Why I enjoy being useless at the clarinet

I love music. When I was nine-years-old my grandfather, a very gifted musician, gave me a piano and I started taking lessons. However, the next year, my parents moved to South Africa and the piano was left behind. My family’s years in South Africa were very strained financially, and there was no extra money for music lessons or buying instruments.

When I was 16 I got a part-time job and earned enough money to buy a second-hand guitar. I started teaching myself. I never progressed to any great level with it as the steel strings hurt my fingers and the family cats knocked it over and broke its neck (they were flippin’ lucky I didn’t break their necks!) However, I could and still do play enough to accompany myself singing – whether that’s a blessing for anyone else is still to be determined.

When I was 18 I took a full time job as a waitress. I could then afford to pay for piano lessons again and arranged to practice on the church piano. But a year later, I was off to university and living on my own so all my spare cash went on the basics. Once again, piano lessons had to stop.

At uni I studied writing for the media and drama (oh, and history, but let’s not confuse the issue). And I hope you don’t mind me confessing that I was pretty good at both. I still am. So much so that I now lecture in writing for the media and for stage and screen.  And if you check out my books, stageplays and screenplays you’ll see that I also write my own material which has been published and performed. Some people would think that was enough: I am more than blessed to have a career doing something creative.

And yet, there is still my music. Since ‘giving up’ my never-quite-started piano lessons at 19 I have continued to dabble. We have many instruments at home, including a piano and a guitar. And I married a professional musician (although he’s now a computer programmer, he still plays music as a hobby).

I tried picking up piano lessons again when I was 34 and finally had some spare cash. But then I got pregnant and after vomiting one too many times on the bus journey to my lessons, I again put them on hold.  After that there was the baby and as all parents know having a small child leaves you with very little time for yourself. But I’ve carried on playing and although I never took exams, I can play Grade 3 pieces and still enjoy having a doodle.

Then when I was 40 (yes I know darlings, I hardly look it 😉 ) I took it upon myself to ask Santa for a clarinet – an instrument I’d always loved but never tried.  Santa must have mislaid my letter so I went ahead and bought one myself. Now, a year later, I’m about to embark on my Grade 1 Clarinet exam!

Looking back on my failed musical experiments I wonder why I have continued to pursue it. Quite clearly it is far too late for me to have a serious career in music (despite the  few years I spent in musical theatre as a singer and actress – but that’s another story!) and I already work professionally in the creative arts. So why do I keep on yearning for it?

The answer is that I simply enjoy it.  When I want to calm my mind, my heart and my spirit, I play. Whether it calms anyone else’s, I’m not so sure, but it’s a real gift to be able to spend some time alone and simply express myself through music. And the fact that it is too late for me to have a career in it allows me to just enjoy it. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy writing very much, but there’s the pressure of meeting deadlines and maintaining a professional standard that can drain my soul rather than feed it.

So that is why I enjoy being useless at the clarinet. And the piano. And the guitar. And watercolour painting … oh, didn’t I mention that?

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