As a serious practitioner and teacher of one art form—writing—I don’t often share that I also play piano. Actually, I keep it secret. Why say anything when there’s no way in hell I’ll ever perform for you?
I started taking lessons at age seven, two years before I began writing, and studied it relatively seriously, an hour a day, high school through college. At my senior recital my performance was tense with nerves. In my twenties I occasionally played in church until I realized Sunday morning anxiety wasn’t worth it. I bought a hundred-year-old upright for $100 and determined never to perform again.
Other than our annual Christmas carol sing with the neighbors, I’ve stuck to my word. Unlike writing, the private practice of which has launched me far into the public sphere, my music stays home. In the morning I coach Gwyn, these days jumping in for duets, and on occasional evenings I work out Bach Preludes or a Beatles tune or my favorite hymns because no one sings them anymore. Sometimes I do scales for calisthenics. Sometimes Emily and I pound out Beethoven together. When my mother died we used inheritance money to buy a quality instrument, which now resonates throughout the house. Being inside that sphere of sound is one of my greatest joys.
I find it interesting to practice an art solely for the sake of process. I strive to perfect each piece because I want to inhabit it wholly, its architecture and ornamentation, its dissonance and balance, its fulness of harmonics, and not to satisfy audience or ego. When music-making is for pleasure alone, I thrive.
Over four decades of writing I’ve straddled both worlds, the private and public, moving deep into subjects, journals, and pieces I’ll never share, and publishing work that’s traversed the globe. With writing I’ve learned to thrive both ways. There’s joy in knowing my words move a reader. The older I get, though, the more the product’s lure fades. The practice grows richer, more resonant. The realms I create on the page fill my being, my writing studio, the whole house, leaving me to wonder, what if practice is itself the point? What if the product is simply an old skin schluffed off, and who we become for having created is our best gift?
The only way to know is to practice.
–Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew