Volume 8 #1
I can’t remember how old I was when I took my first piano lesson, but I suppose I was six or seven. Every single week for the next 13 or so years I sat on the bench and did my best to learn the things my teachers taught me. There were hours of practice, countless recitals and even competitions. Somewhere between Beethoven and Chopin I decided that I wanted to be a real musician and I systematically devoted my life to this desire. My mom must have spent a fortune on my weekly instruction. And then the biggest bill of all…four years of music school. People told me I was good, that I could make it. The faculty was impressed and offered me more scholarship money. I kept practicing – hours a week. I didn’t have the same raw talent as some of my classmates but I was willing to work hard. And I did.
But my Sophomore year I slipped on the ice and spent the night in the ER with wrist pain. The doctor was irritated because the sprain was slight and my pain was disproportionate. I went home with a brace and hopes to be well within a week, but the pain increased. Within months I was having trouble walking and by Spring I was diagnosed with a bone disease.
I still played, though not as much and everything was simpler now. No more Bach and Brahms, now I was too interested in writing my own compositions. I couldn’t seem to get music out of my blood. My mind began to spin again…maybe I still could make it. I could be a composer. I was especially fond of song writing. There was talk, people said I was good enough. I wondered.
And in the midst of it all, my friend invited me to lead music for a group in inner-city kids she worked with in Five Points (at that time an infamous Denver neighborhood). I shrugged my shoulders and came along. In that moment I sat down and played “My God is SO Big” all dreams of being a pianist, of going to Nashville or even of being a music minister faded. I knew that this was what I had practiced all those years for.
That was ten years ago. I’ve long left the world of weekly piano lessons, performances, concert grands and theory. It’s been traded for things like playing on an old church piano for a group of homeless men who come to eat at the church every week. They sit and talk with me, asking me to name songs after them.
No longer do I sit for hours working on a particular hard passage of piano music while the metronome ticks away. Now I’m walking down urban streets with my dog, singing little tunes about God’s faithfulness. In the summers, when school lets out, I buy plastic recorders and give them to kids. We sit on their front stoops and I teach them how to play.
And the kids? They love to sing and dance. We worship, we praise…we laugh and shout. We redefine “joyful noise”. And I’ve never heard anything so beautiful.
I used to write songs for concert pianists and gifted instrumentalists…and now, I sit up well after midnight, writing simple choruses to teach the kids. I can’t play the piano anything like I used to. My hands just don’t move like that anymore. But I could care less. They move like they were meant too.
A few people play in the great concert halls of the world…I never will. I haven’t got the talent or the time. They play for Kings and Heads of State, not to homeless men or simply when the building is empty. They teach prodigies – not kids who have dirt under their nails and not enough food in their stomachs. And their music is flawless but you haven’t heard much until you hear my kids sing.
I have no regrets. This is my Carnegie Hall. My concert of a lifetime.
* all names and identifying details have been changed to protect anonymity. © Amy Beth Barlow