9: How I Became a Musician

9: How I Became a Musician

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Positive for Kids

How I Became a Musician

Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.

~Charlie Parker

My mother stood before me as I practiced my clarinet. I had been playing for a while, trying to get a clear sound from the reed.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “You’re going to have to choose between clarinet and piano. I can only afford to pay for one instrument.”

My heart sank. I loved my shiny new rented black clarinet. I practiced every day, and music came easily to me, but playing it was an entirely different story. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t seem to get a great sound out of it.

As for the piano; I had been playing it since the age of six. My father gave me my first piano lesson before he died. The clarinet was great but I loved the piano. It was the instrument my father had played so well. Every time I played a song on his black upright piano, I felt closer to him. I gave back the clarinet and chose piano lessons.

That decision affected my entire childhood. I watched from the audience as all my musical friends at school played in the band at holiday and spring concerts. They had started in fourth grade and every year they played better and better. I felt left out of all the fun. Nobody at school even knew I was musical at all. Every day I would go home and play the piano by myself. By the time I was in seventh grade, I was writing my own songs, but no one heard them. I played them when my mom and stepfather were at work.

One day I took a break from piano practice to watch an afternoon talk show. They were making a huge deal out of a young boy who could play the piano by ear. He would listen to music and then play it without sheet music.

“Not fair,” I yelled at the TV. “I can do that! How come I’m not on TV?” Nobody heard me.

I was sitting in class one day when a friend mentioned that the music teacher was looking for a bell player for the school band. I thought about it for a week. Should I dare to volunteer?

It took all the strength I had to get the courage to approach the school music teacher. To my surprise, he asked me to stop by the music room after school. He showed me a glockenspiel and asked me if I could read music. The glockenspiel was not a difficult instrument to learn to play, so he said I could learn on the school instrument. My mom wouldn’t have to pay for a rental instrument or lessons. Now I could play in the school band! It was like a dream come true to be performing in the concerts at school.

Sometimes, during breaks at band rehearsals students would get up and practice on the band room piano. I longed to play it, but I was too shy to get up and play.

One day after band practice, I summoned all my courage and wandered over to the piano in the corner of the room. No one was around, so I started to play a popular song I knew. It was something I had figured out by ear. After a few minutes I looked up and realized the band director was listening. “Keep playing,” he said. My heart was racing. I was so embarrassed yet I wanted to play more than anything in the world. I wanted people to hear me. So I kept playing.

“Would you be interested in joining a little trio I have?” He smiled in an encouraging way. “We have a bass player and a drummer. We could use you on the piano.” I was in complete shock.

“Sure.” He had no idea how excited I was. Secretly, I was terrified. I was not one of the popular kids and I could see myself messing up and everyone making fun of me. I was so scared, I almost didn’t show up at the first practice. Then I thought of my father. When he was alive, he played the piano in front of everyone. He wasn’t afraid. I was his daughter. I had to do this, for him and for me.

The first day of practice was a pleasant surprise. My band mates were great musicians. They were also really nice. They complimented me on my playing. It was so much fun! I made new friends who thought I had talent. People heard me play piano in the music room and one of the most popular girls in my grade asked me to play a piano duet with her. When I had volunteered to play the bells a year before, I never dreamed it would lead to this.

At my eighth grade graduation, I played the piano duet, and performed with our band trio in front of the whole school. My mom and stepfather were in the audience cheering me on. And I know my father was there too, listening from heaven.

~L.A. Strucke

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