I used to be really good at piano. Not Juliard good. But good enough that I won a four-year music scholarship in a statewide competition. Good enough I once had more than 150 pages of music (a Chopin fantasy, a Beethoven concerto, and a piece by a Russian composer with a name I wasn’t certain I could pronounce correctly) memorized. So I used to be good at piano. Not so much anymore. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I sat down at the piano for five minutes when I wasn’t interrupted by my children! At least today I got in 15 minutes of practice, albeit part of this involved fielding requests from my five-year-old, including one request for the “Indian song” so he could run circles around the house to the pounding beat. (He also enjoyed my take on the Indiana Jones theme song.) Then my two-year-old insisted on sitting at my side and turning pages before I’d finished one line of music.
When I was younger, I always was torn between piano and writing. In college, my passion for writing overrode my love of music – just barely. But now that my free time is limited, and now that I find myself having to choose between whether to write or – say – take that bubble bath with that novel, or between writing and tinkling the ivories, I am learning that writing trumps piano, especially at night when the children are asleep. And during any free time I might find, if I’m in a creative mood, I’m drawn to the paper and the writing. My musician’s fingers are not in the shape they once were. Now they are clumsy, slow, fumbling. I do feel guilty, neglecting my upright and its “88 reasons to smile.”
But unlike some people claim, I’ve learned you can’t have everything. You can’t do everything to the best of your abilities. Sure, you can do everything – but it’s not going to be the best you can do if you’re splitting your attention. You can be a great pianist and a great writer – but imagine if you devoted yourself to one or the other and how much more those particular skills would develop.
To be the best writer I can be, I need to devote as much time as I can to it. Do I feel guilty about neglecting the piano? Honestly, a bit. But I’ve made my choice, or my heart has made my choice for me, and I’m sticking with it.