It’s February of 2015. I’m in an airport in Baltimore, Maryland getting ready to board a flight to Denver, Colorado for an unofficially official start to my job as a nightclub musician. I’ve got my usual stack of periodicals and regrettable junk food that has always been my pre-travel comfort kit. But on this day I am stressed. Because unlike any other flight I’ve ever gone on, I have an extra carry on item to worry about. I’m lugging an 64 key MIDI piano controller that I’ve owned since college. “How the hell will I fit it in the overhead compartment?” “The other passengers are gonna hate me so much for this.” “What if they don’t let me bring it on the plane? “
I had come a long way from not caring about this instrument at all to deeming it a necessity to take across the country with me.
My first musical love as a kid was drums. I got my first set at age 5 and I played it incessantly. I felt like a natural even though home movies show that I sounded like Animal from The Muppets. Fast forward a few years when my parents were enrolling my brother in piano and they decided it’d be a good idea for me to learn too. (“Why do I need to play multiple instruments?” I wondered ironically) I disliked it almost right away. I went from from playing “Won’t Get Fooled Again” to Schaum’s “A.M. and P.M.” and it was an unwelcome change to say the least. I hated practicing and pretty much never lived up to my teacher’s expectations. She eventually got a sense for my musical tastes and, God bless her, gave me a book of “Rock and Roll Classics.” But I didn’t exactly get a huge thrill out of beginner renditions of “Rock Around the Clock” or “Rockin’ Robin” either. After about two years our teacher retired which gave my brother and I an easy out.
So back I went to the drums full time where I happily stayed and progressed for years. I played in school orchestras and jazz bands while thrashing away nearly every morning before school on a drumset in the basement. Then at around age 12 I contracted the worst disease that any musician can get – wanting to use music to impress girls. I vividly remember having the eureka moment that even if I became the second coming of Buddy Rich I wouldn’t be able to play decipherable songs. So I cycled back, tail between my adolescent legs, to the piano. My Dad taught me John Lennon’s “Imagine” which I played and sang at my school’s talent show to rave reviews. I even got a PAT ON THE BACK from a girl I was hoping to dazzle. I was hooked!
But as cool and common as it is to learn musical instruments as an, uhm, recruitment tool, it’s ultimately not sustainable. It took discovering Billy Joel’s catalog at the end of middle school for my motivations to flip completely towards genuine curiosity and interest in the instrument. I can’t overstate how much I learned from him – everything from more obvious lessons like chord vocabulary and scales to subtle nuances in accompaniment and style. Those songs were my piano bible – I can still play every note from Turnstiles, The Stranger, and Songs In The Attic! Soon I began writing my own songs, playing in church and in school for my friends and also dabbling in a few bands. The piano became a bigger lifeline and part of my identity than drums had ever been. The same instrument that I once detested and that I started learning mainly because no girl would care that I could play all the drum fills on John Mayer’s “No Such Thing” note perfect. So I had to have it with me on that plane.
The piano has become such a comfort zone for me over the now 12 years I’ve played it that I’m at times sheepish to admit the extent of my attachment. I’m constantly on a quest to discover new sounds and am self conscious about being pigeon holed to a keyboard. But for all my musical wanderlust I still believe that there is no instrument that holds as much power individually as the piano. I have a recurring dream where I’m at my nightclub job and the other band members can’t make it so I have to entertain a giant room filled with people by myself. I’m terrified but I manage to make it work. No matter how many times I have the dream, I’m always behind a piano.
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