The Real Reason

April 6, 2008
I had convinced myself that I was the best.

The first time I ever touched the violin was in the 4th grade. It was the “cool” thing to do back then, and everyone around me quickly picked up various string instruments, ready to be introduced into the world of music. Slowly, mechanically, I learned the notes and the positions needed to create rhythms and beats. My clumsy fingers became refined, and my body adapted to the appropriate stature for the instrument. My progress was exponential, and all of my teachers were impressed. Many other students who had started just for fun quickly dropped out, but I persevered on because the contentment of playing amusing songs was worth the time and effort. Surpassing everyone in my grade, I played in the 6th grade orchestra when I was only in 5th grade, and from then on, time gave me the impression that I was the finest. I was consistently the first chair in orchestra, and my private teacher couldn’t feed me enough music to satisfy my unstoppable growth.

There was an unquenchable drive within me to play my violin. Knowing that I was “Number One” and “The Best” fueled my motivation to practice and to play. Each learned piece was another conquered item on my list. Throughout middle school, I breezed through all of my compositions and pieces.

I had convinced myself that I was the best, and I absolutely believed it.

Soon, however, what was once motivation to practice became an unnecessary time-consumer. Everything was easy. I could go to my lessons, sight-read my pieces, and still get satisfied remarks from my teacher without having to practice. My biggest mistake was that I became overly comfortable; my confidence in my skills overrode my drive to pick up my instrument. I wanted to take breaks, lay back, and forget about practicing. As a result, my progression slowed and came to a standstill.

My private teacher began to notice my disinterest. “Play from your heart,” he desperately pleaded. “Feel it in here,” as he patted his chest. I felt bad for letting him down, but the whole concept seemed silly to me. My mom would even make comments sometimes, “if you would just move a little bit instead of standing so stiffly, it would be so much more meaningful.” I was young; I didn’t understand. I’d seen people on TV closing their eyes and swooning around in circles as they played their instruments. They seemed like overdramatic clowns that exposed too much of themselves to the world. I could never let myself out in the open like that. “Think of something you love, show it when you play,” my teacher kept coaxing. I just couldn’t bring myself to it. The musical world I knew was almost robotic; get music, read notes, play, done.

I hit high school and entered a new world. The small school orchestra that I had become accustomed to was now almost tripled in numbers. The first day we pulled out our instruments, I looked around and realized there was pure talent bubbling and brewing all around me. So many members were practicing with beautiful, powerful sounds. Certain prodigious players were fiddling complicated compositions off the top of their heads, and lovely melodies were ubiquitous. But I was just an insignificant freshman with stalled progress.

That day I had to audition for the first time. There was an incessant pressure choking my heart, and I felt I had expectations to live up to. As I performed the required excerpt, I was surprised at how rusty my fingers had gotten over the long summer break, and how weak I sounded compared to those other players. My hands were clumsy and cumbersome, and the seeming simplicity of playing the violin became a talent I had never possessed.

I had convinced myself that I was the best. But suddenly, I realized I was far from it.

That year, for the first time in five years, I didn’t sit first chair. But I am thankful. As a result of sitting in a different seat, I absorbed more than I ever could if I were to have the “top spot”. As I felt like a timid first-timer, I observed others around me and my robotic edges oiled up. I grew and matured, and one day, for a cause that I can’t recall, it just happened; I felt the music.

I think the fact that I don’t remember the specific event as to why I first felt music is a good thing. It is insignificant. The most prominent point is that the moment happened at all, and that it was genuine. There was a true motive to play now; it wasn’t just to prove I’m better than others or to make other people happy. I uncovered the true incentive to play. The real reason is to feel. It is to feel the first time you ever received a love note from a secret admirer; to feel the first time your heart ever sped up; to feel the first time you ever saw flowers bloom in the spring; to feel the first time you ever saw your breath in the wintertime; to feel the first time you ever witnessed your dad shed a tear; to feel the first time you ever had to say goodbye, to feel the first time you laughed until you cried.

I now know that I never will be the best. In fact, in this vast world of music, I am barely mediocre. But the feeling of being able to feel music overpowers that fact. I can now sway my body without feeling naked, and I can jump up and down while I play without feeling embarrassed. I can stomp my feet when the notes get fierce, and I can smile when a divine melody starts to sing. Everything I had ever known about being the best doesn’t matter at all in the big picture. After years of false motivation and mechanical movements, I finally know the real reason for music.

I had convinced myself that I was the best. But now I don’t care, because even if I’m the worst player in the world, I can still “feel it in here.”

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