I recently had coffee with a dear friend of mine who is pursuing a Masters degree at Juillard, arguably the most prestigious music school in North America. He was in Calgary briefly to perform as the guest soloist of a local concert band. We used to be students under the same piano teacher, and I had always admired his talent on the keys. Four years later, his playing is brilliant beyond anything I expected, and that hand muscle that is only developed by playing piano for years would be what fitness aficionados would term “ripped”. Though he said he only had time to learn/practice the two pieces he performed for a few days since arriving in Calgary, I could pick out only a few errors in the newer piece and, to the untrained ear, one would never know.
Throughout our coffee date, it became clear that he was living his dream: learning and playing with the best teachers in the world, living in the city that affords full access to high-calibre performing arts, and being able to collaborate with so many different performers, both up-and-coming and professional. To be sure, NYC is definitely where he belongs. To talk with him was like being plunged back into the music world, and how refreshing it was, after being deprived of that for four years (not to say that the exploration of the scientific world wasn’t enjoyable).
Throughout our chat, I began wondering if I had indeed chosen the right path for my studies. I never realized how much you could do with a music degree. In my high school mind, I envisioned a life of teaching either privately or in schools, as I knew I didn’t have the drive or desire to become a world-class performer. Both thoughts were not pleasant to me, and so I chose to dive into the world of nutrition. But I really didn’t know what you could do with music. My friend is focusing on collaborative piano, i.e. accompanying singers (mainly operatic) or other instruments, something I had never even heard of back in high school. I’ve always liked supporting other people ever since accompanying a junior high musical production as part of the pit band, and being in band (concert/symphonic and jazz) all throughout junior and senior high has pretty much cemented my love of what I now realize is collaborative playing.
You know, the saying is true that you only miss something when you don’t have it anymore, and that was especially true for me when I was unable to play classical piano during university. I picked up guitar, but it’s a poor replacement for something that I now realize that I love doing. Although granted, when I was actually practicing piano, I wasn’t always enthusiastic, and I was pretty dang excited to pick up a portable instrument and grow out my nails a bit! But as cheesy as it sounds, my soul sings when I play classical piano, and the few opportunities I got to play for weddings, it was immensely exciting and fun because I got to make music with other people. If I could make a list of what I love doing the most, piano would be ranked over nutrition any day, and yet, the practical Chinese side of me screams “How would you ever support yourself doing that??”. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy nutrition and being able to help people (eventually… hopefully… need… work…). Perhaps piano and music will have to be my hobby. I guess it already is. I’ll need work to fuel this hobby… the first thing I’m doing when (if ever) I get a regular paycheque is taking guitar or jazz piano classes. Depending on where I am. If Ontario, then likely guitar, because I’d love to get better at it and not just be stuck with playing chords and reading tabs. Properly get to know the instrument. If Calgary, then jazz piano for sure since I’ll have a decent piano to practice on, and I’d love to learn jazz chords and improv properly instead of hearing what I want to play in my head and not being able to translate it into my fingers. I’d also love to join a local choir… I’ve always admired the human voice, and hearing perfect choral harmonies never fails to give me shivers down my spine. So much I want to do!
So, although I don’t regret going into nutrition as it did broaden my horizons, I wonder if 20 years down the road I’ll have a mid-life crisis and wish I had gone fully into piano, and then start madly looking for a teacher and whipping my old fingers back into shape. I just hope that in the years to come, God willing, I will be able to find as much enjoyment and fulfillment in my work as much as I do in my hobbies.