By Brian RobinsonAlexandra Hayes
“I was at my grandma’s apartment when I sat down at the piano and started to play for the first time in 13 years. She had just died that week, and we were gathering there after the funeral, for the Shiva. She was one of the reasons why I always loved music. She was a musician throughout her life, and before she died, she told me that she wished she had given more time to the piano. I had also told her I was interested in playing piano again, and she thought it was a great idea. I had taken lessons when I was younger, and played for about six years, but stopped to pursue sports. So when we were all sitting in her apartment, in an effort to try to get my mind off the fact that she was gone, I told myself that I just needed to get off the couch and actually do it. I looked up a simple YouTube video and started to play.
At that point, I thought it would be a short-lived hobby, since I live in New York City, and I don’t have a piano of my own to practice with. Then, about a month later, my girlfriend got me a keyboard so that I could play whenever I wanted. Now, as an adult, I began seriously pursuing a new activity — one that I hadn’t thought about in years.
I started by watching YouTube videos after work, but I realized pretty quickly that if I wanted to accelerate my skill, I needed to learn how to read music again. I called a bunch of places to try to find a piano studio that was convenient, fairly priced, and suited for adults — which turns out to be more difficult than you’d think. I ultimately found a good place, and I did a tryout for the woman who owns and operates the piano studio. It was thrilling. The last time I tried out for something, I was a freshman in high school. Now, at 24, I was getting the chance to prove myself, and to embark on a new journey.
Once a week, I took lessons at her studio. We started with the basics of reading music. Then, we moved onto the mechanics: how to physically touch the keys, the way your wrists should move, and which fingers to use for different chords and melodies.
About midway through the winter semester, my teacher asked if I wanted to perform in the Winter Recital at Hunter College in New York City. I thought about it. I had never performed music in front of a large crowd before, only for my friends and family in our small apartment. Would there be other adults? How many people would be in the audience? Ultimately, I decided that I’d perform in the recital, because it gave me more motivation to practice. I’ve played sports throughout my life, and training is so much easier when you have a goal that you’re working towards: an event, or a game, or a race. I approached piano with the same sense of competition.
When recital day came, I saw that there were about 50 people in the audience, and 14 or 15 performers, most of them children between ages 5 and 11. I was the second to last performer, and most definitely the oldest. I chose to play ‘All of Me’ by John Legend, because it was one of my favorite songs at the time. Also, the song is written about the love of Legend’s life, Chrissy Teigen, and it reminded me of my girlfriend, who’s the love of my life. I wanted to play it for myself, but also to play it for her.
At the reception (juice and goldfish), a little girl came up to me with her mother. The mom said to me, ‘My daughter wants to say something to you.’ And the little girl, who couldn’t be older than 5, said, ‘When I grow up I want to be just like you.’ I joked that she should set her sights higher, but I was extremely flattered and thankful that she made that compliment.
Getting back into this hobby has taught me that you’re never too old for anything. You’re never too old to create new neural pathways, and to challenge your brain. You should do things that make you happy, and not worry about what other people think or say about what you do. It’s okay to be selfish in your hobbies, and I don’t mean that in an immoral or unethical way. Just know that you’re entitled to do things for you — your emotional stability, your happiness, and your mental health… as long as it doesn’t affect others negatively.
Right now, I’m learning ‘Piano Man’ by Billy Joel, and I’m continuously inspired by Alan Rusbridger, who wrote a book about his quest to learn Chopin’s magnificent Ballade No. 1 in G minor. Music is a wonderful thing, and I think everyone, at any age, should have the opportunity to learn to play music. And for those that really like it, you should never stop. Plus, even if you do stop, like I did, it’s vital to remember that it’s never too late to pick it back up again, and revisit the hobbies that once gave us joy.”
As told to Alexandra Hayes.