Monday, January 30, 2012

Music To My Ears

When I was young, I had all kinds of lofty aspirations in life. Most important of all was the desire to be considered truly accomplished at something. I will never forget being ten years old at a friend’s house hearing about her sister, the champion equestrian. I had a little moment of panic thinking, will I ever be good at something? I can clearly recall telling myself that it was okay, ten years old was still young enough—if only just—to pick up a hobby or sport and become a savant at it.

Interestingly enough, I had an odd combination of overconfidence, competitiveness, and fear of failure that resulted in me having absolute faith that I could be great at something…so much so, that I didn’t need to test the theory to believe it. So, I had no need to run a mile or swim to the other side of the pool and back—I already knew I would be the best at it. Rather convenient way of looking at things, no?

But that logic was starting to wear a little thin, and I was starting to feel like I was losing my window to ‘start young’ so that I could become an expert at something. Grand thoughts of mortality for a 10 year old, right? But regardless, I needed to chose something and go with it. The time was now. If I wanted to be in the Olympics or hold an audience’s rapt attention, I had to get cracking.

To that end, I decided that I had it in me to be a concert pianist. And before you ask – no, I have no idea where that particular decision came from. I mean, no one in my family even owned an instrument, let alone played one. But there was something about watching a pianist on TV, or even the music teachers at school, that somehow just convinced me I could do it. And we’re not just talking learning to play; I wanted to master it.

To this day, I have no idea how I successfully convinced my parents go along with this new life plan, but somehow I did, and not only did they book lessons for me with a quintessential (I’m going to pause here to say that I spelled that word right the first try- what?!) white haired old lady who taught out of her home, but they actually bought a piano. Incredible! It was a sturdy old upright, not the least bit in tune and covered in layers and layers of paint, the last of which was a dingy white that flaked away every time you played it, walked by it, or even looked at it.

With little choice on where the thing should go, it took the place of honor right in the very center of the house, against the wall of the living room. Perfect – no matter where someone was in the house, they could not escape the discordant sound of ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” and the ever-popular repetitive practice scales.

The very best part was that I suddenly had a parent-sanctioned way to annoy the tar out of my older brother. I would lie in wait until he went to turn on the TV for his favorite show. The very moment the theme music started, I would dart from the hallway, mount the bench, and go to town on the keys. He’d get so mad, calling out to Mom or Dad to shut me up. But it didn’t matter – I totally had immunity. I was practicing, and they were paying good money to send me to those lessons and buy that piano. Nurturing the fledgling musical talent growing within me like a baby bird (ugly, blind, and completely unrecognizable) had become an investment in my future, after all.

This went on many an afternoon, and I can remember subjecting my brother to the smug, satisfied expression I had developed with the sole goal of driving him crazy. It worked every time. He hated me, and by extension that piano, so much that fire would shoot from his ears at the first tinkling note.

It. Was. Awesome.

Unfortunately, all the fun I had annoying my brother didn’t quite make up for the tedium of the actual practice. I would painstakingly pick out the notes, frustrated with the fact that I wasn’t magically able to play Beethoven within the first two months. What the heck – I was supposed to be a savant! A natural! In my mind, I would set my fingers to the keys and beautiful music would waft to the heavens like musical angel wings. I could almost hear the notes in my head – why wouldn’t my fingers cooperate?

So yeah, I totally gave up. Just like soccer, horse-riding (hey – I was totally traumatized when that horse almost ran me down in the corridor!), French horn, the French language, the Russian language, and absolutely anything sports related. I had no patience for the long and steady practice that becoming good at something requires. And, sadly, I passed through my childhood, teens, and even early twenties without mastering a single thing (with the possible excepion of annoying my siblings, which was indeed a bit of an art form in itself). I thought that my time had well and truly passed . . . until the day I tried my very first batch of homemade icing :)

Eventually, I did find that special something that I could do well :) I’m by no means a savant, but I have a passion for baking that for the first time in my life means I’m willing to do all the practice it takes to do it well. I’m pleased that I have an affinity for it, and alas, I didn’t need to start when I was ten ;)

But do you want to know the true twist to this story? Years later, my brother sat down at the piano and found his true love. Little did we know that all that time, the talent lay deep within him—not me. For all of his fussing and hollering at how much he hated the piano, it would ultimately become a siren for him, calling him back again and again until he successfully taught himself to play as beautifully as anyone I’ve ever heard. I hear his amazing work these days and smile, amazed at how things turned out.

Just as I labor in the kitchen, creating the perfect recipe to suit my mood and taste with nothing but a handful of ingredients found in every pantry, my brother creates in his music room the most heavenly of compositions, all made by the simple touch of warm fingers to cold keys of black and white. He is a true artist, with a creative spirit I can’t help but envy, and all I have to say is that I am glad he discovered his talent later in life, as I would surely have covered my ears in dismay as a child, and then wouldn’t I have missed out ;)

There is a reason why have been thinking about this story, my dear Cake Readers.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. For the first time in our lives, Andy and I are collaborating on a project that I am so proud of, I can hardly stand it. Soon, all will be revealed, but in the meantime, below are some of my favorites of brother’s pieces with which to whet your appetite :)

Now tell me - what are you good at? Have you ever played an instrument or learned to speak a foreign language? Did you find your calling later in life?

(That’s my dad flying for the video, by the way!)

You can also find out more about him at


  1. Beautiful as always, Erin! Your brother's music is always so moving, and I love the videos that he uses to showcase it. Thanks for sharing... :)

    1. What a lovely thing to say, Olivia! Thanks so much :) It's still funny to me that he had all that creativity bouncing around inside him for so long, and I had no idea.
      Thanks so much for stopping by!

  2. That was so funny, Erin. My husband is adamant that the kids learn to play instruments (he plays two himself), so it's up to me to find a piano teacher for our oldest.

    And I think your brother is so amazingly talented. The music gene might have skipped you, m'dear, but the TALENT gene did NOT!

    Can't wait to learn more about y'alls' collaboration!!!!

    1. Wait a second - Hot Builder is a musician, too?? You got lucky, didn't you ;)

      And you're so sweet - thanks for the compliments. I may have to give you a sneak peek the next time I see you... :)
      Thanks so much for dropping by!

  3. Lovely music.

    I played the flute and piccolo for a total of 9 years through school. I kept playing through my freshman year of college. Made it to two of NC State's bowl games marching with the band. :)

    I gave it up to work in the computer lab. Spending money beat out playing. Mostly because I realized no matter how much I practiced, I'd never be as good as someone with more natural talent. Not that I was bad, it's just I'd always play the secondary parts.

    And there is nothing wrong with that if you have unlimited funds and nothing else you want. So I gave it up for spending money. And oh, did I mention I met my husband while being a computer lab geek?

    1. Wow, Beth - I had no idea you were so multi-talented! A novel writing, instrument-playing, super-mom rocket scientist? You go girl! And how funny about meeting your hubby that way - it was providence!

  4. Let's see here... writer, baker, scientist, saleswoman... I'd say you've achieved mastery in many things. Thanks for your flattering commentary about my music. Had I not been so intent on watching my beloved Duck Tales, perhaps we could have become the world's first bro/sister concert pianist act. Oh well, something tells me things turned out for the best;)