How Then Shall We Live?, Identity

Identity Dictated by Activity?

What I do determines who I am. Recently I was in a conversation with a friend and she asked if I played the piano. Without hesitation, I answered, “No.” I told her I used to play, but not anymore. When I was a piano player, I was practicing. I was taking lessons. I was going to Master classes. I was competing. I was preparing for recitals. I was studying theory and taking the yearly exam. I was going to group class. Now I’m not doing any of those things. I’m rarely even play for my own enjoyment. If I’m not doing the things that a piano player does, I am not a piano player. It is strange to think that once “piano player” was a major, if not the most important, part of my identity and now it is not a part of it at all. It is all or nothing, black and white, yes or no.

Something deep inside me cries out for more. I want to be able to answer, “Yes. Yes, I do play. I could then and I still can now.” All it takes is a little bit of practice and it all comes flooding back like a refreshing stream to my soul, not necessarily the skill, but the joy. I think this speaks to the reason behind my lack of playing. I cannot stand to no longer be good. I’m rusty. I have to think harder when analyzing a piece. My sight-reading has gone down the tubes. My improvisation is repetitive. I get stuck in the same motifs and cannot escape. My tone is bad. My trills are slow. My reach has shrunk. I do not sound as I used to and I cannot stand it. I’m stuck in this cycle. Is kindness to the artist in me really the answer? What can I do in an hour a week to reverse the cycle? I am a piano player. I want to remember how that feels. I want to play and I want to play well. So I’ll dedicate one hour a week to working through my old pieces. I love that feeling where my muscle memory takes over and my fingers dance across the keys as they used to.

At least once a month my Grandma calls to chat. I update her on my life. She tells me about her latest struggles at her ranch. Inevitably in our conversation she’ll ask me, “Rachel, you still playin’ that piano?” Every month I lie to her. “Yeah, Grandma. I’m keepin’ it up. Don’t worry.” “Good,” she responds. “If I told you once I’ll tell you forever. Don’t let that go. Don’t you ever let that go.” There’s accountability ready and waiting if I choose to give myself the freedom to fail. I hope I can, because my Grandma is right. I don’t want to let that go. I don’t ever want to let that go.

~Rachel