Making time for music

Songs of Myself

I packed up my keyboard, my acoustic guitar, my microphone and my recording software, all stuffed snugly into the back of my mom’s SUV. All summer long, I’d been worrying about how I was going to fit all my instruments into a tiny Unit 3 double. Unable to cope with the idea of my gigantic Yamaha keyboard gathering dust in the corner of my childhood bedroom, I convinced my mom to take me on the 14-hour drive from Seattle to Berkeley with all my belongings instead of shipping me to the freshman residence halls on a plane. I was aware that space would be limited, but I just knew these instruments would be absolutely essential to my inevitable rise in the Berkeley music scene.

Upon arriving in Berkeley, I made the executive choice for me and my roommate that we would loft our beds. I convinced her that it was also for her benefit, but it was mostly to make room for my massive pile of instruments. I’ve always been very selfless.

Then freshman year kicked in. Every moment I wasn’t in class, I was hanging out with my floormates. We complained about the food in Cafe 3, studied in the lounge together and congregated into eager, doe-eyed packs to wander aimlessly around frat row on Friday nights, hoping for a Chill Brother to let us into the most lit party of our lives.

I barely touched my keyboard all year. When it came time to move out of the residence halls, I found myself hauling the unwieldy object to FedEx, staggering under its weight as I lifted it onto the bus. I shipped it home, where it has remained since its expensive return to the PNW.   

These days, if I want to play piano, I have to make a special trip to the Morrison practice rooms. I love playing, but I always find myself making excuses — I’m too busy, I’m too tired, there’s not enough time. I never regret it once I get there, but sometimes it feels like a herculean effort to fit it into my schedule. The same goes for performing. Back in high school, I played at open mics and other shows constantly. And when I wasn’t doing that, I was using every spare moment to practice with my band or write songs.

But college is much more hectic. At campuses such as UC Berkeley, there’s a pressure to be doing everything at once. “You’re running for ASUC president? Well, I’m taking 56 units and interning at Trader Joe’s.”

But regardless of how busy you are, it’s still important to make time for the things you love to do. Even if you’re swamped with midterms and essays, you can probably still spare a few minutes to free-write in your journal or play a little guitar in your bedroom. When I actually take the trip to the practice rooms, I leave feeling relaxed, refreshed and accomplished. It’s always rewarding.

I recently made a resolution to make time for music (instigated by a late-night, mopey-music-fueled mini-meltdown over my future). There’s an open mic I’ve been wanting to check out since last year, but every time I’ve thought of it I’ve dismissed it, deciding I was too busy. Last week, I decided to finally go, inviting a musician friend I hadn’t seen in a while to come with me. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t made the short trip earlier. I relished the experience of singing on stage, performing in front of a dimly-lit crowd for the first time in months. Now, I have two more performances scheduled for the next two weeks.

I’ve started playing guitar more lately, too. I’ve recently become obsessed with Mitski, an indie rock artist whom I stumbled upon playing on Sproul Plaza a few months ago. Startled by the simple, heart-wrenching beauty of her song “Last Words of a Shooting Star,” I immediately felt moved to pick out the notes on guitar so I could sing it myself. I had an essay to write that afternoon, but I couldn’t help myself. I had to play it. And maybe I had to stay up a little later to finish that essay, but I did so with a clear head, buzzing with music in my bones. There’s always time for the things you love, you just have to stop making excuses.

So take those extra few minutes in the morning to write poetry by your favorite sun-soaked window. It will feed your soul in a way that Math 1A problem sets never will. Working your ass off for that college degree is never a walk in the park, but it doesn’t have to drain you of all your life force. So spill your guts onto a page or into the strings of a guitar. Write a song. Paint a landscape. Don’t neglect the things that make you feel whole, and you’ll be so much better for it.

Madeline Wells writes the Thursday arts column on trying to make it in the music industry. Contact her at [email protected].

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