Saturday, December 2, 2017

{how i found my way back to piano}

A friend recently told me a story about how when she was a little girl, she wanted to learn to play piano. Her mom set up the lesson, but during the first meeting, the teacher told my friend that her hands were too small to play and refused to teach her.

I expected the story to end on a higher note—like how her mom found another teacher, and she learned and fell in love with the instrument. But that was the end of the story. She never found another tutor and never learned to play.

This gave me a flashback to when a teacher refused to teach me piano in third grade. I've always been naturally musically inclined—trained classically in voice since I was six, played both the violin and cello when I was little, perfect pitch by middle school—but with piano, it was harder. I play by ear, which means it is easier for me to learn by just listening to the full song rather than the recommended method: reading the actual sheet music. Though I didn't ever fully give it up, thanks to the piano in our living room, I wasn't formally taught the instrument again until high school. Until I found a wonderful teacher who adapted his teaching style to mine.

(Taking a moment here to side-eye those two teachers. I don't want to think about how many other students they refused to teach.)

I finally learned to play the piano the "right" way, but it still never came as easily as I wanted it to. Back then, my goal was to be able to accompany myself (or sister) while singing, and that's where I ended up—only able to do exactly that. My ability never went beyond the basic chords and I was rarely able to play the entire piece of music as it was written. And as I went into college years and beyond—now in the stages of life without regular piano lessons—I just settled with playing the same eight songs I knew. Every time I went home, my mom not-so-secretly wished I pulled a new song out of my hat, but the truth was...I never really considered trying. I had convinced myself that my left and right hands couldn't play anything complicated together, and that I would always struggle with reading sheet music. I stuck with what I knew.

But I yearned to play more. When I moved to San Francisco, music was no longer a part of my life. I lived across the country from my sister and singing parter, and voice lessons felt like a step back. My ice-breaker answers at work events shocked people: like how I've performed at Carnegie Hall three times and was a special guest on someone's tour in Ireland.

It seemed like a different life from the one I was living on the west coast and I desperately missed the thing that made me me.

So I bought a keyboard...

...and let it sit and gather dust for the better part of three years. I played it maybe a few times, but I still could not get over that hump of not being able to play anything beyond basic chords or songs. It was so disheartening and really ate away at me. I've since changed rooms from that one above, and even though the piano moved with me, I let it become another surface where I drop my mail and bills, instead of something that makes me happy.

Until this past fall. This year has been tough—my health, career, and personal life all took hits in different ways. I was constantly stressed, overanalyzing every part of my life, and I needed a jolt.

I listen to film scores and piano pieces while I work, and so on a whim, I downloaded sheet music to a song I'd been listening to on repeat. When I brought it home, I committed myself to it. 

I made a goal: learn it by Thanksgiving. Not just the chords—the entire thing, line by line, note by note. It was mid-October and the 5-page song seemed doable in that amount of time.

I set aside at least 90 minutes per weekday, with more hours on the weekend, and though I was rusty that first week, my hands eventually warmed up and it came back like muscle memory. It was like I never stopped—but this time, I was even better. There were days when I played the same three bars for five hours straight just to get the finger movements down, but I eventually nailed it.

I found myself more capable than I gave myself credit for, and it just...clicked. I identify notes quickly, I can play the treble and bass clefs at different tempos (at the same time!), and my fingers deftly move from key to key as fast as I can type.

Imagine my surprise when I finished learning the song by the end of the month.

So I downloaded another, and told myself I'd learn that one by Thanksgiving. And then I finished that one just days before the holiday, and downloaded another. And another.

I now have three-a-half completed songs under my belt, and have made a new goal for Christmas. I purchased a music binder with plastic page covers, so I can keep everything organized and protected, upgraded to a more robust pedal, and even bought some fancy keyboard headphones so my neighbors aren't sequestered to constant piano.

My roommate has been a rapt and supportive audience throughout this process, indulging my ego with startled reactions at how easily I picked it back up (considering she, too, had only heard the same eight songs I played for my mom). It hasn't just decreased my stress. I am having so much fun. 

I had visions of going home for Christmas, sitting down, and surprising my family with a repertoire of new songs. But the truth is, I've been so proud of myself, they've already seen snippets of the songs via FaceTime or videos. I don't care...I'm still counting the days until I go home and sit down at our baby grand (so different and better than a keyboard!) and play all of the songs over and over for them.

