This morning, like every morning, after logging on to the world via social media, I played a bit of piano. I kept making mistakes though, so I stopped. “Today, I declared after taking in a deep yogic breath, is not a piano day. Instead, I will write about it in my new blog”.
I used to take piano lessons in my late teenage years. I was never that good, or rather, I was not patient enough to become even remotely good. I now have a lot of time in my hands and an overwhelming need to let my nerdiness out. Recently, I recorded myself playing piano on my iPhone, then played this track and sang over while recording a second track (homemade audio tracking system). Before you ask, I will not release any of these recordings. When I played them to my parents the other day, their face contorted into something that resembles a grimace, their legs bent at the knee, their arms wrapped around their belly, and from their mouth came a wheezing sound that was beyond laughter. We nearly peed our pants.
Let me tell you how I think playing piano, singing over, or any attempts at being arty is deeply therapeutic. A few months back, I met this amazing woman totally by accident. On a board at work I saw a poster announcing a singing group where there would be no judgment over anyone’s aptitude and where we’d just meet once a week at lunch to try creative harmonies among a very open-minded circle of friends.
At the first meeting, there was about 25 people from various backgrounds and with very diverging, think radiant, ideas about how to tailor the singing group to their needs. A natural pruning occurred and after a few weeks remained a small group of “radicals” whose ideas and needs were 60% freedom and creativity, 30% learning, and 30% interpersonal mushiness (think outside of the binary box, where the numbers do not have to add up). One day, the woman asked me to write a short text about why I like singing. She wanted to know about my health researcher’s perspective on the role humanities can have in health science. Here’s what I wrote:
Singing offers me a breather, both literally and figuratively. It is literally a breather, because I must breathe at the appropriate rate, take in the appropriate volume of oxygen, hold the notes, and join my voice to those of my peers, participating to this communal sound. I must control my stomach muscles, relax my shoulders, and articulate the sounds in a way that my mouth is not used to. It is a complete physical experience. Things “happen” in my ears, physically, when I’m in tune with my peers. I feel my eardrums and my vocal chords vibrate, tingle. My voice changes. It gets out of my throat, out of my control, and morphs into unison that makes me laugh at times and cry at others. It does not leave me untouched.
It is figuratively a breather, because singing offers me an emotional and psychological release. I must pay attention to what’s going on then and there. I have no time to think about my personal issues; I need to listen to my peers’ rhythm and voices. I concentrate on my own voice, tease out my sound from the communal sound, and maintain it or adjust it. Singing once a week offers me time to giggle and laugh at myself for making unimportant mistakes. During that lunch hour, I may not have time to eat a full meal but I fuel up in energy and human contact. The best part is that I find other people who think like me and who need me and my voice.
After becoming unemployed, I had to move back home, where I hadn’t been for more than a few days at a time over the last 15 years. By moving across the country, I cut myself from this singing nerds network (and other kind of support networks too). I’m now struggling to find such a community here. Until I find it, I play simple piano pieces and try to accompany myself with my shaky voice. Then I show this to people who I trust their laughter is in tune with mine.