Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Memories Playing from the Car Stereo

It amazes me how much our five senses aid in the resurfacing of long dormant memories. Sounds, smells, and tastes can immediately send you into a state of unexpected reminiscing. A sort of sensory assault on my memories occurred this afternoon as I was driving home from work. I was listening to a CD full of classical piano music that I had checked out at the library when suddenly my car was filled with the sounds of Schubert's "Moment Musicaux No. 1 in C Major" - the very piece of music that began the demise of the many years I had dedicated to playing the piano.

It was January of 2000 and I was in my second semester as a music student at Eastern Michigan University. I had just been reassigned to a different professor for my private piano lessons and, as luck would have it, I was assigned to the meanest, crotchetiest professor that ever graced the world of music. He treated all of his students like they were performance majors with plans for Carnegie Hall.

The first (and only) piece he assigned me to work on with him was Schubert's "Moment Musicaux No. 1". It only took me a couple of meetings with him to realize that this man was not a teacher, he was a berater and a spirit-killer. As I struggled with the syncopated beats and lack of distinct melody of the piece, this man boorishly proclaimed that I had no rhythm, no talent, and that I would never make music my career.

He talked to me like a performance major even though I was an education major. Mastery and perfection of the great composers was not my goal even though he treated it as such. I quickly found myself realizing that if the music world was one that required me be surrounded by people like this professor, then I didn't want any part of it. Prior to this experience, I had only been nurtured and encouraged. I never realized that there were people out there who treated music with such an iron fist. I knew that I was never the best pianist in the world, but I took pride in working on a piece of classical music and attempting to do it justice while still adding my own personal flair to it.

When I left my third lesson with him, I closed the door to his studio carrying my music bag along with my shattered dreams, and cried the whole way to the parking lot. I wrote him a letter detailing my dissatisfaction over the way he treated me, taped it to his door, and quietly dropped out of the music program.

In the meantime, my piano teacher of ten years who had worked with me since I was in grade school, attempted to pick up the pieces of my broken spirit. With her help, I mastered the piece that The Evil One said I couldn't, and received a third place trophy at the American Guild of Music competition. She helped me survive during that treacherous time in my life, but I feel like I let her down in the years that followed. After accomplishing my goal of proving this professor wrong, I lost the will and the heart to sit at the piano and learn a piece from awkwardness to mastery. Even though I continued with my long time piano teacher for a few more years after I dropped out of the music program, the piano never gave me that same joy and exuberance it did before I chose to go to school for it.

It's amazing what a combination of notes on some hammers and strings can do to bring a well of complex emotions bubbling up inside your very being. I listened to this piece and remembered how proud I was that I proved him wrong. But I also felt sad that I allowed this one man to dictate my life. He took away the joy I felt everyday when I sat down at the piano for those eleven years. He turned it into a chore, something to be perfected rather than savored.

Now I don't want anyone to think I'm sitting here writing this for you to feel sorry for me. In a way, I think the experience was a bit of a blessing because dropping out of the music program helped me to realize my true calling, which is teaching writing and literature. But at the same time, I just wish I hadn't come at the expense of my musical passion.

It's hard to believe this complicated web of memories and emotions that went whizzing through my head today all came from a piece of classical music that wafted through the speakers of my car stereo. The senses are a wondrous thing.

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