“Sometimes, making music is painful. Sometimes, that’s the point.”
I typed these words on Facebook just a few minutes ago, in response to my own status. Piano time, it said; I had mentioned that kleenexes might be necessary for this go ’round with my 88-keyed lover.
Why is it painful to be a musician? Why do so many of us carry the perpetual undercurrent of ennui? We have a gift! We’re blessed! Legions would love nothing more than to possess our talent! Yes, we’ve all heard it, and we’ve learned to smile with gratitude and accept the compliment, But inside, something gnaws at us.
To be a musician is to possess a different perspective of the world. We have a heightened awareness of nuances, detail, layers. Our emotions generally run at a fever pitch; some of us learn to contain the overflow, others, not so well. At one point during my twenties, I likened my existence to “the hoards of commonplace on ecstasy.” Yes, it is a beautiful thing that we do, for music is one of the few art forms that must be experienced in the passage of time, and cannot be contained in the realm of space. To make music, to listen to music, is to feel, to live. The act of performing opens oneself to criticism, to laud, to any and all range of reactions from people, from others who may or may not “get it.” Thus, a musician must deliberately be vulnerable.
This is where the pain comes in.
Couple raised perception with necessary vulnerability, and more often than not, the immensely talented performer on your side of the stage has often been driven to near madness by the perpetual quest for self-acceptance, let alone perfection. There will always, always be someone better than us, someone more proficient, someone with a more fluid technique, a higher range, faster fingers, better breath control.
This is true in every art, every sport, many if not most jobs. Yet one often does not find an accountant drinking himself into a stupor because numbers were not crunched quickly enough. Nary a pharmacist weeps in the night because her coworker knows more about drug interaction than she. So, why us? Why the purveyors of exquisite sound? Why are so many of us crippled with self-doubt?
Because music is meaningless without the passion of its creator. And passion is born from pain.
Wind chimes are pretty. Elevator dings and musical jewelry boxes are pleasing to the ear. Do we sit around and listen to recordings of them? No. Do we attend recitals of whippoorwills and doorbells? Nope.
There’s no PASSION in those things.
It’s simply not possible to be a great musician without being passionate. Sure, a robot can recreate a dictated series of notes perfectly and without flaw, but there will always be an element missing. Would any sane person buy a ticket to a performance of Beethoven’s 5th piano concerto performed by a player piano? Absolutely not. Musicians… we are consumed. We’re insane, on a level. We’re willing to open our hearts, to shine a light on own tightly-guarded inner worlds when we walk onto that stage, because we SEEK that pain. The thrill of walking that precarious tightrope between the ultimate expression of passion and the prospect of utter failure and humiliation is our lifeblood. It’s a drug. Creating something of incredible beauty from a bunch of black dots on a page… Making something new, that no one has ever heard nor will ever hear again… Translating emotion into sound… it is the most exquisite pain. And we musicians are absolute junkies for it.
So why would I ever want to do this to myself? Why would I deliberately place myself in a situation that was almost certain to induce tears? Because pain doesn’t always remain pain. With time, and care, and nurturing, pain heals. And the best thing I can do for my pain is smother it with my voice, pound it out with my hands onto these 88 keys. No one but me may ever hear my pain made into sound, but it cannot remain static. It must go somewhere, do something, become something else.
It must transform into passion.
That is why I do it.