The Adventures of a Pianist Who Can Only Use One Hand…At Least For Now

Once upon a time, there lived a 15-year-old delinquent, who, for the life of him, couldn’t find a meaningful passion to call his own, much less stay in school. As a freshman dropout, an avid gamer, and a nomad for every subject in school, he spent his time with other delinquent friends, going to arcades, raiding PC rooms, listening to, what people deemed as vulgar and reprehensible, hip-hop and rap music with friends, and just generally causing a ruckus wherever they went.

Then one fateful day, his mother brought home an ugly magnificent electric keyboard, it was named Miracle by Nintendo; must be a sign. Fascinated by this magical relic, the delinquent gingerly poked and prodded this wondrous artifact, and began exploring the many different sounds that was encased within. The delinquent had no idea how to play music, but that didn’t stop him one bit. He began trying to match the pitch of melodies from his favorite songs on the radio, music from video games, and even cartoons or anime; no melody was safe from him. He had learned everything by ear, and by the time he set off to community college, he thought he should properly learn how to play the piano. With the conviction to finally follow through to learning, he signed up for a beginner group piano class. By this point, the boy had taught himself the first page of Chopin’s Revolutionary Etude, all by ear. He thought to finally try it out on the full sized keyboard that the class provided, and so he did. Immediately, out from the corner of the room, emerged a dark ominous figure, heading towards the boy playing; it was the piano professor assigned to teach the class. She stopped in view of the boy’s vision and immediately the boy stopped, looking up in fear. The professor coldly said “you don’t belong here,” as if to mean that the boy played so wretchedly that he did not deserve to be there. On the contrary, it had seemed that the boy exhibited a playing ability far beyond what the class was intended for: beginners; the boy genuinely thought that he was in fact, a beginner, which confused him further. Nevertheless, this marked the beginning of his admittance to the music program, and the harsh training he would be given.

Fast forward to the end of his program, the lad is now preparing his audition repertoire to play for universities, in hopes of being accepted into the B.A. curriculum. The very last lesson he had received from the professor, she had said words that I dare not say to anyone. She articulated “I don’t want to hear my name out of your mouth,” as she vanished out of view into the darkness. She had meant that once the lad played in these auditions, she didn’t want to be associated with him, as if to embarrass her name and tarnish her status. Anguished by his mentor’s words, he hung up his mantle and began working odd jobs here and there. The food industry had been cruel and unforgiving to the lad, from working as a waiter, barista, and grocery shelf-stocker, the lad moved on and decided to venture off to the land of retail jobs. It was here, a place endearingly nicknamed The Devil’s Factory, that the lad made a decision that would change his trajectory in life forever. After going through the training process, he had the prestigious role of manning the strongbox of the establishment. The lad would come to experience the same kind of harsh, unfair treatment he had received everywhere else but worse. One day, a single thought had hatched in his mind: “I can’t live like this, if I’m gonna suffer, might as well suffer while doing something I love.” He immediately called the establishment, saying he quit, and they reciprocated by saying: “you can’t just quit, there’s a process to this.” The lad had already made up his mind however, and sternly stated that he would not return. Then the faceless corporate gave its final warning: “if you quit, then you can’t work at this company, and we’ll make sure that you can’t work at any other retail.” The lad simply said “good” and hung up the phone as he smiled ear to ear. With his mind made up now, he begins his arduous practice routine to prepare for the university auditions.

After working up the courage to apply to different universities, he had finally gotten an invite from one school. The young fellow met the professor, and after some small talk, proceeded to head to the grand piano. He had never sat in front of the mythical Steinway piano before, and felt it’s strong presence emanating all around. The young fellow played through his program and felt that he would be cut immediately, being self aware of his mistakes and nervous performance. The professor looked at the young fellow with an almost curious and deliberate expression, and finally uttered words that he had never thought would be expressed: “I’d love to have you be a part of the piano studio.” Was it pity? was it a trick? or did the professor have the eyes to see what no one, not even the young fellow, can see? Whatever the case, the fellow happily accepted and continued his journey to be a pianist and musician.

