Wounded By Music
Through a prodigy's gift, Beauty finds its mark.
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I play the piano a little. I always stress the phrase “a little,” partly because I haven’t put in any sustained practice, arranging, or recording time for the better part of a decade now, and partly because I’m very aware of my very limited skills. As a child, I progressed respectably but unspectacularly over six years of diligent practice, then stopped at 13 when school became too heavy (after a consultation between my piano teacher and my literature teacher, who both happened to be my mom). After this, there followed an acutely painful period of time where I tried to teach myself how to play by ear. My father was naturally gifted this way, having always half-cheated his way through lessons by asking teachers to play the pieces so he could memorize them. He almost perfectly complemented my mother, who struggled to play by ear but trained seriously through college and considered a professional career. My completely unrealistic goal, as usual, was to become all the things they both were.
I couldn’t put my finger on the turning point in hindsight, but at some point, something clicked, and my intensely annoying, repetitive plonking began to smooth out and become tolerable, even enjoyable. That’s the unhelpful answer I always have to give when people ask me how I learned to play piano by ear: I did it really badly for a long time, until I wasn’t bad anymore. It even became moderately non-embarrassing to share with my uncle on Dad’s side, who advanced farthest of anyone in the family to earn a higher degree and become professionally Good at This Stuff. Though he didn’t live close and I never studied his style, he and Dad and I all shared a little eerie synchronicity in the ways we liked to approach an arrangement. He told me once he was listening to something I did in the car and shouted, “Hey, that’s my move!”
Even at my best, though, I had to admit my skills peaked somewhere around “What if Billy Joel forgot at least half the chords he knows, then developed a sudden passion for hymns?” Or Bruce Hornsby, forgetting at least three-quarters. Or Elton John, though for reasons science cannot explain I somehow dreamed up this arrangement of “There is a Fountain” before listening to any Elton John, but anyway, you get the point. Like with many things, I knew I had some ability, I just also knew all the things I didn’t know. But I loved it so much I didn’t care too much. What I lacked in technical chops, I tried to make up in heart, soul, and good taste.
So, there’s me. And then there’s Jude Kofie: