And I was in heaven. Turns out $50 (yes, that's how much we paid for the piano) plus piano-moving and piano-tuning fees can buy a hell of a lot of happiness.
For the most part, I was self-taught. A friend of mine had shown me some of the basic learn-how-to-play-the-piano tunes several years before, and once I learned which keys were which, I started working out how to play random songs like "Chariots of Fire" (no clue why I was so into it--maybe because it's kind of a dramatic piece?) on friends' pianos and the pianos sitting around in my public school's music classrooms and auditorium. I already knew how to read music and other basic to intermediate aspects of music theory, thanks to various public school, private school, and private lessons in flutophone, recorder, violin, and chorus/choir. So it wasn't a huge deal for me to sit down and teach myself piano, even without sheet music. My technique sucked rocks, but I didn't care. I was playing piano.
So when I finally got my own piano, my very own piano, it was the most wonderful thing ever. I remember coming home from high school to an empty house (I was a latchkey kid) and just sitting at the piano for hours and hours. Mostly, I would play accompaniment to pop songs and church choir pieces. Most of it was pretty cheesy--stuff like Journey's "Faithfully", Whitney Houston's "One Moment in Time", and "Colors of the Wind" from Pocahontas. I also was a fan of accompaniments to Broadway songs (e.g., "Send in the Clowns", anything from Les Mis and Phantom of the Opera).
Sometimes, I would sing along with my accompaniments, but only if no one else was at home. You see, I'm kind of bashful about my singing. I have a classically trained voice, which makes me good at church music, opera-type stuff, and certain Broadway pieces, but I LOVE LOVE LOVE singing pop. Unfortunately, classically trained voices usually sound like shit when applied to pop. Think of Will Farrell and Ana Gasteyer playing those pop-singing public school music teachers on SNL, but not quite that bad. And even when I sing stuff I'm good at, I feel very self-conscious exposing that part of myself to other people unless I'm actually performing for real. I mean, I would NEVER sing along to the radio in front of anyone. I think I've become less bashful lately (my new outlook being, "If you don't like me singing along to the radio, then too fucking bad, because there's probably stuff I don't like about you, too, and I'm having fun, godammit"), but for most of my life I've been very self-conscious about singing in front of other people.
Actually, my change of heart has come about because of Harry Potter. That may sound weird, but it's true. When I truly discovered Harry Potter and my love for writing last October, I felt like a part of my soul had been liberated. I know that's cheesy, but it's the best way I can describe it. I found this amazing happiness, this passion for creating and interpreting that I never knew I had, and it brought me this incredible state of bliss--sort of a personal Zen that made me stop caring so much about how other people saw me.
If you know me in real life, you might be like, "Huh? Miss Sophia, you've always struck me as a person who doesn't give a fuck what other people think. You've got a horrendous pottymouth, you have been know to act like a total slacker, and when you're around other people, you start acting out--saying things that push the envelope, playing the class clown, being a completely outspoken person. How on earth can you say you're self-conscious and care about what other people think?"
Yes. All of this is true. But in the deepest parts of who I am, when it comes down to it, I care A LOT about how other people see me. Deep down, I want the whole world to like me. I'm afraid of looking awkward or dorky, perhaps because I wasn't really one of the cool kids until I hit high school (and I didn't always realize it back then, either). Now, most of the time, I feel like I'm pretty fucking cool. I'm sort of one of those "geek to chic" cases in some ways. I learned how to tame the frizzy Hermione-like hair. (Frizz-Ease's Dream Curls spray gel is a godsend.) I became the poster child for the wonders of a well-plucked eyebrow:
I realized that my fashion sense was rubbish, and I did something about that (although my husband still views me as a work in progress ). I mean, Brady Bunch-style clothes stopped being trendy long before I was born, so why was I still wearing them?! (Dammit, they're probably back in style again!) I know all of this stuff is superficial, but it DOES make a difference in terms of self-confidence. If you feel beautiful, then it doesn't matter whether you really are or not, because you feel confident--and confidence IS beautiful.
In many ways, I'm still a big dork. Case in point: One of my profs from last semester told me that I'm the most charming nerd he's ever met. Basically, as I've said before, I'm one big ol' Hermione. My hand always shoots up first when the prof asks a question (partly because I like to answer questions and partly because I have an extreme dislike of silence, and since most of the other students just sit there blankly, I can't take it, so I HAVE to raise my hand). I try to be thoughtful and analytical about my academic studies. I'm a perfectionist. (Perfectionists also tend to be major slackers, because if we can't do something right, we don't do it at all, and that is SO me. But we make sure that we slack in the most perfect fashion possible. ) And I'm a Harry Potter fanatic, which most of the people on my flist would not think of as dorky, but most of the people I know in real life do. Hey, I know, their loss, right?
But because of Harry Potter, because of this artistic side of me that I found, I have embraced my inner dorkiness. (Sorry for sounding all New Age-y. It's friggin' 1:10 in the morning and I'm hungry. My brain is not functioning well at all, but I have to get all of this out. It's been brewing for a really long time.) I've started jamming and grooving while walking down the street listening to my iPod. No, I still won't sing out loud, but that's only because I don't want to piss people off by singing at the top of my lungs while waiting for the subway. But I know I look like a total freak, mouthing lyrics to the song, bopping around, etc. And you know what? I don't fucking care! Don't like it? Don't look. I'm having a blast, and that's what matters.
