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File Under: Lessons Learned Opus One

So you must understand that writing, for me, is an internal process . . . my mind and spirit ponder things round and round and then eventually something comes out because it can no longer stay in.

I've begun working on a vision board, at the advice of a wonderful person who is serving as something of a 'life coach' for me while I work on, well, life. The vision board is an incredibly fun and fulfilling project - it speaks happily to my creative side and has helped me put some of my past in perspective. Yay! to that. I struggle to put the past behind me and not fear the future. It is a challenge for me to live in the "now."

I've also become brokenheartedly aware of how corrupt Tennessee politics are. Until the PUBLIC puts sufficient pressure on and against the Tennessee Walking Horse "big lick" (google that up, including something called, 'the McConnell vid' if you want more info), the big lick will continue and hundreds of lovely and innocent horses will suffer horrendous torment, 24/7/365, and I cannot personally save each and every one. I can advocate - and do. I can bail a few - and do. I can take in a VERY few - and do. If each of us does what we, individually, CAN do - whether a phone call, letter, tweet, or buying abused horses and working with a vet and farrier to get them back off the stacks, rehabilitated and rehomed - then eventually we will win the battle for the horses and end the big lick. We will win. We MUST win. The animals have no voice but for ours.

I've known for some time I cannot singlehandedly end the shipment of U.S. horses abroad to be slaughtered. But again, if each of us does whatever one can, we can slow the flood - hence I share and share and share them out, bail when I can, rescue when I can, and pray for the hundreds of thousands who die the horrid death of a slaughterhouse. (google that up if you want the details, but trust me - it is a gruesome process and the horse is often alive and conscious and well aware of what is happening.)

But stopping animal abuse is merely one component of "me" . . .

Not long ago, I had the opportunity to prepare the music for, and play, a wedding gig. I was a professional pianist and piano teacher for a decade, so this is not an odd thing in my life; I've probably played close to 500 weddings, all told. For this particular gig, all but one piece was fairly straightforward.

Ah, but that one piece - what a gem of a challenge! It was hard and wonderful and frustrating and sublime. There was a part of me that questioned whether I "still had it" after over a decade of NOT being a professional pianist and playing in public only a few times each year.

When we are children, we are confident to try all things. Children must be taught to fear or to question their own innate gifts. So sad that so many learn that lesson in various areas of their life and thus become afraid to even try.

But, for me, the demon of self-doubt reared it ugly head as I prepared this one piece. And, despite all the tools my piano professor had given me back in the day - despite the "break it down" practicing of one hand and then the other, the "write it out" counting (the piece is heavily syncopated and full of complex rhythmic structure), and the "repeat repeat repeat" practicing of one measure, then two together, then three, etc. for the most difficult passages, despite all those hours upon hours of work for a five-page piece of music - self-doubt continued to plague my preparatory work.

Until one morning, when another message from my fantastic piano professor resurfaced in my memory.

"Relax and breathe."

And in that moment, I realized that, even though I was thoroughly enjoying all the work and preparing the piece, I was still "fighting" the notes on the page. FEAR OF FAILURE was causing me to tense up and play with a sense of caution, not the freedom that playing with a sense of joy brings, and which any great piece of music demands. One must literally lift the notes off the page, and out of the keys, and make MUSIC.

So I looked at all those notes in front of me, and took a couple of deep, relaxing breaths, and told myself, "just let go." And the notes disappeared. And the music emerged.

Oh. My. Goodness.

Glorious music. The phrases connected one to another like the seamless dance of a bird in flight - soaring, darting, diving, rising higher - wherever the composer intended to take his listener, there it was: music.

My ongoing journey to be my most honest, most authentic self had combined with my dedicated practice of this piece of music so as to completely obliterate the fear. When the time came for the wedding rehearsal, that piece and I were such good friends, it felt like dancing with a great partner to play the piece. Yes, I had to focus and do my job, but also the piece was both well in hand AND well in soul, and the fear was gone completely.

The next day - the day of the wedding, thus my "performance" day - I spent the morning with careful technical preparation of this particular piece, and also took some quiet time to amble around the lovely outdoor wedding venue and make sure my soul was ready, as well. Live performance is - quite literally - a "one shot deal" - and no musician wants to botch a bride's wedding day. And all the prior successful run-throughs of this piece would mean nothing if I made errors on THIS day. THIS one opportunity for perfection was all that mattered.

All the "easy" pieces went off without a hitch, yet I could feel my heart rate increase and my hands begin to shake while playing the piece just before THE PIECE in the order of play. And then it was time for THE PIECE.

I remember getting the music ready: quickly but carefully reviewing the two page turns, each of which must be accomplished at lighting speed while both hands are flying across several octaves.

I remember taking two deep breaths and telling myself, "You know this piece; it is your friend; all is well."

And then I lifted my hands to the keyboard and the music began.

I was sitting in an orchard, my keyboard and amp at the base of an ancient walnut tree, with the sun filtering through the leaves and fresh-cut grass beneath me. Rows of flower-bedecked white chairs filled with colorfully dressed guests of the bride and groom. A slight breeze and the soft sounds of nature provided the orchestration accompaniment.

And the music rose higher and higher, up into the sky, and danced among the clouds . . .

Oh, useless fear that wastes so many precious moments of our life. You did not win that moment; you did not win that day.

Joy and beauty and art won.

Years of excellent instruction by a loving teacher won. Hours upon hours of dedicated preparation won.

Courage won.

Be unafraid, human.

Be unafraid.

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