Finding my Voice

Daily Automagical posting by Ted
Halfnotes will reply to all the comments when she comes back on March 5th. Thank you!

I love playing piano. Good thing, too, since that’s the primary way I earn my living: teaching, composing, and giving recitals.

But why piano? Why not the flute, or the cello, or French horn or singing, for that matter?

Well, I’m not really sure about my choice of instrument, except that I started fooling around with a piano when I was very young. My grandmother told my parents they should get me a real one since I kept complaining that I couldn’t play any “real” songs on the little toy one I had. They did, of course, then found me a teacher, and the rest, I suppose, could be chalked up to history.

But why did I stick with music instead of psychiatry, an area that interests me deeply? I once had a college counsellor at the state commission for the blind tell me I couldn’t be a psychiatrist because I couldn’t see people’s facial expressions. Now, I know this isn’t true, but at the time, I figured that I’d do something else and study the mind along the way.

So I went to college, but still hadn’t decided whether I was getting my degree as a pianist or as a singer. I was listed as an education major, but some funny things happened while I was at school.

First of all, I discovered that, as an education major, I’d have a week or two to learn to play every instrument in the orchestra. Then, after graduating, since I could play everything “just enough,” I’d be responsible for teaching students in public schools how to play these same instruments. You’ve gotta be kidding!

Let me preface my next comments by saying there are many, many wonderful teachers in public schools, and countless kids are getting to play instruments who otherwise would never have a chance without these people. But for me, if I’m going to teach something, I want to know everything I possibly can about it. So to teach an eleven-year-old the trombone for a whole school year after only playing it two weeks myself is just wrong. I couldn’t do it in good conscience, so I switched into the performance program and never had to arrange “Six Little Ducks” for guitar and xylophone again.

The other thing that happened in college was politics. Singing had always been fun for me, and I was good at it. But the harder I worked, the less I got. I wasn’t willing to kiss up to people to get what I wanted; I thought you should be rewarded for merit. But after a while, I got really, really tired of “just missing” cuts. People were asking me to sing and leave myself outside of what I did.

So I cried over it a little, but I closed my mouth, left the chorus, and found the piano, just like I always had when life got hard and I needed to say something without speaking.

I took a composition class and wrote a piece for three pianos. The professor at first kept trying to convince me to “pick something easier,” like marimbas or something. But when the piece kept forming and there was no compromising because this was just the right way and the only right way, he stopped pestering me, and I got a lot of things said that I wanted to, without having to conform to anyone’s ideas of what I could, should or would do.

The piano, and, by extension, the “Soul Essence” pieces are all extensions and reflections of these ideals. It’s safe to be expressive in music that doesn’t have words, because I can have my own meaning and the audience can have theirs. If I get the composition right or play well, these two points of view are often so close that they’re practically indistinguishable.

Other times, “my” way doesn’t always agree with what other people think I “should” be saying. Then, I have to choose: Do I compromise, or do I stand firm? I don’t like these situations much, because too often, I read into people’s opinions and interpret them as something like, “I’m not good at this” or “I have no business composing”.

If I make the changes (trying desperately not to be too angry with myself or the person doing the suggesting) and discover that they’re valid, then, after I’ve had a while for my ego’s swollen glands to subside, I can definitely see and appreciate the value, and I’ll try to incorporate the lesson into future work.

But other times, people are just wrong. I have to set aside my desire to always be a peacekeeper (or peacemaker) at that point and respectfully but firmly agree to disagree.

The piano has taken me to some amazing places, and I’ve met plenty of people that I never would have met without it. For someone who does better “giving” than “receiving,” it’s also a great medium for expressing things. I’m safe because I’m behind a big machine (albeit a beautiful and complex one). I can interpret what other composers wrote in their music without having to reveal too much of my own vulnerability.

But playing with no heart is death. So even though I might be playing Chopin’s Ballade, following his dynamics, bringing the notes into existence in the order he wrote them down on the page, I draw on my own deep well of emotion and experience to give the music meaning and vitality.

If this weren’t true, we could program computers to play music for us and call it art. Instead, we go into a concert hall, settle into our seats, grow quiet as the lights dim, open our ears and our minds and our hearts and wait for someone to walk onstage, sit down, put hands to keys, and draw us in.

That’s why I play the piano: I want to be drawn in just as much as I want to do the drawing of someone else.

Explore posts in the same categories: music, spirituality

7 Comments on “Finding my Voice”

  1. ombudsben Says:

    very nice piece, Stephanie.

  2. Sounds like you are playing instruments from the soul it is wonderful to hear a person who has there heart and soul in things . I hope you go far chosing a carreer based on what a blind person says was a great chose my husband of 36 years is legally blind and I don’t understand it not even after so many years . My husband plays music by the hour and I love art I have studied two years in high school 2 or three years making ceramics at the park no teacher just pour it and do it . My whole life at sewing I have made my clothes off and on for years because of weight problems .

  3. glenn Says:

    I would love to hear your music. Has any of it been recorded on a CD?

  4. halfnotes Says:


    Thanks. I knew I had to write about this eventually; I’d been thinking about it for quite some time. Writing it doesn’t change it, but it’s good to have it recorded.

  5. halfnotes Says:


    Thanks for your thoughtful response. It’s always good to hear other people’s perspectives. Sounds like you have the “heart and soul” thing worked out pretty well, too. I always admire people who can sew well enough to make clothes. I tried it in the home ec classes at school, but after that, all my efforts turned into wads of bunched-up cloth joined together by stiches that would make a spider sick to its stomach! Oh, well, we all have unique talents, and sewing sure ain’t mine! Hope you and your husband have many more happy years together.

  6. halfnotes Says:


    I have two independently released CD’s. Anyone interested can E-mail me at

    They are $15 each, and partial proceeds go into an education fund for a blind student in Indonesia who wants to come to the U.S. to study and become a piano teacher. The titles are “Joyous Island” and “Autumn Sonatas”. Thanks for your interest.

  7. Bruce Guyver Says:

    I had a great day myself yesterday, I spent 12 hours learning guitar, with the amp at full volume. My buddy let me play in his barn out back on his farm. Oh so much fun was had!

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