I am not a musician

I’m probably not supposed to admit this, but I am not actually a musician. My formal years of pre-teen piano instruction never went far beyond the traditional Bastien Piano Basics. And while I’m sure my teachers were quite excellent, my memories of grade school piano lessons consist mostly of being subjected to watching The Addams Family in my teacher’s slightly creepy basement while waiting through my brother’s lesson, mixed with the occasional and always frightening piano recital (and yes, a decent amount of practice in between…I’m no rebel). 

I didn’t dislike piano, but I certainly didn’t fall in love with it at that time. I had no thoughts of dedicating my life to music and therefore never took a serious music class beyond the obligatory high school band (how does one find the right notes on a french horn?) choir (but don’t ask me to sing a solo), and one challenging semester of classical guitar in college. My memory of any formal music theory is about as far gone as the big puffy bangs and colorful scrunchies of the early 90s, and mostly informed by google and my children’s piano books these days (and only when absolutely necessary). I rarely know the names of the chords I play, certainly don’t understand the difference between an augmented fourth or diminished fifth, and must do diligent research to simply identify the key signature I’m playing in after I’ve already written the song. (Unless it’s C. I know the key of C.) 

So maybe I was never meant to be a true musician. But the intriguing thing about life is that we often don’t grow up to be who we thought we were supposed to be. While that can be disappointing and disillusioning, sometimes it is a welcome and rejuvenating surprise. I was originally supposed to be an astronaut, and when that fell through due to glasses at the age of 11 (is it really true that NASA requires 20/20 eyesight to go to space?), I eventually found my calling as a writer in my teenage and college years, or so I thought. I still have my jumbo-size gray binder, nearly falling apart, filled with over-the-top, pencil-written poetry and very dramatic prose about the angst and burdens of being a teenager. It may not have been unique in its themes or always artistically ground-breaking, but it was authentically and 100% me. We all have something of value to contribute to the world around us; for me I thought it was the words I put on paper. 

Except that I didn’t share those words with the world. I didn’t even share with my closest friends. While I sometimes suspected (and often wished) that my meticulously crafted thoughts could possibly be inspiring or meaningful to others, I was too shy to give them that chance. So while I passionately pursued an English degree, I always saw a bit of a black hole in my future as to where I would go with it. Perhaps I let a few authentic moments slip through at a very rare poetry reading (a rite of passage for any English major), but the real stuff usually stayed hidden. It was too raw, too vulnerable and just too much of me to give away. 

And then I stopped writing. Was it because I switched gears and went to nursing school and couldn’t manage to keep my left and right brain equally engaged at the same time? Was it because I was still recovering from the awesome intellectual stimulation of my English major and simply needed a break from it all? Or because I was newly married, happy, and basically at peace emotionally? Or was it because I had kids and got a little too busy with diapers and snacks and not sleeping and never being alone? Even when I tried to put something on paper, I could find no words to share. I told myself I was just changing and maturing and must have outgrown my need for those creative outlets. 

And then unexpectedly, more than 20 years after I stopped taking lessons, I fell in love with playing the piano. Our household acquired a digital keyboard when my son started piano lessons. Although nothing replaces a genuine piano (even a broken one), the novelty of creating my own music in complete privacy, with headphones, at full volume as late into the night as I wanted, was inspiring and even addicting. Maybe I had just needed this kind of access to a piano all along, but I believe piano found me when I needed it most. 

At first I just played the same two or three songs over and over (high school classics such as Sarah McLachlan’s “Full of Grace” and the theme from “Legends of the Fall”) and then started figuring out more arrangements of my favorite songs. Every now and then I found myself branching out into a melody that I hadn’t heard before, and a new song would be born. Nearly 15 years of writer’s block suddenly found its outlet through my piano keys, and these days I find myself writing too many songs (a bit like that that tattered binder from high school). Sometimes I find a melody to support words that have been written years ago. But often the music comes first, and even after I think the song is complete, I begin to hear lyrics filling in the empty spaces, telling stories and supporting the truth that was there inside the music all along. Because of the music, I have found my words again. 

And then something inexplicable happened. I stopped trying to keep it all to myself. I started sharing my piano recordings with my family. A few supportive friends. Then YouTube, because in this digital age there really are no rules dictating who can and can’t share their brand of creativity with the world. It was never in my life plan to write music and certainly not share it, but when I realized I had enough songs to fill an album, I created Broken Song. One might call this an early mid-life crisis—this crazy and careless act of self-exposure. That’s fine. I would rather be living authentically and sharing whatever it is I have to share than find myself on the other end wishing I’d given myself permission to take the chance, even though that little girl who was so frightened of her piano recitals is still kicking around inside. She can kick. Life will go on. 

The truth is, this feels like coming home to a version of me that I have spent far too long away from. And perhaps I’m coming a little closer to finding the person I always imagined I was supposed to be way back when big bangs and colorful scrunchies were giving way to grungy plaid shirts and Dr. Marten boots. 

So who am I if I’m not a musician?  I’m a mom, a medical professional, a wife, daughter, friend…I’m a former poet who fell in love with the piano and accidentally became a songwriter somewhere in the middle of an already busy life. 

I also know what I am not…I am not a technically skilled or professionally trained musician, not a studio-polished artist with flawless recordings, not ever going to be a singer (and not much of a french horn player either, for that matter), not a public performer, not expecting to ever go viral, not seeking fame or fortune. I am simply hoping to offer some meaning, peace, or inspiration to whomever my music may connect with, and hopefully gain inspiration from others in the process. 

In the end, maybe being a true musician is really just about being honest about who we are and trusting that truthfulness will allow others to share more of who they are as well. The piano may be broken, the keys tattered and out of tune, and the music that comes from our lives may be imperfect or damaged, but I truly believe we all have a beautiful song to share. 

Laura Poblete

Laura Poblete
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The Broken Piano
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