Tuesday, June 08, 2010

ode to joy

in the key of ?
did you take piano lessons as a kid?

i did. and if i were closer than a 7 hour drive from home, i'd take this opportunity to scan in a ridiculously embarrassing picture of me with coke-bottle glasses at age 6 or 7 hunched over the piano.

instead, you'll just have to imagine such a thing.


i was particularly interested in yesterday's happiness project blog entry, which asked the question,
Did Your Parents Make You Take Piano Lessons? If So, Have They Made You Happier?
hmmm. we don't have kids yet -- but are definitely planning on it in the not-too-far future. even as my oocytes for future children numbers 1, 2, and (maybe) 3 lie in wait (in prophase I), i can already imagine myself flummoxed by this particular dilemma.

i took piano lessons from ages 5 to 16 (or thereabouts), and violin from 8 to the end of high school. (i also sang and did competition cheerleading). while -- much to my dismay -- i had no natural talent in the athletic department, it turned out that music and i got along quite nicely.

i have (had?) perfect pitch and quite a good ear for music, likely due to being incubated in continuously played classical selections from conception to the day i moved out and went to college (interrupted only when i could escape and blast the likes of tiffany/madonna/nirvana/green day on my own personal boom box/CD player, depending on the era).

anyway, so i was pretty good. not 'live in carnegie hall!' good, but decent enough so that i got to enjoy several opportunities that came along with being pretty good: trips away for regional, state, and all-eastern orchestras. i LOVED these trips for two reasons: the opportunity to be social, and the opportunity to get to SKIP SCHOOL (yay! each trip was 2-3 days out, and there were several a year).

i loved the friends i made through these activities, both at school (my violin quartet girls!) and outside (at a 5-week hippie arts camp known as governor's school one summer).

but i did not like to practice, and if i'm honest with myself, did not really get much happiness from the act of playing itself. too much of a perfectionist, i never met my own (high) expectations and it served as a continual source of stress. i enjoyed 'noodling', and still have fun playing random songs by ear when i come across a set of ivory and black keys (lady gaga's just dance translates quite easily to the piano, but poker face not so much). i sang in college, but haven't really played the other two instruments seriously since graduating from high school.

furthermore, i never came close to meeting my parents' expectations for the amount i was 'supposed' to be practicing (in particular, to justify the high cost of lessons) -- and this was the basis for a decade-long power struggle between us as i was growing up, certainly a major source of unhappiness.

in retrospect, i think my very well-meaning mother and father (M+D: you know i love you both!) felt torn between cutting me off (because of the $) and having me continue (because it seemed to be bringing me success). i think they also both had dreams of me becoming some sort of musician -- but they have come to terms by now with my disappointing medical career (i kid -- sort of).

ANYWAY. so i suppose my answer to gretchen's thought-provoking question is that my music lessons did not make me happier; however, i do think they are part of what made me who i am today. i am glad i got a musical foundation when i was young. do i wish i had quit earlier? yes.

i also sort of wish i had spent some of that time learning spanish. but that's worth a whole other post . . .

and so now, i will pass this question on: what lessons were you involved in as a child? did they make you happier? i will be interested in your responses!

and now for something completely different
mark bittman's muffins!

i made these babies for a board review session i am hosting today . . . hopefully they will not be dismissed as too healthy or weird, since i think they are pretty good! i used leftover sweet potato and added nutmeg and vanilla to the mix; due to the starchiness of the potato, i ended up adding a bunch more buttermilk and a second egg, and wound up with 16 muffins instead of 12. it seemed to work . . .



workout: 4 miles outside (unknown pace - i was trying to calibrate and something went wrong) + 20 minutes yoga for runners

CE cookthrough: much to josh's delight, it was burger night! or specifically, organic, grass-fed local beef cheddar-stuffed honey-mustard slider night. not to complicate matters too much!

recipe recap: another super-simple one! just mix ground beef (as above) + salt + pepper, stuff with small cubes of cheese (i used reduced fat cheddar as CE suggested), grill (i used a grill pan) and stuff into mini-rolls (i used mini pita pockets) with spinach and a honey-mustard mix. yum!

of note, 3 looks like a lot, but 1.5 patties is still less than a quarter pound of beef and the pita pockets were miniature. josh took care of 5 with no problem.

reading: le sigh. i did 7 PREP questions, but my heart wasn't in it -- nor was my mind, really! i need to get some mindfulness into my studying.


