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#159: "Rabbit, why don't you play for more people?"

Updated: May 3

Oxherd Boy Rabbit why don't you play for more people asked the ox the rabbit shrugged it's not so important for others to hear me as it is for me to hear myself always inspiring art chinese painting chinese philosophy japanese art

I recently read these words by Vienna Pharaon on being heard and understood, how honoring your voice is not about being heard by someone else, but about hearing yourself consistently and honestly. And while this applies to self expression for the sake of self expression alone, it makes me think about all the things I've done instead of self expression, what I do when I suppress or mold my voice for the benefit of someone else, for acceptance and validation, and this is particularly apparent in the creative sphere.

As a child, I grew up learning to play classical music without any clear idea of why except that everyone else was doing it. My older brother, whom I emulated in nearly every respect, started with piano, and so did I. When he switched to violin, I followed suit. Nearly all of our peers played one or the other, and to hear of someone "quitting" carried a certain level of shame in my mind. It's no wonder that my relationship with creative expression was so confusing.

I never played for my own enjoyment. I played only to practice or played to perform. Not only did I lack the motivation to play for myself, one that stemmed from my own desire and curiosity, I was confused by a natural talent. I was an intuitively expressive and emotive musician that my teachers rejoiced in and hated to see the talent "go to waste," as it is a side often most difficult to pull out of a student.

And so, I continued in a traditional line of private music lessons, where every year, I would take on increasingly difficult and longer pieces to play. And that's where the cracks began to show, because talent only gets you so far, and I started failing spectacularly at technique, because I was (and still am) very lazy at practicing. It came to a head when one year, my teacher's annual recital came around, and I ended up performing the same piece as I had the year before, because I didn't finish the concerto I had set out to master.

The truth is that I wasn't particularly interested in the Prokofiev piece that had been assigned to me, and that's when I first acknowledged the possibility that there was more to playing music than I had previously been aware of. I liked the straight-forwardness of Beethoven's Romances and Saint-Saëns's "The Swan," but instead of delighting in this realization, instead of feeling the pressure lift, I felt like something was wrong with me. I felt like I had failed my teacher and my parents, even though they wouldn't have forced me to continue if I had simply been honest with myself and with them. It was about me and my projections. How could I call myself a violinist and continue as one if I didn't improve on my skills, if I had plateaued and couldn't add more difficult music to my repertoire?

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