Don’t be too hard on yourself, says Nicole Law.
With the additional free time afforded me by tightening restrictions here in Singapore, I have decided to try my hand at playing the piano after a solid 10 year hiatus.
As a child, I attended lessons but never really had an interest or aptitude for the instrument. I recall refusing to practice the pieces set by my piano teacher and scribbling answers to my theory tests just before the class itself.
I made it to grade six in the music exams thanks to dogged perseverance but that was it … at that point my relationship with the piano ended … that is, until now.
Over the past few weeks, I have found myself sitting at the piano, leafing through old music scores and even replacing the batteries in my old school metronome. I gravitated towards the pieces marked by colourful stickers – those were the pieces I used to love to play and which my piano teacher would mark out.
One of those pieces is Fur Elise by Ludwig van Beethoven, an odd favourite considering I was going through a Disney phase at that time and one might have thought it more likely that I’d be more drawn to A Whole New World and the like.
I started to play the first few notes and my fingers felt stiff, unlike the effortless glide across the keys of my teenage years.
I stumbled over simple chords, I struggled to continue after the first page and felt frankly defeated. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea after all!
I blamed it on my lack of practice and stiffening joints. Regardless, I persisted, playing parts of the score repeatedly and using the last vestiges of what sight-reading (reading musical notes) skills had survived. I made a few annotations of chords I had trouble with, pounded the keys for a good half hour and came away feeling refreshed.
I sent a video of my escapades to a friend and she reminded me to ‘be gentle with yourself’.
It sounded like a motivational quote that I would download to my phone on Monday morning to beat the day’s blues, but then her words started to sink in.
These were the same words that inspired me to press on with my attempts to learn watercolour painting, despite my five month hiatus from brushes and palettes. My art supplies had been gathering dust in a corner and every time I saw a new artwork that inspired me or an idea formed in my head, I would find excuses to not pick up a brush.
Yet, as of late, I’ve started to paint small swatches of complementary colours, draft simple landscapes and allow shaky attempts to open the way for bolder artistic endeavours.
The importance of being gentle with ourselves allows us to overcome our fear of failure, our fear of not finding that spark again.
It reminds me that there are slow days where despite my best efforts, I will struggle with tasks I usually complete with ease.
It points to a deeper sense of peace in accepting that we may not always be able to meet the expectations of others, and might even disappoint them. The more important thing is to remember that we can take things one step at a time and relish the slow surge instead of getting lost in the mindless flurry. Then we learn that more often than not the journey is as important as the destination.
Treat yourself with kindness and take time to slow down too, especially in this era of heightened anxiety. Let yourself dabble a little, draw random squiggles and belt out a show tune, just because. Above all, be gentle with yourself and take delight in the slow progress made each day.
Now, cover your ears, I’m going back to the keyboard …
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