I started playing piano at age 18 as a hobby. Trust me when I tell you I had no natural ability, no background in music or playing other instruments. Oh, and I was arguably tone deaf. No one (and I mean no one) would tell me “I think piano playing is your gifting.”
Let me tell you a quick story about a time when I felt so embarrassed I could die... and what you can learn from it.
Fast forward 5 years later. I was practicing piano at a college in Washington state in one of the piano rooms. I had been slowly learning the first page of Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue for a few months. There were a lot of notes on that one page. I guess I was playing one of the parts well because the College Orchestra Director offered me a spot in the orchestra as the piano player. I was so excited. I was thinking “YES, I arrived!” Then I became nervous. I really wasn’t sure that I was good enough and neither of us asked enough questions to know.
At our first rehearsal the Band Director begins to tell me the pieces are centered around the pianist….OMG, I’m starting to feel nauseous. The Band Director asked, “Would you like to join us?” I said, “Sure.” I should have answered honestly, and said, “I don’t know if I’m good enough. I’m so nervous my stomach is in knots.”
I immediately start to worry about my ability to play the pieces. I struggled with reading sheet music quickly, and I had very little experience playing anywhere other than a practice room by myself. Not only that, the whole orchestra is going to figure me out in just a few minutes…I’m starting to sweat.
Then he puts the music in front of me and gives me a few minutes to get my bearings.
He says “Casey just come in after 8 bars.” I say “Got it”, but I am far from feeling… I Got It.
Suddenly, the music started…the Director began to sway to the movement of the intro. The drummer starts in to play the first 8 bars…Here’s my moment.
I miss my cue. The Director stops the entire Orchestra. Embarrassment blazes on my face. He says, “Let’s try it again. Casey, just come in on that 8 bar start.” Oh no, here we go again.
Again I miss it. I’m struggling to keep the pace. “This is over my head,” I think. “I don’t know if I can do this.” Thoughts of fear keep swimming through my head.
After stopping the band around 5 times because I kept coming in on the wrong spot, he pulls me. He said “Casey, that’s ok. Let’s take a break.” Needless to say I was not asked to join that Orchestra Band again.
It could have crushed me. I could have given up.
But what is absolutely crazy is that a short time later, I was getting paid to teach a handful of professional pianists even including a concert pianist!
I didn’t give up. I pushed forward to succeed through a purpose driven mindset to improve myself, my playing and beef up my strengths (clearly not hitting the 8 bars in an orchestra) but improvising…having fun with music…helping make it fun for others.
The thing I really want you to take away from this is your drive is not defined by your performance. Your performance is defined by your purpose… your mindset to succeed…your ability to push past your fears and learn through your own failures.
So what does this mean to you and your life?
It means we all need to remind ourselves that failure is the first step sometimes to success.
Never give up your interest in learning to play an instrument. In showing up to perform. In pushing through the obstacles.
If you have never played an instrument, have no known natural ability, arguably tone deaf but have a desire and spark to learn…
Then push through your fears and be brave enough to follow through. Life is too short to have regrets. Never give up learning. Take every opportunity to perform.
You never know, you may find later on it may impact more people than you ever imagined.
Grateful to serve you and your family through music,
-Casey Thomas (with finger pointing)