I had an odd experience in February 2009. I went home to see my mother, about a month after the end of my last long-term relationship (I’ve had two). When I walked into her kitchen, she said in surprise, “It’s nice to see you… I haven’t seen you in a long time…” She didn’t mean physically. She meant my spirit, my being, my inner self. I asked her how long it had been since she had seen ‘me’.
1993. Sixteen years. Before I sold out.
I knew what she meant. Back then, I intentionally changed who I was. I hated who I was. I wanted something more, something different, something that I thought was better than what I naturally am. I gave up being an artist in favor of a technical career.
I am a sellout.
No, it’s true. I am a musician, a pianist. Most people don’t know that because I gave it up many years ago. I used to bleed music. I could read it before I could read language. Mom says I wrote my first song at age three… musical notation, not lyrics.
My sister taught me to harmonize when I was very small, in the bathtub while washing my hair so that we could sing together in the beautiful acoustics of the bathroom. From that moment on, I bled music. When I would hear melodies, I would write accompaniment in my mind and sing harmonies. I thought that was what I was supposed to do. I knew very few melodies to songs for I’d only sing in harmony.
I was in band, choir, and theater. My mom provided me with piano lessons. But I was terrified of performing solo. I did not excel at playing instruments because I was afraid to practice and I didn’t do it enough. I think the only way I got through being a lead in the school musical was because I was pretending to be someone else. That and the stage lights and being a natural ham…
By the time I went to college in 1990, I was listening to music no less than 12 hours a day. It was all I ever wanted to do as a career. Music was my first major in college. I practiced and practiced and my abilities flourished. But I had to face a soul crushing truth. While music easily flows into me, it does not easily flow out. I have such horrible musical performance stage fright that it crippled my ability to be a professional musician. It broke my heart.
When I finally gave up hope, I stopped playing music and singing altogether. I refused to even look at a piano for five years. If I walked into a room and there was a piano in it, I would intentionally turn my back on it. It had defined who I was for so long that it crushed me thoroughly to give up my dream of being a professional musician. I could not face it.
I switched over to writing, an English major in 1992, but soon the voice in my head that told me I wasn’t good enough took its toll and I turned to a technical career. Many people told me it was a good thing to put away frivolous and childish things in favor of real work, that I was better off this way. Welcome to the machine.
To me it was a betrayal of my ideals, my belief that one should pursue one’s passions, one’s calling instead of money. I justified my choices by thinking that I was getting a great day job so that I could afford to do what I wanted to do the rest of the time. That has turned out to be true at this stage of my life. This is in fact what most artists must do in order to survive. The problem was that I wasn’t pursuing my arts at all and did not for many years. It took its toll on my psyche and my relationships.
My last long-term relationship was with a drummer who played out at clubs with friends. Watching them stirred up the call in me to play music again. The greatest gift I ever got was a keyboard in October 2000, celebrating my 28th birthday. I did play it for some time but never got over my trouble of playing in front of others. I got ‘caught’ by friends once playing Bach’s ‘Toccata and Fugue in D minor’. They told me they thought the classical music station was on… so sweet.
In 2005, I made a conscience choice to stop playing music in favor of writing. To play the piano at that level took a lot of time and practice. I felt like I could either be OK at piano and writing or give up one to excel at the other. I chose writing. Now I bleed ink instead of music. Music comes in, words go out. Mom says I wrote my first poem at age six. Of all the great many gifts with which I have been blessed, I believe writing is my greatest. I believe it is my calling and strangely, my crippling stage fright with music has forced me to write instead.
But I know in my heart that my fear of performing music is a personal challenge associated with my inability to accept myself and allow myself to be vulnerable. In 2014, I started to take on that challenge. I took voice lessons for the first time at age 41. That experience with my wonderful voice teacher Julie broke up a lot of my stage fright. I sing out now with much greater ease and joy. I sing out publicly and willingly participate in karaoke. You can see a video of me singing ‘Natural Woman’ here:
I guess my point is that we take many roads to find ourselves, even some that lead away for a time. But ultimately, we do eventually point toward home. And it’s never too late to find joy in those things we truly love. My music may not look today like I wish it could have but I do have it. It is forever part of the artistry that I am.
Copyright C.M. Mounts, November 2018