I was born into a musically unremarkable home. Though distant relatives had been singers and music aficionados, there was none of that going on in my house, really. But, as far back as I can remember, we had a piano. I guess I’m old enough to be a part of that generation, when almost every respectable family had an upright piano somewhere in the home. We probably got the paper and had a landline, too. The 80s were an incredible time to be alive.
It was a Horugel, which I believe to be German for “lower your expectations.” The more I played that piano, the more it's true, shitty colors shone through. Stiff, sluggish action, terrible intonation, couldn’t hold a tune. Ugh. (This is not criticism of my parents. Not being all that knowledgable about pianos themselves, I’m sure they were talked into this piano by a benevolent salesperson who had a commission coming. And, all in all, that piano played a pretty important role in my life, despite its totally uninspiring…everything.)
But, anyway, starting at a very young age, I would take a little cassette recorder down to that piano, press record, and make up songs. I had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea what scales or chords were. This was years before I took lessons. It was pure imagination and luck. I would do this for hours. Like this, ca. 1987:
Looking back, this is the musical equivalent of the kid destined to become a pilot in whose hands every plaything could fly. While I divided my leisure evenly around the time of this recording between playing music, Legos, Construx, and picking on my little brother, music would soon emerge as my clear activity of choice. It would consume my middle school and high school years. But years before that would happen, I was driven to create music before I even knew what that meant.
That’s amazing to me.
Parker Palmer has a great book on vocational discernment called Let Your Life Speak. In it, he argues that we’re great at talking ourselves into and out of big things for all the wrong reasons, when, if we pay attention, there are seeds of the life that could be ours planted inside all of us: “Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.” And: “Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach, but accepting the treasure of true self I already posses.”
When I was young, and I began to get in tune with my true self, it was as clear as day to me that I was to make music. And I did, schoolwork be damned, for many many years.
And then, I stopped. Because music is a hobby not a career, and I knew singers and instrumentalists more skilled than me, and I broke my wrist when I was 18 and couldn’t play for a while so that might have been a sign, and a girl I liked told me I had nothing to teach her once, and my mom said that good pianists make really good surgeons…
The voices from without slowly but deafeningly drowned out the voice from within, and I stopped believing music was a part of me. I stopped watering my seeds.
Palmer says, “As young people, we are surrounded by expectations that may have little to do with who we really are, expectations held by people who are not trying to discern our selfhood but to fit us into slots.”
Being a person of faith, I believe deep desires — and the abilities associated with them — don’t exist by mistake. Further, I believe God is big enough to weave these personal desires and gifts into bigger stories that meet needs well beyond our own. And, if this is all true, then I have no good reason not to listen to my life and respond proactively and expectantly.
What good gifts did you give up along the way to fit into a slot? What deep desire have you pushed even deeper down so as to muffle its call? What about yourself did you used to believe was a treasure to be shared, but is now a source of embarrassment and regret?
How’s that working for us?
Think back to the seeds of creativity that were planted in your life from a young age. Maybe, if we start watering them now, they’ll still bear fruit.
Maybe it’s not too late.