Charms to Soothe

So I’ve mostly given up on learning the theremin. As I wrote on here before, my Christmas present this year was a digital theremin, quite possibly the most intriguing musical instrument there is. You play it with your hands, but without touching it! You wave your hands carefully near it, and it makes haunting music due to some electronic feedback loop or something.

Anyway, I decided to start taking lessons. I found a series of videos online, and it was my intention to watch each lesson, and learn something from it. The first three went great. Each of those lessons was about more of an overview of the theremin than down-and-dirty practicing. I enjoyed them. It made sense. It felt freeing. But then I got to lesson four. That one was about learning the basic hand motions. I tried them. They didn’t work for me. I mean, sure the thing made a sound, but I wasn’t able to move from one note to another with any consistency. No matter what I tried (for fifteen minutes, granted), I felt like this was a lost cause. I told myself that I’d just try again the next day, and the next, and then once I got a little better, I’d go back and watch lesson five.

I never did it the next day. Or the next. Or the next. It’s been over a month, and I haven’t touched the thing once. It’s an old familiar habit of mine, borne I believe from how easily things came to me as a child. I grew up thinking that whatever I tried would be easy to master, because that was always my experience in school. So whenever something didn’t come easy to me, I usually just gave up on it, often with some anger and vulgar language included. (“I never wanted to play that @&*?@! theremin anyway.”)

I was displeased with myself because of this, and I berated and judged myself. I told myself, “You should be able to play it anyway, even if it’s not easy. You should do it anyway. You have no willpower. All you want is instant gratification.” This lasted a while, until I talked about it with my therapist a few weeks ago.

I realized/decided (I put both words there because I’m not sure which applies) that I didn’t have to be perfect at the theremin in order to enjoy it. I didn’t even have to learn it right in order to enjoy it. I could even skip right to the next lesson, and keep just messing around with it, even if that meant I wasn’t learning the “right” way to play it. I realized/decided that I’m not going to be a professional thereminist, and I don’t want to be. Therefore, it’s just an opportunity for me to play, have fun, and enjoy myself. I don’t need to make it a metaphor for overcoming obstacles — it can just be fun.

And…it reminded me of the way that I’ve played the piano for years. I have a little bit of piano-playing skill, mostly due to osmosis from living with a piano teacher throughout my childhood. I was never a good piano student, but I can read music just fine, and can sight-read a melody line. (I actually know a whole lot more music theory than my level of ability, but that’s a different story.) And I have a piano in my house, because my church was able to buy a baby grand piano at an incredible price a few years ago, and they were kind enough to let me take the old upright it replaced. Every now and then, I sit down at the keys and play around, which for me mostly means playing some chords and doodling around a bit. I’m no great pianist, but I can make sounds that harmonize with each other.

And thanks to that therapy session a few weeks ago, now I’ve realized that I can actually make music on the piano. I never realized that before — I had always regretted that I hadn’t learned how to play better. I always thought that I had the potential to make music on the piano, if only I’d followed through more and learned to play better. But now I’ve realized/decided that that’s malarkey. I can play just fine. It’s not high art. I won’t be playing Carnegie Hall. Heck, I won’t be playing in church. But that doesn’t matter. I know how to make sounds from those keys, and what I make is music. And that music can be a form of expressing myself, a very different way than I’m used to.

So for the last few weeks, I’ve been doing that. I’ve been googling “chord progressions,” to find some interesting places to start, and then I’ve just played. A few days ago, I took the progression A-minor, E-major, F-major, D-minor. I played those chords over and over again with my left hand, and walked around the white keys with my right hand. It was beautiful, at least to me. There was a haunting, yearning feel to it, and I felt that it was resonating with something deep inside me. I journaled about it afterward, but found it hard to put words to it. But there was something there. As simple as this was — just improvising a primitive melody over a simple chord progression — I was creating this. I was actually creating something that wasn’t based on words. For the most part, everything creative I do is through words, so this was such a different feeling, and I really found it challenging to journal about it! Maybe because the only way to describe what I was trying to express is through the expression itself. I was trying to say what I played. It’s so exciting to me to think that there are things inside me that can come out in a new way, and so exciting to find that I can get them out.

So hey — I may not be learning the theremin anytime soon, but it drove me to the piano. And that’s a good thing.

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

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