Posts Tagged ‘music’

Here are a few of my favorite songs right now.



I’m also super into Portishead’s cover of SOS. It can be tricky to find but is so worth the effort. I want to listen to it over and over. Actually, I have listened to it over and over, but I need to listen to it EVEN MORE.

I’m also learning to cover Ruth B’s Lost Boy, which has been fun. I haven’t had much time (read: pretty much none) to practice the last few months, so I’m really happy to be singing and playing the piano again.


Yes, I know this isn’t the most in-depth blog post, but I spent the day visiting my mom’s ashes, so that was an important thing to do. It’s interesting how familiar Marin County still feels to me. I hardly ever go there (I think the last time was at least a year and a half ago, and the time before that was probably at least another year), but I learned it so well I guess in a way it will always feel like home.

It’s a comforting thought.

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There’s this article beginning to make the rounds called “My Wife is a Terrible Piano Player.” I’ll confess I didn’t read the whole thing, but I like its main point. When we start doing something new, we’re usually bad at it. The first time I tried to play the piano, I’m sure I sounded like a little kid pounding randomly on a lot of keys. Because in fact, that’s what I was. It took years of time and practice and instruction and effort for me to become a passable pianist.

This makes me think about grit, a word I’ve seen pop up a lot lately. There are several components to grit, it seems, but one of them must be the ability to persevere even when we’re bad at something. Really bad. Wince-worthy bad, our efforts plagued with mistakes, missteps (or misnotes, as the case may be), and misunderstandings.

The first time I play a new board game, I never expect to win. It’s not that I think winning is impossible or that I’m not good at games. But I like to give myself the space to be bad while I’m learning. I want to experiment. I want to be able to make mistakes without embarrassment or disappointment. Isn’t that what learning is all about?


But some people grow discouraged and give up. They don’t give themselves the time they would need to become good at something.

I saw this difficulty as a teacher. It was particularly prevalent with gifted children. They were so used to everything coming easily to them that when something didn’t–like, say, music, which pretty much always requires lots of practice–it was really difficult for them to continue. They grew frustrated. They weren’t used to having to wait to become good.

Music lessons were probably one of the best things those children could have been doing. Because really what they were learning was not only music, but grit.

Photo Credit: Alan Cleaver via Compfight cc


If, then, part of grit is giving ourselves permission to be bad at the beginning of learning something new, then another part of grit is cultivating self-discipline.

Becoming good at something is not always going to be fun. I love singing, but have I loved every minute of becoming a good singer? Have I enjoyed learning every song I’ve ever been assigned, figuring out how to practice effectively when I’m sick, doing the same exercise over and over and over, giving a poor audition? No. I love writing, but have I loved every minute of improving as a writer? Do I love the times when I’m stuck or whenever I realize my world building sucks or the endless revising or the hours upon hours writing personalized agent query letters? No.

If becoming good at something was pure enjoyment, we wouldn’t need much self-discipline. But there are always going to be off days and parts that aren’t very fun and repetition that is so boring you just want to scream at your screen and then go do anything else. And for things that don’t come with automatic structure, we have to provide ourselves with our own motivation and our own goal-setting as well.

Self-discipline, self-motivation, self-direction? All part of grit.


Just in case anybody wants to talk about talent? Forget about it. Grit is more important.

We can argue about whether talent exists. I happen to think it does. But talent without grit is not enough. Grit without talent might be. Talent might give an extra boost, but having that boost makes it less likely you’ll develop the necessary grit. So if you do have talent, that means you have to work even harder.


So the next time you start learning something new and you really, really suck at it, congratulate yourself and give yourself a pat on the back. “Good job for persevering, self,” you can say. “You’re showing some real grit.”

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Last week my friend asked me why I didn’t write more about singing on this blog. I told her I didn’t think anyone would be interested, and I wasn’t sure what I’d even say. She suggested I write about what singing means to me. She is one of my blog muses and I tend to listen to them, so I agreed, and I’ve spent the last week thinking about it.

But as it turns out, music and singing and musical theater all mean so much to me, it’s hard to write a short essay on the topic. I devoted over fifteen years of my life to focusing primarily on music. It wouldn’t be accurate to say it was everything to me during that period, but it was a huge part of what I cared about, how I spent my time, and ultimately, who I was. I will always be a musician.

Summing that up in a snappy list doesn’t feel right. So instead I’ll tell you a story.

It was the autumn of my freshman year of high school. I was fourteen. I didn’t like high school so much. Most of my classes were boring. The social scene was boring. I was still very shy and kept myself somewhat isolated.

My mom saw an ad in the paper for a local production of the musical Peter Pan, and she encouraged me to join. It was a new company in town, and they didn’t require auditions. At first I dismissed the idea, but at the last minute I changed my mind, and my mom and I hopped into the car to attend the informational meeting.

That night changed my life.

Fast forward several months to March of the next year, when the show was opening. We were performing in the big Civic Center auditorium. Through hard work and persistence, I had won two performances, including the gala opening, as Wendy, in spite of originally being completely overlooked for the part. I got to FLY. I got to arrive at the gala opening performance in a LIMOUSINE. I was a part of something bigger than myself.

A local news station came down during a dress rehearsal to do a segment on the show, and they asked to interview me. They chose my clip to end their segment, when I said, “It’s like a dream come true.” It was cheesy but also the truth. Musical theater gave me a dream.

That's a teenaged me on the left.

That’s a teenaged me on the left.

To this day, I have this photo on the top of my piano: me at age 14, wearing a blue nightdress and a blue hair ribbon, holding hands with a little boy in footie pajamas (Michael) and an older boy in a nightshirt (John). All three of us are flying. I kept this photo displayed throughout my years of teaching because I never wanted to lose sight of how I’d gotten started and how much of a difference singing and musical theater had made, and continued to make, in my life.

I have learned so much about myself through singing. And I have gained an incalculable amount of joy, both from singing myself and from sharing that gift with others.

When I sing, the good parts of the world draw closer, even as the bad parts of the world fall away.

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