I’ve Got the Music In Me
Or the hobby I need to come back to
This week at ATF, we’re writing about some of our favorite hobbies and some of the hobbies we wish we had. In my case, I’m pleased to be able to say that I actually play a few musical instruments (the ukulele, the French horn, and the piano) and find great joy in making music.
Full disclosure: I feel like a bit of a phony choosing this as my spotlight hobby. I’ve been very inconsistent this summer when it comes to playing my instruments. I pick up the ukulele from time to time, and I dabbled on the piano when visiting my parents last month, but I really need to get back to playing more routinely. Of course, as is the case with any hobby, if you have to force it, it’s probably not worth it. But I view my relationship to my musical instruments a little differently.
I randomly started playing the ukulele about two and a half years ago when a friend of Mike’s left his uke at Mike’s house for a prolonged period of time. I kept looking at it and saying that I wanted to learn to play, but you know how it goes: we all aspire to acquire new skills but lack the motivation to get started. One night, though, something clicked. It might’ve just been boredom due to Mike falling asleep during the show we were watching, but whatever it was, it pushed me to walk across the room and pick up that ukulele.
I stayed up until 3 AM that night teaching myself some basic chords and songs, mostly thanks to the UkuTabs website. Mike would periodically wake up and be instantly bombarded by me excitedly wanting to play a new song for him. I was obsessed! That Valentine’s Day, Mike gifted me my very own ukulele, and my love for playing it only grew. I was very consistent with playing a little each day for a few months, but eventually that daily dedication whittled down to an occasional spontaneous strumming session.
It’s such an easy, fun, and beautiful-sounding instrument. It can be very quiet and soothing, and it can also be lively and unpredictable. Don’t let visions of #basic “ukulele girls” stop you from learning to play, if that’s something you might be interested in. Like I said, I don’t play mine nearly as often as I used to, but every time I do, I can’t shake the joy it brings me.
When it came time to choose the elective course we would take in 6th grade, my peers weighed over six options: art, band, choir, orchestra, theatre, and rotation (a combination of art, choir, and theatre). Thanks to my family, though, I only had one real option: band. To be fair, I have absolutely no regrets about being in band all throughout middle and high school, but I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t heavily manipulated by my dad and brother into choosing the French horn as my instrument (guess I’m not the only one in the family who can manipulate!). I had been saying for a long time that I wanted to play the flute. After all, that was what all the pretty girls played. But no. The men of the Heath family all played the trumpet, so naturally, I needed to play the “girl” brass instrument (never mind that my sister never did band at all).
I’m not totally sure how they did it, but when the time came for me to officially declare what instrument I would play in middle school band, I had 100% made up my mind: it had to be the French horn. (Again, I also have zero regrets about this choice. No offense to Kayla, but some real bitches played the flute, and I preferred the mindlessness of the boy-dominated brass section). It turned out to be a perfect fit. I have the right kind of lips for the French horn (aka thin white girl lips), and I really did become quite good at it. The tragedy of it all was that I would get insufferably nervous any time I had to play alone in front of people I knew. I did just fine at Region Band auditions (if I’m losing you with the band lingo, I apologize), but in front of the kids in my own school band? The ones I had to face every single day? Nope, couldn’t do it. Actually, during my last semester of high school, I weirdly got over this fear and played a killer solo at UIL with the full orchestra, but that was probably because I already had one foot out the door.
When I graduated high school and my band career ended, I really didn’t want anything to do with my French horn. It’s not like I could realistically play it in a dorm anyway. But more recently, I came back to it, playing a little when I would visit my parents. I wanted to bring it to New York with me, but apparently bringing a French horn on an airplane can be very tricky. Lucky for me, though, I just went on a road trip down to Houston…and guess what came back with me! I haven’t played it here yet, but I plan to try and do so somewhat regularly. Out of my three instruments of choice, the French horn is probably the one I have the most actual talent for. I’m not saying I’ll ever perform, but I would love to have a recording of myself playing that senior year solo just as beautifully as I did back then.
And now for the one I love the most and have loved the longest: the piano. My mom put me into piano lessons when I started third grade (I’m realizing there’s a weird theme going here of my family forcing music upon me…), and frankly, I wasn’t thrilled about it at first. Piano lessons were just one of the boring things my older sister did. Besides that, some of my friends had already started and quit their piano lessons by that point, leading me to believe nothing good could come of the lessons.
But — wouldn’t you know it — I actually found the piano to be quite fun! I really liked reading music and, in turn, sightreading piano music. I loved the mental stimulation of it all, with my eyes, ears, and fingers working overtime to get each note just right. As I got better, I loved learning to play some of my favorite pop songs, movie themes, and showtunes. And even when I stopped lessons in high school, I kept playing, kept teaching myself, kept loving it. I loved coming home during college breaks and playing from my Les Miz book for hours on end. I loved making my parents clap for me at the end of each song, no matter how well I played it or how badly I flubbed it up. The feeling of it all was just…intoxicating.
For my 24th birthday, I asked my parents if they would buy me my own keyboard to have in New York. I didn’t want just any keyboard, though; I needed one with all 88 keys. I wasn’t messing around and making beats here — I was trying to play legitimate piano music. (Yes, I realize how elitist of a statement that was). They agreed, and I was ecstatic. The keyboard was beautiful. I could play all of my favorite piano music on it (especially once I bought a better damper pedal). Weirdly, though, I felt my desire to play start to dwindle.
Aaaand that’s kind of where I am now. When I go visit my parents these days, I still play the piano, but I do it less often and with less enthusiasm. It’s almost like, now that I can play whenever I want to, I don’t want to…as badly. Similarly to my ukulele, I play my keyboard every now and then, but it’s not as frequent as I would like it to be. Every time I do play my keyboard — and my ukulele, and my French horn — I feel a great sense of joy. But for some reason, I tend to favor lying around and watching TV instead. I guess that’s just easier? Like I said before, I love playing my instruments because of the mental stimulation they bring me. Sometimes, though, I just need…a mental vacation. However, writing this piece has definitely helped to remind me why this particular hobby of mine is so important to me. I’m determined to use my free time more wisely, in a way that cultivates my creativity and brings beautiful music into my home.
Originally published on August 11, 2020