The Road Not Taken

A lifetime ago, I was involved in music. Growing up, as I did, in the midwest – home of Friday night football and marching bands – I can’t even remember when music performance wasn’t on the radar. As an elementary school student we were prepared to be in the high school music program fairly early, fourth or fifth grade.  If the band director mentioned there was a need for saxophones in a couple of years, well everyone scrambled to rent a sax and take lessons the minute we were deemed old enough to take instrumental music lessons. By junior high, we were competing to be first chair in each section; as for me I belonged in the flute section.

I also was a semi-serious pianist. I could sight read music fairly easily. When I went to undergraduate school, I was a music education major. In between methods classes and exposure to all genres of music – you haven’t really lived until you’ve attempted a final music history exam complete with “drop the needle” listening tests (needle, as in phonograph records), I worked at becoming a better performer, not as a soloist, but as an accompanist. Probably not very hard though – I hate, hate, hate practicing and drilling. And without practice, without the drills and exercises, excellence in sight reading could only take me so far. Short fingers and less-than-optimal technique sealed my fate as a music has-been.

Do I miss being able to play? I may have left my music life behind, but I do miss playing for myself. Now when I sit at my piano – one that we bought when we were first married – I look at the music on the page, I can imagine how it is played and how it should sound, but my fingers don’t cooperate. The muscle memory that used to allow me to automatically reach from one key to another with precision has atrophied. When I reach for an octave, I sometimes get a seventh.

While I know that the career path I ultimately chose was the right one, there is something left unsatisfied. The demands on me leave  no time to seriously revitalize piano techniques that have long lapsed. Maybe maturity would allow the discipline to practice to kick in, but my dislike of practice would probably come roaring right back.

Yet, there is that feeling of something left unfinished. How different would life be had I stayed with music? It is the question that will remain unanswered.

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