  1. I played the flute for a few years but only because my best friend did it. I never practiced and was horrible!

  2. You basically articulated my own feelings about the piano lessons that I took from ages 8-16. My teachers said that I had potential to be quite good, but that I needed to practice more. I don't know why I didn't like practicing, since I more or less liked playing the piano, but maybe it was the fact that it felt compulsory. I also did a lot of singing, and had even greater potential in that area, but spent so much time taking voice lessons and singing in different choirs that I burnt out and quit after high school. As an adult, I feel somewhat guilty about wasting my voice by not singing...but not so guilty that I've done anything about it.

  3. I went to New Jersey Governor's School (for public policy)! Which has since been slashed due to budget cuts. It was definitely less hippie camp and more nerd camp.

    In any case, my experience with music was very similar to yours. My mother was a pretty serious musician growing up and semi-pushed me into cello lessons. I was okay, but never wanted to practice, and we definitely fought over it. Then I started singing lessons, and the same struggle ensued. But, yeah, I'm glad I played and learned to read music and gain an appreciation for classical music. I think it's a very important thing for children to learn early. Does that make me a hypocrite? Perhaps. I can deal with that.

  4. I did ballet, piano and horseback riding lessons. I wasn't particularly good at any of them but they were good learning experiences.

  5. It's weird that you say your parents wanted you to be a professional musician and ended with a doctor. Gosh, my parents would die, d-i-e for me to be a doctor. I mean, they would be overjoyed to the nth degree. I had the choice to pursue music or not and during that decision my parents were pretty nervous haha.

    As for the piano oh man oh man. I started at a super young age and dreaded every practice/lesson like it was picking someone's toenails or something. I would sit down, fix the seating, flip through books, play for 5 min., take a bathroom break, see what my brother was doing, play for 5 min., get a snack, check the time, play for 10 min. and that was an hour of practicing :)

    However, if I do have kids I will enroll them in piano and then encourage them to play an instrument in the band/orch. I think music expands the way you think!

    Super long rambly comment. It's early...9:22 am :)

  6. I started acting/singing/dancing lessons at 5, piano lessons at 7, and then gave up acting/singing/dancing at 12 to take up the flute! I stuck with both flute and piano lessons throughout high school.
    I had a somewhat similar experience to you - I was told (especially with flute) that I had the potential to be great if I practiced a lot. For flute, for the first 4 years, this was easy. My parents had to set limits on how late at night I was allowed to play! However, when I got more serious and switched to a private instructor who was really hard-core, it kind of sucked the fun out of it! I think, as long as I was the "star" and it came "naturally", I would play all day happily. But once I got to the point where I had to really work hard (especially at the mundane parts - like intonation, aka playing long tones over and over again to practice getting the just-right sound), I wasn't having fun anymore. So, in the midst of preparing for college auditions for flute performance, I quit!
    Piano, I was not quite as passionate about. Basically, I had a teacher who wanted me to be a competition winner, but I only wanted to play songs I liked! So when she gave me music I liked, I would practice for hours... but if she gave me boring stuff, no way!
    I haven't played flute or piano since high school (although if I had time I would play flute in a community band!), but I definitely think I learned a lot about discipline/hard work and am grateful for the experience :-) (I'm sure my parents wish the $$$ from lessons would have produced more than good memories, but, hey, I'm getting my PhD, you can't be too upset with me! Haha.)

