When I was a little girl, my mother told me, “You can do anything you want.”
But she added a caveat: “You won’t be good at everything, but you can do everything.”
This was such sane advice. And as a result, I always felt a level of calm security entering into anything new. I could do it. And I might do it well or I might do it poorly – but I could do it.
Secretly though, I never wanted to do anything poorly. I was smart. If only I applied myself, I could not only do everything. I could do it well.
And I am smart. And I do a lot of thing pretty well.
But my mother was right.
I hate that. Not that Mom was right. That’s inevitable. I hate sucking at something.
My mother did not have a lot of advantages as a kid. But she was never very envious of other people’s lives either. But one thing she did envy. Musicians.
How she loved people who could make music. So as soon as she could scrape up a few dollars, she bought a huge old upright piano (an old player piano, rollers and bellows included) and had it hoisted up to our second floor apartment. I think they had to take out the window frame to get it through. And then she scraped up enough additional money to give us girls piano lessons. Actually, just barely enough for two lessons a week, so with three daughters, we rotated – each taking a week off from lessons every third week.
My oldest sister – Chris, the most brilliant of us – took her lessons and practiced to an adequate level of competence, but did not care very much. When she entered high school and could make her own decisions about her courses of study, she dropped music. As far as I know, she hasn’t played anything since but the radio.
The middle sister was born to play. Claudia loved her lessons, she loved her piano, she loved to practice. How many kids have to be told to stop practicing for a while, and come and eat supper? And what a connection she had to the music, and still has. She’s a natural musician. And she not only played piano, once she had the opportunity to learn more, she played cello and bassoon and glockenspiel and marimba. Now she plays violin. Terrific violin. She belongs to a Fiddler’s group and plays at fairs and events.
Skipping down to my little brother, who came late enough in our family to miss our neighbor-lady piano teacher. He took saxophone as a kid, and later took up electric bass for a rock back, bass fiddle for the local symphony, and now – believe it or not – the bagpipes for a pipers marching band. He wears a kilt and everything. My brother is one of those determined types, who sets his mind to something and will not give up. I can’t say he has the natural soul for the music that Claudia does, but he plays well through practice, hard work and pig-headed determination.
Then there’s me. Me of the two-weeks-on, one-week-off piano lessons. I have music in my soul. I really do. But I don’t have music in my fingers. I really don’t. I haven’t got the sheer willpower to master an instrument that my brother has, and I don’t have the practicality of my older sister, who easily gave it up.
I tried piano. I play haltingly. Years ago I memorized Fur Elise and Silent Night, so if someone ever asked me play something, I could. I can still do it… the first eight bars of each anyway.
And I tried guitar. As a teenager I wanted to be Joan Baez. But my fingers are tiny and I can’t quite manage the chords. I learned FOUR songs. (in four years)
I gave the guitar to my brother years ago. I have my own piano though, and I sit and stumble through “Over The Rainbow” when I dust.
Then several months ago, Groupon gave me a terrific offer – One whole year of online ukulele lessons for $15. What did I have to lose? My musician sister, Claudia, lent me a beautiful ukulele to practice with. (Yeah, she had a spare gorgeous ukulele.)
I thought, now THIS I can do. My small fingers can fit around a little ukulele. And there are only four strings, as opposed to six (or more) on the guitar. Anyone can play the ukulele. Tiny Tim could play the ukulele. I am smarter than Tiny Tim.
But I can’t.
I can’t get through Lesson 14. Bryan is so patient with me. He says exactly the same thing and plays the same thing over and over. (It’s a video.) He never loses his temper.
But I can’t play it.
I will give the ukulele back to my sister.
Mom is right. I can do everything. But I can’t do everything well.
I have the heart.
I don’t have the talent.