Losing myself

Piano was a huge part of my childhood. It’s what I poured a lot of my extra time into, and was something I considered doing for a career (until I realized just how much time I would have had to devote to the practice room — I am too interested in too many things to do that.) I thought and loved and emoted through my piano playing, through the music I was able to bring forth.

Last year, I got a piano, and I have absolutely loved rediscovering the pieces that are still somehow familiar under my fingers, that somehow never left. I love that playing those pieces, the experience of reading music and moving those notes from mind to fingers to keyboard to sound, has brought out deep nostalgia and childhood memories, of life events that are deeply tied to specific pieces. The pieces that I played after rejection from a crush. The piece I learned for a competition the got so anxious about doing poorly that I made myself too sick to compete. The piece my mom yelled at me to stop playing because she was sick of it. Ha!

Every time I play a piece from my past, I get to enjoy the memories and nostalgia it evokes, but the new playing also taints those memories and experiences a little. Every time I play a familiar piece, I pull it a little more out from my past and inject it with some of my present. I extend the piece’s temporal presence in my life. I change its meaning to me. I pack it with new memories and associations that, if I’m being honest, I fear will crowd out the old ones.

I’m constantly torn between wanting to relive the memories of these favorite pieces, to use the playing of them as opportunities to rediscover feelings and memories from my childhood (because my memory is shit and all I can rely on are general feelings and nostalgia), and between wanting to keep those pieces, those literal pieces of my past self, preserved, protected, and contained.

The more recent events are in our life, the easier they are to recall. That means that realistically, whenever I play a familiar piece, I’m not just adding memories. Due to the limitations and imperfections of my human brain, I am replacing memories. Making those pieces real to me now takes a little of their realness out of my past, or at least makes their most poignant realness about what is present to me now rather than what is past.

So every time I play these long-beloved pieces, I lose a little bit of myself. I also lose the possibility of remembering my past self. When those pieces remained unplayed, the memories remained preserved. Now that the pieces are played, the old memories are starting to fade into the quiet forevers because I am making new associations. This makes me sad. I have been, at times, afraid or hesitant to pick up a familiar piece because of what I might remember, and because of what the new playing of it might make me remember, only to forget and replace soon after. Like everything, my relationship with music needs to change as I change, but I confess that I am not always ready and willing to let go of what loss that change requires.

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