia, you'll end up in an asslyum, you'll never get anywhere, you're useless, pathetic, just like your father" etc. As it happens, I'm not mad(!) and my father is a wonderful man, who enabled me (when we met again when I was 18) to live a life completely contrary to the one I grew up with. I didn't realise it was my grandmother who was the bitter one all along, which is why I really don't want to feel that way about anything, especially not music.
I wish my mother & grandmother had encouraged me to take my time instead of being encouraged as a kid to be the 'youngest & best pianist in the school.' By the time I had an audition for the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, I'd already been gone from their house a year; I was 18 and my heart was no longer in it. I hated that none of their encouragement had been for my welfare or future - only for their family status.
I thought I'd been lucky to get a job as a pianist in Portsmouth Guildhall - sounds very grand - but really not. The Broadwood & Sons needed tuning every couple of weeks and no-one in the company had the funds for that sort of 'luxury.' No-one listened, no-one knew any of the music I played, so I soon got bored.
I could of course stop having a whinge, get off my backside and take it up again. I can't for many reasons, some of which I stated in my opening lines. I sometimes wonder how far I'd have to take myself back to start again because I certainly couldn't pick up from where I left things!
However, I'm generally not having a whinge. Maybe we're all living millions of parallel lives, but I'm glad of where I am today. To think of what I have today that might not have been is just awful, so I consider myself very lucky. I never made a conscious decision to give up the piano, it just sort of happened and I lost the magic when I realised I wasn't doing it purely because I wanted to, but someone else wanted me to. Realising that is more of a shock than you'd expect. When I play now, a little of that magic comes back and I feel sad, and I guess I'll never know how I truly feel about it - it's been a whole decade of confusion and a whole twenty years since I first started playing.
I always vowed I'd do what I want when I left mum & nan; I wasn't prepared to let their emotional abuse affect me long-term, but it was a lot harder than I'd ever imagined. I'm in a job I totally adore and in a place I never ever thought I'd be.. (model.. wife?) and that's perfect enough for me.
People still often say to me that my talents have gone to waste and that it's such a shame, but they don't stop to think that their words hurt a bit, that sometimes I actually feel the same and that I'm trying to re-record over all those old messages that were drummed into me as a kid.
Some people find it difficult to understand that just because you are/were good at something, it doesn't mean you have to use it. Being a hypocrite, I'd be the first person to encourage someone else's talents, whatever they may be - I suppose it is natural to have that reaction - but to everyone who has a story behind why they aren't choosing to succeed, I can honestly empathise.

And granny dear, I don't need to prove myself to anyone.


  1. I feel similar about violin sometimes - I've left it so long without practicing that I am SO rubbish now and it makes me sad knowing I'm wasting a talent. Maybe we can encourage each other to start again? If you want to xxx
    PS. Nick found me on Flickr, yay! :)

  2. Aww, Cheryl. What a lovely read, albeit so poignant.

    For what it's worth, I think you have a great attitude towards what you have achieved in your life. It's very difficult to live without regrets, even when you have made every effort to achieve all the things you wanted.

    I did give up everything to pursue my career in music (well, musical theatre). I was steadfastly driven towards my career for 12 years, and I have been what many would describe as 'successful' (although I never quite achieved some of the goals I wanted to). I did manage to work - pretty much continuously - (with modelling thrown in as well), but it has never been 'easy,' it's just such a difficult industry. The irony is that having been career driven and focussed on that above everything else, I loved it so much that it didn't matter about the things I gave up along the way. But after 12 years, all I feel is resentment. I just don't love it any more.

    Perhaps if I had kept it in the background as a hobby, I might have kept hold of the love I felt for performing, but I would probably always have regretted not trying to make a career out of it... So I did, but to be honest, I would give it up tomorrow if I could only think of something else to do with my life that I don't despise!

    Meanwhile, the modelling was always an enjoyable hobby for me, that happened to make me some extra pennies in times when I needed them. I never really felt I had to 'try so hard' to get modelling work, it was an enjoyable creative outlet that kept me sane in times when my musical work dried up. I think if it ever became my sole source of income and I HAD TO do it, I would probably start to resent it as much as I have begun to resent my musical career.

    God, I'm sorry. I have really gone off on a tangent, I didn't mean to write 'all about me.'
    But what I'm trying to say is that I think you made the right decision for you, and I'm glad you can still get enjoyment out of your music, and have such a healthy attitude towards your life. You may have the odd moment of regret, but it's very difficult to avoid those whether you do or don't pursue all the things you're capable of.

    I would have regretted not pursuing my music career. But as it happens, I also regret the things I gave up in order to pursue it. So it's a double edged sword.

    I will always feel passionate about music, and I will always love the actual moment of creating that sound. But the problem is now that when I think of my career, I associate it with all the negative sh*t that goes along with it, not just the bits I loved.

  3. I was really touched by your reply, I've read it through a few times wondering how to reply! You're so right about it being a double edged sword, I had never thought of that. I think whatever you do for a living, whether creative or not - eventually the novelty will wear off, although I have been modelling full-time for three years now and I still love it as much as the day I ordered my very first business cards and set up my website :) It's just confusing when you think others influenced your decisions (then you feel bad for laying blame elsewhere!) then thinking you just grew out of it, etc. I completely empathise with your situation too, I hope you find a happy medium. I've never liked having regrets and never thought I had any real ones, but I suppose that's virtually impossible. Thanks for taking the time to read and write to me :) x

  4. Oh Ems, it would be lovely and I know it sounds like an excuse but I really don't have the time alongside my job. At my peak, I was practising (not just playing) at least 4 hours every single day without fail. I don't even do that many hours of exercise to keep me in shape, let alone being able to fit in just half that many hours of piano! If I knew I could make a career out of it, I'd pursue it more, but I despise teaching and accompanying for a living never really appealed either - I guess I'm just trying to finally get over this 'empty' feeling and my own guilt for giving it all up. I don't know if perhaps you feel the same about the violin; I guess that's only something you can work out for yourself, but I know you'll do what's right for you. Muchos love xxx