Turning Points: Part 1

“There’s a turning point. It arrives when we find ourselves quietly hovering inside the realization that the choice is between two pains: the pain of the jump or the pain of regret.”- Victoria Erickson

Quatervois: (n.) a crossroads; a critical decision or turning point in one’s life

It all started with a We Banjo 3 concert. At the time, I hadn’t been going to concerts much at all and hadn’t been to any concerts in probably a couple of years. The crowds distress me. (See my post Speak My Mind for part of that backstory .) But this time, my favorite band was coming to town and I had never seen them play live. My sister heard them at Milwaukee Irish Fest a few years back, called right after their show, and told me, “I just heard this new band called ‘We Banjo 3.’ You’re going to love them!!” She was right. She bought a cd for me and for about two weeks, I couldn’t stop listening to it. It was about three years later when I finally got a chance to see them perform live. I sat in the front row with my sister and one of her friends (who is also now my friend) and was blown away by these guys. I could feel joy radiating from them as they poured their hearts and souls into their music, and I thought “I remember what that feels like. I want that back.”

To put it in a nutshell:

I started playing flute when I was about eight years old. In our grade school, students could join the band class in fourth grade. At the beginning of the school year, the parents would attend an informational evening and could choose an instrument or have their student choose an instrument to learn. During class, the teacher would teach the basics of playing the chosen instrument, reading music, etc. My sister started out on flute. She kind of liked playing but absolutely hated practicing. I loved the sound of the flute, so I kept borrowing it and taught myself how to play. I would practice so much I would get blisters on my hands and fingers, but I wouldn’t want to stop, so I would carefully fold tissues and tape them around the sore spots to pad and protect them so I could keep playing. My parents even had to tell me to stop practicing so they could have a break from listening. 

Performing in a school talent show
Me with two band classmates

The beginner book was primarily filled with folk tunes and hymns I loved and had grown up hearing and singing and knew well. The first year I was officially allowed to participate in band class, I went from beginner band at the start of the school year to advanced band by the end of the school year. I was even given special permission (I was actually two years younger than required) to participate in the Michigan Lutheran Schools Solo and Ensemble Festival and did well, earning “superior” ratings on my performances. 

Ribbons I earned at the Michigan Lutheran Schools Music Festival

Up until then, I had grown up with music in our home and church. I loved the old hymns, folk songs, classic country songs, bluegrass tunes and Irish music (my mother was and still is a fan of the Irish Rovers). Singing was always encouraged in our home and students in our small Lutheran school participated in choir from day one. Getting to learn to play some of those familiar tunes was like magic to me. I couldn’t have loved it more.

I was encouraged early on by a teacher from whom I took private lessons, to explore a wide variety of musical styles. However, as I grew up in music and moved on to new teachers, I was pushed hard into exclusively pursuing classical music. To me, classical music was okay and I could appreciate it for what it was, but it wasn’t me. It wasn’t the music I loved. One teacher went so far as to tell me, “serious flautists never pursue anything other than classical music. If you want to be taken seriously, you have to focus on classical music and forget about the rest. You should be listening to it in the car, at home, etc. Eat, sleep, and breathe classical music.” 

I honestly gave it my best shot, but I just didn’t love it the way I was “supposed” to love it, and over the years I slowly began to think, “if I can’t be ‘me’ in music, then what’s the point in playing?” I began to play less and less and eventually stopped playing altogether. 

In the process, I lost an integral part of who I am.

And now we’re back to a year and a half ago when I was sitting in the front row at a We Banjo 3 show.

If I’m completely honest, I’d have to say I truly didn’t have any idea who I was at that time.

Too many key people in my life, thinking they were being helpful, gave what sounded like great advice but was actually disheartening.  I was told by a variety of people who and what I should be. All my life, there have been people who asked me why I was interested in particular things, why I liked the kind of music I liked, etc. When I would try to explain, they told me, “well, I think that’s stupid,” or “that’s so dumb,” or variations on that theme. Being an HSP (highly sensitive person, more on that in a future post), I took their criticism to heart. I tried to like the kind of music, movies, tv shows, etc I was “supposed” to like. I tried to be who and what they told me I should. I hid away so much of my true self, so much of my heart, because I learned it was too painful to share. It was humiliating to be honestly, authentically me only to be told that everything I was, was stupid.

I still battle this mentality. I can be painfully shy, and am afraid others won’t approve, won’t like me for me, so I hide, I keep my true self safely hidden from view, rather than risk rejection or ridicule. 

But…what’s the point in acceptance, if they’re only accepting me based on who they think I am, not who I actually am? Can I honestly call that “acceptance”? Not so much. (More on this topic in a future post.)

Over the past year and a half, I’ve had an internal debate simmering. Do I do what’s been expected of me by myself and others since I was eight years old and keep playing flute, or do I branch out and explore fresh possibilities?

Slowly but surely, I’ve been gaining clarity. I started playing flute and tin whistle again shortly after that first We Banjo 3 show. Not too long after picking those back up, I got a guitar. A few months later, I acquired a mandolin. About a month and a half after that, I decided to give bodhrán a try. 

Playing bodhrán at a session

A little at a time, I persuaded myself it was okay to try whatever instrument(s) caught my attention. 

And you know what? I’ve been having so much fun! I’m sure I won’t be an expert on all of them; that’s not the point. The point was to try new things and find me, to find myself in music. I began asking myself, “if I could go anywhere, do anything at all in music, what would it be?” If I could do anything, literally anything, with nothing to hold me back, not fear, finances, family/friends’ opinions, expectations, etc, what would I choose to dig into? The answer was so not what I thought it would be…

To be continued…

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