I have had a realization over the last few weeks, and it is something I would like to share. It is a realization about … well … coming to grips with reality.
I have been singing since I was six years old. At that age, I performed in the Chattanooga Boys’ Choir for a year … and I absolutely hated it. I don’t really know what it was that I disliked about it so much, but it’s true. It just wasn’t what I wanted to do or where I wanted to be. When I told my parents that I wanted to quit, they made a deal with me. They told me that I could quit as long as I took lessons in something else. My mother in particular always regretted not being musical when she was younger, and she wanted both me and my sister to explore musical avenues. I accepted the deal, and I began piano lessons shortly afterward.
It was one of the best decisions I have ever made. The piano is still my favorite instrument to this day, and I cannot count how many hours I have spent in front of one. I can’t count a single minute of that time wasted.
I have toyed with the idea of being a singer and a songwriter for many years now. Music has been a passion of mine since I was around 13. I took piano lessons for five years, then gave them up, mostly due to becoming bored with it. For a year, I didn’t touch a piano key. Then, one day, I sat down on the piano bench in my family’s den and began to play. No sheet music — I just played whatever came to my head. I still do that to this day.
[Note: Ever since my lovely wife and family all pitched in to buy a digital piano for me (pictured above), I’ve been able to play almost every day, something I haven’t been able to do in years. It’s a wonderful feeling.]
Since I returned to music, I taught myself to play guitar and bass. I played in a few different bands around town, but nothing ever really lasted. I started writing my own songs, though I generally kept them to myself. The inspiration to write music has never been a constant one; I usually only write when I have something to write about — I never write a song simply because I want to write a song. Because of this, all of the songs I have written are intensely personal. No generic “let’s go to a club and dance” songs for me. Ever.
Several months ago, I decided to try and make something of my musical talents. I decided to share with the world (or, at least, the few people who would be around to hear) some of the songs I have written. I started playing local open mic nights, focusing on one in particular after I tried a few different places out. It was there I discovered that, while I love performing on stage with a band, performing solo makes me a nervous, anxiety-ridden mess. And it’s my own damn fault.
You see, I am a perfectionist. If I am going to present something to the world, I want it to be absolutely perfect. For this reason, I love recording. I love creating a song and working on it until it is everything I want it to be before I release it to the wind. Performing live, however, makes me nervous. I have yet to get through a single performance where I haven’t made some kind of mistake. I play a wrong chord. I forget a line. I lose my place. I am one of the few performers at the open mic night who goes on stage with lyric sheets, but even that isn’t enough. The idea that the performance might not be perfect ensures that it won’t be, and it’s something I cannot seem to get over.
I love writing songs. I love the feeling of having written what I know to be a good song, and the satisfaction that comes when I finish the last line. But performing it for others to hear — that’s just a stress I could live without.
However, my “good songs,” in my opinion, are few and far between. And I simply don’t have the patience to do anything I don’t believe I can excel at. When I listen to artists like Glen Hansard, I hear what I want to be … but just can’t be. I see an artist bond effortlessly with each audience that sees him perform, and I know that I just can’t make that kind of connection. It isn’t in me.
I have had a dream for some time, one that sees me performing in front of large audiences singing the words to a song that I wrote. But I am giving up on that dream. I know that, as glamorous and romantic as it may seem, it just isn’t meant for me. But what you need to know is that I am not sad about this at all. It is just an acknowledgement of my own limitations. This is me at my most realistic. Sometimes, the only thing more important than the pursuit of a dream is realizing when you need to give up on that dream.
However, what I can do is write. I truly believe that writing is how I will make my mark on the world, so I am dedicating my creative energy to creating something artistic, something elegant and something thought-provoking. I believe that the manuscript I am working on now is that something.
I will still perform on occasion. I will still write songs when I feel the need. I will still play music every single day. But I won’t do it with a particular goal in mind anymore. I will play because I want to play, and because maybe … just maybe … someone out there still wants to hear.