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Essay: In the wrong key

How the wrong attitude toward the piano led to regret

Courtesy Lauren Omahen

Omahen is a junior at MU studying magazine journalism. After graduation she'd like to receive a master's degree in journalism. Aside from a career in magazines, her dream is to see Radiohead perform live.

April 11, 2011 | 12:00 a.m. CST

I sit at the bench; lightly rest my hands on the keys, scanning the outskirts as my fingers take their places. Slightly shaking, my fingers signal my eyes — it is now time to interpret the first measure. Little black dots and lines on a page were once a foreign language to me, but after years of study, I now understand their meaning. I can translate the symbols into finger movements, and movements into melodies.

Everything was new and exciting. Keys, notes, rhythms, chords; it was all new to me. The progression was steady. Beginning with rhythm, I would clap the notes on the page, introduce myself to the timing of the notes, becoming acquainted with the quarter note, eighth note, sixteenth note and their function. As the weeks passed, I hurdled the rhythm concept and then opened the door to the keys.

Now familiar with music, I was allowed to learn the layout of the keyboard, its sequence, flats, sharps and how to play a simple string of notes. I would frequently meet with notes, playing around with the keys to find notes that harmonize together. Chords showed me the complexities of the individual notes.

No longer on the surface, the chords combined individual notes to create a beautiful, rich sound giving the song more depth. The relationship with chords and notes progressed into complete songs. I would play for hours, finding new ways to play the tune, playing with tone and emphasis, developing a connection between the song and I.

After years of this process, the excitement began to wear off. The connection that I once had with the music now felt like a mindless job. Receive a new song, learn the notes, play the notes, move on to the next piece, it was calculated and boring.

Suddenly school and sports became more of a priority. For a while, I was taking piano lessons and playing sports, but after a few years I chose to quit piano lessons. I promised myself that I would continue to play. That was a lie. The time between piano practices would grow from days, to weeks, and eventually to months. My skills became rusty and it became more difficult to play. The piano and I had a falling out, the relationship weakened, and now I cannot even imagine sitting down at the piano and playing anymore. The damage had already been done, and I only had myself to blame.

I didn’t cherish it. I didn’t care about it. I didn’t give it the attention and time that it deserved.
It wasn’t the piano. It was me.

It is like an old friend that you lose touch with. You want to call, but so much time has passed, you feel embarrassed to make that phone call. I miss it. When I was playing the piano, I never appreciated it; I never realized its worth. Now I listen to music and cannot stop thinking about the art of music, how the artists created the sound and the emotional attachment to music. While I was playing, music meant little to me, but now it’s gone and I can’t get enough. I regret it. I regret not taking advantage of my piano skills, not realizing the rare opportunity to play an instrument, not appreciating the value of music.

I am only 21, I have my entire life ahead of me, but I feel that the chance to play the piano has vanished- my time is over. It was like a trigger set off in my mind, and instantly I had to think about the future. I had to think about ways to be involved in school, and extracurricular activities, activities that would look good on a college application — for me, piano was not going to make the cut.

At such a young age, I was career oriented. Ever since I entered high school all that I think about is what will look good on a resume, what will better my career, what will improve my chances of getting a job. I do not have time to play the piano anymore because playing the piano will not get me a job in magazines. If there is no benefit in it for me, why bother?

Why do my brothers bother? My brothers also played the piano when we were younger, and they still play to this day. They, too, are away at school, but when they come home for break, they sit down and play. I can’t even imagine doing that, nor would I be able to.

It’s not on my list of priorities. I am running on a clock, and I need to accomplish certain things at a designated point in my life. I had my time to enjoy the piano, now that’s over. My time is over. One day when I have children, I will push them to play an instrument. I enjoyed it, so I figure they will too. But I don’t want them to be like me, I want them to really appreciate it, really see music’s value at a young age.

I will teach my kids that there is an emotional attachment to music, which I learned about too late in life. I do not want them to just go through the motions; I hope that they can understand that playing an instrument is a gift and should be embraced. I do not want them to experience the same barriers that I currently face. I don’t want them to prioritize their life like I did. There is no need to rush. I was in a big hurry to get things done, to get ahead, and look where it got me. I’m a 21-year-old woman already aching with regret.
I made the quick decision to quit. I built the walls around me to close myself off from anything that was not a means to an end.

I built these walls, and I have no idea how to take them down.

Growing up with older brothers, I always heard conversations between my oldest brother and my parents about colleges, careers, and plans for the future. Growing up in that environment was like a race to the finish line; which sibling was going to have their life planned first? I was ready for high school before any of my classmates, knew what college I wanted to go to in 8th grade, knew my major as a freshman in high school. I started thinking about the future so quickly, that I dropped everything that I did not see lasting long-term. I was stupid. I created a false sense of urgency to plan for the future that drove me away from piano, and now I would love to go back. The barriers are still there, and I don’t feel that I can go back. I’m beginning a new adventure in my life now. It’s time to pack up the college t-shirts, buy ‘real people’ clothing and ditch the hobbies; it’s time to submerge myself into my career.

I regret my decisions, and now I have to appreciate music just as a fan, not as a participant.

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