The fellow learned many things at the university, met many characters, and cherished half a handful of them. Life as a musician can be a lonesome thing, studying and practicing in a room all on your own for hours on end. One must be careful, as that kind of condition fosters a kind of tunnel vision from the world around them; the young fellow was in for a ride. Fast forward to the near end of the young fellow’s university days, he prepares for a competition by practicing relentlessly. During one of these typical practice sessions, he felt something very off with his right hand; his fingers responded strangely to his will. He found it hard to do basic techniques, and his fingers would not listen to his usual neurological commands. He had developed a strange case of what seemed to resemble Focal Dystonia. The young gent didn’t know what to do, he sought help and advice from everyone he knew, but to no avail. After trying many different practice methods for about 2 years, going to physical therapy, seeking doctors for help, and other musicians, there simply was no remedy to the malady. He had seen the look on the friends, people he knew, professors he had grown close to and looked up to, morphed into one of indifference, and condemnation. The gent had managed to graduate, but the thought that, maybe it was to send him on his way to not deal with anymore, never shook away. He was not a prospect anymore to anyone, just damaged goods. It was here that the gent had yet again stopped at a crossroad.

With no real way to perform his usual repertoire, the old man started looking into producing music. This world would have never opened up to him had he not met with his condition of his hand. He began seeing possibilities of creating music again, and even performing in a not so traditional way; even with his ups and downs, the old man still believes that one day he will be able to play with both hands at peak condition. Until that day comes, he’s content with tinkering with other aspects of music, and although the learning curve is mightily steep, he has chosen to not give up and accept that this is still the path he is willing to walk on for the sake of doing what he loves. Although reproducing the kind of music he’d like was a struggle, he happily accepts the challenge.

If you haven’t figured, this old man’s story is about me! A very abridged version of the journey, but you get the picture. I recently made the decision to withdraw my artist facebook page and instagram, and said that I’d explain it all here. Being a producer, artist, musician, whatever the term might be, takes time to discover your identity. I felt for a awhile that this journey so far has made me more aware of what I liked in music, and what I wanted to go for. In the beginning, I was okay with the name and music I started out with, but as time went on, and as my skills in production got a little better, I felt distant to that former self. I re-evaluated myself in terms of what I wanted to go for and what resonated with me, and came up with a different name that felt, at the time, pretty good. The problem I saw myself get into, was that I was constantly looking for approval of whatever I did. I saw other people do things, like make certain kinds of videos or clips, and wanted to emulate that. I wanted more followers and people to listen to my music. I wanted to get to the point that I’m able to monetize my music and whatever I put out. Herein lies the problem: I felt disingenuous. I felt like it wasn’t me when making these performance videos for youtube/facebook/instagram; it didn’t feel like I wanted to present the music as myself, but rather as an extension and tool to receive approval. I wanted more followers, not to be happy that the music is bringing so many people together, or that my self-expression in that music resonated with those that listened, but for my own ego to inflate. I had thought that the sum of my music’s monetization equaled to how good I am as a musician, and validation of my musical decisions. All these things didn’t line up inside, and made me feel disconnected.

I had experimented with glitch-hop, electronic, edm, future-bass, lo-fi beats, boom-bap, chiptune, orchestral, and many more. This process was important, because slowly but surely I’ve been closing in on what resonated with me with each trial and error. Needless to say, I felt very scummy for advertising my music to my facebook friends, like I was cashing in on their friendship and connection. I felt like I couldn’t keep up with everyone that I saw on instagram doing the things I was doing. Of course I couldn’t, it’s because I’m not them, and I needed to do things at my own pace and style. I became jealous of their music, their following, and success the more I used social media, watching producers and musicians display their music and performance videos or clips; I began comparing myself to others and it sucked the life out of me slowly. I looked at all these things, and decided that I needed to do this my way. I needed to pick a name that resonated with me no matter what I made, not by how it would look or sound like to others. I didn’t need to put out content the way others do, and I definitely didn’t need approval for doing the things I would love doing in the first place. I didn’t need to sell myself short, I just needed to focus on doing my thing, no matter what the setbacks might be. I needed to be true to myself. So I removed the things that weren’t true to me, removed the things that I wanted to please and receive attention from. Now I start anew, unburdened and with a sound mind.

There’s much more chapters to be written for this adventure, and I’m glad that this story hasn’t ended yet. The only thing I can do is to keep moving forward, and keep the hope alive. One day I will be able to play my piano with both hands soundly. I will be the best musician, producer, pianist, whatever it is you want to call it. I should mention, that this hope and heart to not give up, didn’t just spring from within out of nowhere. It came from the belief in God, who I believe is with me, and will help me along the way; it is the source of my strength, and the reason for what I have and who I am. Thank you to all that took the time to read my ramblings, and a big shout out to my wife, who is my biggest supporter and fan. Until next time, peace!

Art is exploration. Artists train people to see.