Yesterday morning I played piano for three hours alone in preparation for my upcoming concert. In the afternoon, I rehearsed with the singer and trumpet player. In the evening, I went to a jam session at a local bar. Looks like I’m taking a few steps closer to owning the word “musician,” a word I avoided for most of my adult life even as I kept working on music. Why?
When I first read Howard Gardner’s description of musical intelligence, it seemed that many of the descriptions didn’t apply wholly to the way I experience the world. My childhood training was spotty—traditional piano (and organ lessons), but very little singing and no dancing and no improvising. Kept one toe in the water in high school playing my old Bach pieces on the pipe organ and taking one music theory class and one foot in college with my first forays into jazz improvisation, dancing on Saturday night and singing in a choir. Post-college life landed me a job as a music teacher and I learned enough guitar to accompany folk songs with kids, kept working on jazz piano, explored various world music styles and instruments, from gamelan to Bulgarian bagpipe. I stood in the waters of music up to my knees, with my arms folded, like I do in Lake Michigan when the water is cold and I’m not quite ready to commit myself to the full plunge. Always this comfortable distance I created, calling myself a teacher rather than a musician to excuse myself from my musical shortcomings.
The jam session last night was friendly and low-key, but I felt like I belonged. Every day, I feel the holes in my musical training and experience and at my advanced age, not lots of hope that they’ll ever be completely filled. But hey, I may be—to switch metaphors—a swiss cheese musician, but swiss cheese still can taste good and carry some nutritive value!