I decided I wanted to be a musician when I was 14.
I’d been playing piano half-heartedly for a few years, rarely practicing the classical pieces my tiny, unintimidating piano teacher urged me to learn. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t get fired up about Beethoven’s 5th. I dreaded piano lessons Thursday afternoons, where I towered over the 4-foot-11-inch woman who only laughed nervously when I couldn’t tickle the keys like a child prodigy. I thought maybe music just wasn’t my calling. Like any middle-school girl, I had better things to do, such as texting my BFFs on my hot pink mobile device and lusting endlessly after a Juicy Couture tracksuit.
But then my piano teacher moved away, and high school started. My wardrobe of Hollister and Abercrombie quickly found itself replaced by thrift store finds. I got a Tumblr account, and I spiraled into the alt girl bandom world. And on top of all of that, I started singing. Not just singing along to Avril Lavigne on my iPod Nano — for the first time, I sat down at the piano and sang along with clumsy piano chords; my voice quiet and uncertain, but a voice all the same.
My apathy toward piano quickly gave way to a blossoming enthusiasm. I started lessons with a new piano and voice teacher, a woman equally tiny but leaps and bounds more inspiring than my previous one. She encouraged me to share my singing voice with the world. Where I had once dragged my feet about going to piano lessons, I now found myself running up the stairs, bubbling with excitement.
The first time I ever sang in front of an audience was at a piano recital. My hands shook violently and my breath shuddered in my chest as I timidly launched into the first few chords of my favorite piano ballad: “Pretend” by Lights. “Once in awhile / I act like a child / To feel like a kid again,” I crooned the nostalgic lyrics softly, my voice growing more confident as I settled into the song. My nerves melted away, and I felt at home in the music.
The youthful, angelic synth pop queen Lights penned the anthem to my wide-eyed wonder. With the kind words of strangers and family members echoing in my ears after the recital, I was sure I was destined for pop stardom. I bought myself a sparkly gold pop star dress and planned my imminent rise to fame. From then on, I knew that music was the only option. The way I felt it in my entire body and soul when I sang — I knew nothing could ever beat that. I wanted to chase that feeling forever.
Listening to the lyrics of “Pretend” now, I can’t help but feel especially nostalgic. “Remember the time / We had soda for wine / And got by on gratitude,” her voice rings in my ear, lamenting my loss of innocence. I never got a chance to wear that sparkly pop star dress on stage. The certainty I had in my future as a musician seems naive now, but sometimes I wish I could still play pretend and summon that whole-hearted belief in the power of music I used to possess.
I never lost the deep love for music I discovered as a young teenager, but the realities of adulthood and the music industry have set in. Instead of pursuing music full-time after high school, I started college. Making time for music these days is frustratingly difficult. Playing shows and writing songs have faded into the background as I struggle to keep up my GPA and maintain some semblance of a social life.
Back at home over this past winter break, my dad asked me why I wasn’t playing as much music anymore. I shook him off, telling him I was just busy. But I couldn’t shake off the guilt I felt about the abandoned keyboard and electric guitar lying in the corner of my childhood bedroom. I’m not done with music. Maybe my dreams of following my idol Lights’ path — moving to a tiny apartment in Toronto right after graduating high school and flinging myself fully into music with an army of tiny synths and Myspace fans at my back — won’t come true exactly as I had imagined. But I don’t think it’s over yet.
The path to pursuing music certainly has its ups and downs, but I’m not putting away the pipe dream anytime soon. I hope you’ll stay tuned to hear about my experiences as an aspiring musician — and all the songs that have captured my heart along the way.
Madeline Wells writes the Thursday arts column on trying to make it in the music industry. Contact her at [email protected].