Sunday, August 14, 2016

          Fifty-five years ago, I stood on the stage of the recital hall at the Detroit Art Institute taking my bows after a life-defining performance of classical piano music chosen by my teacher, Margaret Anderson. My Dad was my cheerleader and most harsh critic next to her. They both saw potential in me at a very early age, and as I was a Daddy’s girl and a people-pleaser, I sacrificed a great deal of my senior year in high school to please him and prepare for this night. I practiced 4-5 hours a day before and after school, and it paid off. That night was magic, and I will never forget it.  

     Fast forward 55 years, and once again I stood on the stage, this time in Wilmington, North Carolina book-ending a dream I never imagined possible. That night was also life-defining, but at the other end of the life cycle.  Both my father and my teacher were gone now, and as much as I loved them and respected and appreciated all they both taught me, I had to remove them from my shoulders. Their critical voices haunted me to the point where I did not play or perform for many years. My teacher said, “If you can’t play it perfectly, don’t play it.” My father said, “If it isn’t showy and people don’t gasp at how fast you play, they’ll be bored.” All my stop and start efforts at lessons, practicing for months at a time were abandoned, as I could never get anything “showy” and “perfect.” 

     Once I decided to go back to my music, a dear friend said to me, “You need to block out those negative, critical voices. Just brush each one off your shoulders and tell yourself you can do this.”From that moment on, at each practice session daily, I would literally brush one, then the other off my shoulders and tell myself, “Yes, you can do this, and it doesn’t have to be perfect.” It worked. The voices are still there, but when I brush them away, I am freed from their judgment, and the music emerges, sincere, beautiful, not flawless.

     Yesterday, I recorded part of the intro medley of my next one-woman show. It was awful. It sounded stilted, too heavy, unsure. The voices were back. Those voices repeated their intentionally helpful messages for well over ten years (while I was taking lessons from my teacher), so a few months of brushing them off wasn’t going to replace them completely. I have to constantly remind myself that I am human, and my performances, especially in front of large audiences, will never be perfect. What is important is that the music is heartfelt and that in some small way, it will touch people in the audience. It will not touch everyone, and that’s all right.

     I have nowhere to perform in our new home town. I know no one who can help me find my next stage. I will have no father or teacher in the audience cheering me on while judging every note, but I will keep playing. I will practice daily, brushing off my shoulders and saying positive things to myself. Why? Because God gave me a talent to share (as small as it may be), and I want to make music. Does my music give me peace, calm me when I’m rattled, give me purpose? No, to the first two, yes to the third. 

     So why should you care? Because, maybe, and quite probably, you have a talent to share too, and some critical voices are holding you back. It might be telling stories, baking bread, making art, writing poetry. Brush off the voices, I say. Tell yourself that the talent you know you have can be shared with others, and they will be grateful. Maybe just making the decision to pursue it will give you new purpose, and you will discover a defining moment in your life. Try it. I will be cheering for you.