Practicing vs. Playing – A Musician’s Dilemma

“Mom, are you singing a real song or one of yours?” Titus asked as I hummed while making dinner.

I stopped short and looked at him.

“I don’t know,” I replied.

I thought about his words for a bit: “A real song, or one of yours?”

You see, this is exactly the pretentious attitude that was prevalent in the classical music lessons I took growing up.

I was never told that I was “playing music” or that I was a “musician”.

No, those terms of identity were reserved for professionals who had doctorate level degrees in musical performance.

The average student was encouraged to “practice” rather than “play” music. Once or twice a year, for about two minutes at a recital or competition he “performed” music.

The average teacher usually only knew how to teach a student to read music, not to create music.

If by some miracle an average student figured out on his own how to create music, the average teacher might not consider this budding songwriter to be a true musician because it was quite likely his creations wouldn’t ever match the skills of Bach or Beethoven.

I’ve wrestled with this as an adult.

I practiced the piano and the flute nearly every day for fifteen years of my childhood.

I’ve taught piano lessons as a hobby and side business for eight years. Somehow I’ve been blessed with incredible students who pay on time, practice at home and are a delight to teach. I’ve taught long enough that I’ve learned to fill my lessons with laughter, educational games and delightful musical selections that the students and I truly enjoy. My waiting list of prospective students is burgeoning with more students than I’ll likely ever have time to teach, for I don’t often have students leave my purposefully small studio.

I play the piano often. I visit old favorites I learned as a child. I learn new pieces to share with my students.

Most often, I play my own creations – entries in a musical journal. I don’t write down what I play. The beauty of the notes send vibrations of sound into the air. I figure this ripple effect changes the world for the better in ways we cannot see. God and my family are my audience and in this I am content.

Music is something I do. I practice and I perform. In my adult years, I’ve grown bold enough to give myself permission to “play” music.

However, I am not sure music is who I am. I am afraid to call myself a musician. It is a title and an identity that I’m not sure fit me.

“Mom, is your music real or is it just your own?”

“Well, son, I don’t know. I just don’t know.”


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