And as I said before, when I was in the car with family or friends and a song I liked came on the radio, I would never sing along, because I was afraid that I'd sound stupid. Now? I don't give a crap. I'm enjoying the song, and I will sing if it makes me happy. Of course, I'm not going to be all that loud about it, simply because again, I'm a considerate person. I don't want to ruin your driving experience. But I really don't care if you hear my sucky warbling. I'm in my own little music happy world, and I'm not going to leave it just for you. And you know what? You probably don't even care that I sound bad! I certainly don't judge my friends for not sounding exactly like Mariah Carey or whatever. So you probably don't care about my lousy singing, either. Why, for so many years, did I think you would?
Wow. I've strayed really far from the original point. Back to my piano. So, back in high school, and during summers in college, I would play my piano for hours. The time would fly by so quickly; I could sit there for a full day and not even notice.
A couple of years after I graduated college, I rented a house about half an hour away from my parents' place, and we moved the piano into my basement. I lived in that house for over three and a half years...and played my piano only once, or maybe three times, but no more than that. (The one or few times I did play it, though, I got so lost in the music that I had no clue that something like five or six hours had passed.) I don't know what happened. I don't know why I neglected this thing that had meant so much to me for so many years. I guess I just...forgot. For so many years after college, a part of me kind of died--this creative, angsty, and slightly unbalanced side that made me write bad poetry and stay up late at night writing letters to friends or to myself--or at least I thought it did. No, that's not right either, because I never even really thought about it at all.
I think that getting engaged and then married was a huge part of it, actually. I had settled down; I had no more reason for angst, for dreams, for fantasy, for creating. And while it was all well and good to be stable and levelheaded, it somehow led to the suppression of my dreamy side, the side of me that felt so, so deeply, that created things from these feelings. JK Rowling, the Internet, and fandom all deserve my undying gratitude for helping me unearth this lost piece of my soul.
And since I've rediscovered myself, I've reconnected with music. My iPod has become my new best friend. I've listened nonstop to the groups that inspire me, that radiate sound and energy and meaning throughout my entire body. Music really is a physical thing. As I listen to these groups--bands like Coldplay, Green Day, Oasis, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, The Bravery, Depeche Mode, the B-52s, Death Cab for Cutie, Franz Ferdinand, Goo Goo Dolls, Jamie Cullum, Keane, and the Killers, and now Rufus Wainwright--I'm not just listening to music anymore. I'm feeling it. I'm listening to the lyrics, thinking about what they mean, about how they're constructed, about their cadences and rhythms. I'm parsing all of the different accompaniments, something I've NEVER done before--listening for the bass line, the rhythm guitar, the harmonies, even the drum beats. Sometimes I feel that if I were to pick up a guitar (which I don't really know how to play; I taught myself a few basics towards the end of high school, but don't really remember anything any more), I would be able to play what I hear, to feel it.
It's an amazing feeling. It's a kind of ecstasy, a sort of rapture. It's very very personal. And I can't believe that I was ever able to live without it. While part of it is simply a rediscovery of something I once had, part of it is also completely new. As I said, I used to be very self-conscious, even if I didn't always appear that way. Now, with the way I feel the music, I barely care about being judged by others. My only concern is that I lose myself in the song. And a REALLY cool result of that is this sort of attitude makes for the best performances. Music is not something you can do successfully if you overthink it. You have to be it. If you can do this, your audience disappears. You don't know whether you're standing or sitting, whether you have sweat rings under your armpits, whether you look like a superstar or a complete moron as you let the sound take over your body and throw you around as it pleases. You just merge into the music.
But there's still something missing, and that's my piano. I don't have it any more. I sold it (for $175, which was a nice profit considering that my mom had bought it for $50 well over a decade earlier) when I moved from DC to Boston. And right now, I really really miss it. I'm dying to bang out some of the Coldplay and Keane rhythms, some of Rufus Wainwright's accompaniments.
And I really want a guitar. I also once had one of those--my mom's old hippie guitar from the 1960s. As I said, I taught myself some rudimentary chords and notes back when I was 18. But it broke sometime during my sophomore year in college. (The thing holding down the strings near the hole of the guitar--yeah, nice technical jargon, I know--popped off, probably because of the freezing weather in Boston, and it wasn't worth repairing.) And now I am longing for another one. When I listen to songs like Coldplay's "Till Kingdom Come" and Green Day's "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," I'm dying to strum the chords myself. I seriously almost feel like if I had the guitar, I could figure out how to play it; the music would just flow from my heart and mind into my hands. Of course, that probably wouldn't be the case, but after a quick rundown of chord structure and note locations, I actually think I could do it. And I don't care if it'd be all that good. It probably wouldn't, at least not at first. But I'd be in a state of complete bliss.
Well. This has been very rambly, but it's been a long time coming. If you've actually read this, I'm flattered, and I hope I didn't bore you to tears. I hope that something I wrote resonated in your heart, made you feel like our minds connected for a moment. And if it didn't, that's OK, too. Because this is what I feel.
I'm seriously thinking of buying a $50-$200 guitar sometime this week or after I get back from the UK. I don't know how much longer I can wait.
And a really really nice keyboard, with pedals, lots of settings, etc., will be one of the first purchases I make when I move back to the DC area this summer.
But right now, I think I will buy myself a guitar.