  7. Anonymous10:17 AM

    i begged my parents to let me take piano lessons in 4th grade because my best friend was doing it. needless to say it didn't last although i wish i had stuck with it.

    i also took other musical instrument classes because my friends did too and i took tennis lessons for the same reason. all of them fizzled out within a year.

    but the 2 things i did the most that i loved were singing in chorus and swimming lessons. i really felt connected to those activities

  8. Hey girl! So question for you. I am trying to get more organized (story of my life) and need a good day planner. I wish you had a 'favorite organizational tools' page! So yeah, help a poorly-organized-really-disheveled girl out. :)

  9. Interesting topic. My parents let me try a bunch of activities growing up, but playing the oboe is what stuck, and I played from 6th grade - senior in college. I actually liked to practice way more than I liked performing, and I loved lessons. I had 3 amazing teachers, culminating in my teacher my senior year of HS who improved my playing 20x and made me love to practice even more. Like you, Carnegie Hall, no, but all-state, all-county, youth orchestra, yes. I was probably better at that than anything else I've been in my life. The teacher at my university was, sadly, not very good, and it was hard to find time and even a place to practice. I slowly stopped playing over those four years and started running (I realize now) to fill the void.

    Do I regret the time and $$$ spent? Absolutely not. I love and understand music in a way I wouldn't have if I hadn't had that experience. I don't know why my parents didn't start me on the piano as a kid. They say that's one thing they regret, but who knows how it would have turned out. I'm taking lessons now, and I really enjoy it.

    As for kids, my *hope* is that they will see my husband (who is an amazing guitarist) and me enjoy playing and practicing music and want to do the same.

    Whew, that was a novel.

  10. I spent a lot of my childhood in Irish dancing lessons (weird but true). As you know - I am occasionally (okay - more than that) clumsy - but with a lot of hard work and practice, and a VERY patient teacher - I ended up being okay. I won a few medals which I was very proud of, and was asked to go to the worlds. And then that is where it all went wrong - a power struggle between my parents and I ensued because I just didn't want to practice as often as they wanted me to. We stopped the lessons because of my rebelliousness, and along with that - my parents refused to enroll me in any other artistic lessons (like piano) because of my poor work ethic. Really - I was a brat - but I really wished I could have learned how to play piano.

    And was I happy with my lessons? Honestly - not always. For similar reasons as you - I was never happy unless I was first and perfect. The whole competition part of it drove my perfectionist part of myself insane. With Ciaran I will very much stress "enjoyment" with a bit of work ethic. But if I ever feel he is really unhappy because of taking it too seriously - we'll stop...

  11. I took piano lessons and they did not make me happy at all. It might have had something to do with my mother being my teacher. I switched to flute in 6th grade and continued through high school. I was ok at it, but hated to practice.

  12. Anonymous7:32 PM


    This is a great post and has been on my mind all day. I decided to comment. I started guitar lessons in third grade and continued until 12th. I also took banjo and dobro lessons, played in various bands and taught children music when I was in high school. I had a gifted music teacher, who encouraged and frankly loved me. In the beginning, I loved music and it made me very very happy. Sometime much later, I experienced tremendous pressure for music to be the 'main' part of my life. I enjoyed practicing, again, probably until 10th or 11th grade. I could not voice any of the ambivalent feelings for fear of disappointing many around me. I haven't pick up an instrument since I left for college and I am now approaching 50. Now as a mother to 2, a 15 and 9 year old, I reflect on my complicated history with music. My 9 year old took guitar lessons for one year, lost interest and I fully supported her stopping. I think the pressure to perform and perform well for others is what makes the music lessons so complicated. For what its worth, I still have dreams when I have to play a gig and never learned the song--eek!

  13. Anonymous9:29 PM

    You are so good to be running outside! the heat is about to make me indoors-bound

  14. I totally took piano lessons and was just like you...I did NOT like to practice! It shows in the lack of progress that I made. I'm sure that if I practiced I would have been more skilled than I am. Did it make me happy...um, sure! In fact, I MISS having a piano! When I'm home I'm so glad to be able to just sit down and play for fun.

  15. atilla11:33 PM

    I loved piano lessons. I never practiced enough. I loved my teachers and am friends with the ones who are still alive today. The basic music knowledge that you get from piano as a child makes music much more understandable and enjoyable as an adult. I taught myself guitar and did that for fun, but the piano background was what made that possible. Performing in public always made me nervous.