When I was a first year student at music school I was entranced by many different kinds of music. I was nominally there to study jazz music, but I also took lessons from a classical piano teacher. I listened to a lot of jazz, but also the Violent Femmes, the Gin Blossoms, and above all, the Beatles. I wrestled deeply with the conflict between liking rock music but thinking that it was a lower form of music, not worth my time or talent. This idea was planted early in my musical life by my first, and beloved, piano teacher. As I quickly progressed and moved from playing just rock to primarily focusing on jazz and classical piano, he told me that rock music (or, really, any music other than jazz and classical) was base, that it was less-than, and that any musician worth his or her salt would have nothing to do with it. I none the less played in a rock band as a high school student, and continued to enjoy many different kinds of music.

I’ve been on a musical hiatus for about three years now, and am starting to come out from under my shell. I knew I needed time off: I was burned out, I was phoning in my organ playing at church, and I didn’t care at all about my piano chops. I dedicated myself to my studies at grad school, only told a few people in my new community that I was a musician, and in general put that part of my life on hold. In doing so I’ve gained a fresh perspective on my music, but also paid a steep price. While I am in a much better place and am ready to come back to my playing, these three years have been extremely unbalanced and my emotional life has suffered for lack of a creative element.

I struggled with why I was so willing to drop my experiences as a “refined” pianist for the base role as a piano bar entertainer. I struggled with why I wanted singing to be part of my work even though I am not a great singer. I struggled with ways I could argue for the “goodness” of rock music, with ways I could say that it is on the same plane as other kinds of music.

What I’ve discovered is that I was asking the wrong questions. What seems important to me now is not which is a “better” kind of music, but rather my own goals as a musician. And I find that my goals as a musician are to connect with people. This has always been my primary goal, that my music should be a connection between myself and the listener. But this was always obstructed by the academic questions, the “quality” questions, the “worthiness” questions. I have known this all along, but have been afraid to own it in any real way. My time away from the piano and in school has helped me to begin to own my own voice in ways I never was able to before.

So, now it seems I have arrived at a place of balance. Technical proficiency is still very important to me – I still value all those things my piano teachers taught me. But they must be in balance with the part of me which desires connection above all else. The form of art must serve the message. Jazz piano does not serve my message in the way rock / singer-songwriter music does. I’d rather be a really great piano bar entertainer than a half-ass, bitter jazz pianist in his room.

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