I still write the individual notes with a pencil on the bass line, and I still practice getting the tempo right by playing aloud to the actual song, but even though it is my own way, I am doing it. I am reading music and playing the piano and I'm actually good at it.

I still start and end each day at my keyboard. It wakes up my mind in the morning and relaxes it before bed. I have fallen in love with it all over again and found a piece of myself that had quietly been floating away. It has been the biggest gift over the past few months and I regret not doing it sooner. I can't even think about how many songs I could play by now.  

If you are reading this, take it as a lesson to not give up on something that you love—even if it's hard. Keep doing it. Maybe you will surprise yourself. And more importantly: it is okay to learn differently than others. I'm going to repeat that again: it is okay to learn differently than others. I have had to adapt my way of understanding things to what is not the norm all of my life, and that's okay. It really doesn't matter how you get there, just as long as you do.

I am so deeply moved by the piano; there is something about it that is beautiful and calming and significant in a way no other instrument is to me. I am so happy I found it again.


Friday, June 16, 2017

{england: road trip tips}

That photo above was taken when we were still in the rental car parking lot.
So many pamphlets. So much jet lag. So little makeup.

Did you think I was finished writing about our England trip??

I thought I'd write a post on renting a car and driving in England, from an American's perspective. It may have been our favorite part about the whole vacation, so I couldn't recommend it more. We can't wait to do it again.

Here are my big tips:

Monday, June 12, 2017

{england: from tea to gluten free}

To wrap up our trip, I wanted to write about our tea experience and eating gluten free in England.

{england: london}

(other posts on the trip)

After the Warner Brothers tour, we finally drove back to Heathrow to drop off our rental car and then hopped on the train to London. We were there for most of the trip (Monday night through Saturday morning) and couldn't wait to spend time in the city again.

We stayed in two different neighborhoods—Notting Hill and South Kensington—and both of our Airbnbs were great. We also spent the night at the ritzy Milestone Hotel in the middle of the week (since we decided last minute not to go to Paris) and it was fun to pamper ourselves for a night. I should note here that all of our flights, the hotel, and the rental car were paid for by credit card points. Take advantage of that if you can!

We planned our time in London really well. We knew our only completely sunny and warm(er) day would be on Tuesday—our first full day in the city—so we decided to start far out and make our way in. After some breakfast at our flat (first photo below), we took the tube to the Tower of London and walked from there. We ended up walking 13 miles that day! I'm so glad we took advantage of the weather and spent most of the day outside. The city was so beautiful that day.

Throughout the week we didn't have set plans and instead just did anything that caught our eye. London has so many amazing (free) museums, so on the chillier/overcast days we took full advantage of them; we visited eight! My favorites were the Imperial War Museum and the National Gallery. We skipped all tours except Kensington Palace, since we both had never done it before, and it was definitely worth it. The current exhibition is about Princess Diana's fashion, so it was a great time to visit.

Very last minute we also attended the D&AD Awards on behalf of my agency. I hadn't brought anything fancy to wear (we packed in carry-ons), but thankfully Zara and Top Shop saved the day. The ceremony was very cool to be a part of and the entire experience was especially rewarding.

I love this city. Public transportation is easy to navigate, the people are nice, the architecture is beautiful, and the history is abundant.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

{england: oxford and harry potter}

Click here for other England posts.


If you know me, you know that I love Harry Potter. I still stand by the fact that I'm a low-key fan, but this post kind of makes me question that.

By the time we got to Oxford we were starving, so we quickly found a gf pizza place before we checked into our Airbnb. Our flat was super cute (first picture below) but probably my least favorite throughout the trip for various reasons.

Oxford University is enormous; it's made up of thirty-eight different colleges! We knew we wouldn't be able to see the entire thing, so we just focused on the exploring the town and one of the schools.

Since it was a Sunday evening, we decided to attend Evensong at the famous Christ Church Cathedral. It was an hour of prayer, silent reflection, and beautiful music by the a cappella choir. We both loved the service—it made us miss singing!

The next morning we did an early tour of Christ Church College. The buildings were beautiful and inspired some of the sets in Harry Potter—most notably, the dining hall. Can you imagine eating there twice a day?! The opulence and history was incredible.