Many people are surprised when they get to know me that I learned several instruments when I was growing up and took music lessons for years. I think when people see the deformities of my hands they don’t expect that I can do much with them, but I credit my music lessons for helping me to both learn about the beauty of music and to do more with my hands than can be imagined.
My first music lessons started with piano. I wanted to learn how to make gorgeous music out of this enormous instrument ever since I can remember. My parents believed there was great value in learning about music, so they found an instructor to teach both my brother and me.
I wasn’t always great about practicing, but I loved the lessons and gradually learning how to play songs. As I grew up I continued playing through middle school and into high school. At the holidays we would make a concert at home with all the festive songs we learned. And at the end of the school year, my lessons culminated in a state competition where I was judged among my peers.
Celebrating my difference
My last piano teacher was a wonderfully warm older man who taught with such patience. Although I had limitations in the chords I could play (due to my small, arthritic hands) and also the speed I could reach, he had me learn complicated songs. When I went to a competition he argued that I should have special permission to play a little slower the same song as other students. He felt it was fair for my disabilities, but also that slower can be an interpretation. I will forever appreciate his acceptance of my difference but also regard for my love of playing piano such that he wanted me to play the challenging music I enjoyed.
While the piano may be my deepest musical love, I also took up the flute in fourth grade and joined the school band. I wanted to be able to play a wind instrument and all those lovely high notes. I practiced the fingerings diligently but needed to rest the end of the flute on my music stand because I didn’t have the arm strength to hold it up. Although I played for more than five years, I don’t ever remember feeling very skilled at the flute. It was fun, but I was not great!
I was happy to make a change in high school to continue in the band (and even marching band!) by switching to keyboard percussion. To be honest, I really wanted to learn the timpani drum, but there was already another boy who played it well. Since we needed someone who knew the notes and I played the piano well, I took up the bells, marimba, and xylophone.
Make some noise!
It was fun to use various mallets to pound out those notes! I learned to trill and play cords. And I enjoyed the variety of the sounds from the high metallic bells to the low, woody vibrations of the marimba. It was cool to play different instruments in different songs or even at different points in the same song.
While I don’t actively play an instrument anymore and haven’t for many years, I’m so grateful to have had these experiences. I enjoyed creating beautiful sounds, learning a different language, and stretching my physical abilities. No one expected someone with my severe rheumatoid arthritis to be able to play music, yet I learned and adapted. These were lifelong lessons as I continued to learn and adapt to be able to do many things in my life.
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