When I was a young music major, finding time to practice was easy. Practice time was built in naturally in my day. I also loved practicing and rehearsals. Going to non-performance-based classes was agony because it took time from the practice room itself.
At that time, I was a voice major and every day I was in the practice room singing my heart out. There were concert choir rehearsals, opera workshop rehearsals, and jazz choir rehearsals. In the evening I might be in a community musical theatre production. Or attending a recital. Sometimes I would play the piano and sing at church. It was a lifestyle.
A friend came to visit me at college and spent
two days with me. She commented that I received more culture each day then most
people do in their life ever. I felt genuinely sorry for those people.
Learning new music was handed to me. My instructors would assign new material. The choirs and the musical theater shows also had their required repertoire. The church worship team leader also chose music that I was given to work on. I had plenty to do. I didn’t have to figure out what to work on. Those decisions were made for me. I loved being introduced to new music and found it all very exciting.
Then the season of my life changed. I was no longer in college. I was a wife and a mother. I was now teaching in a small mountain town in my private studio. Finding time for personal practice was a huge daily trial. I had little ones that were climbing into my lap or crying if I dared try.
I resorted to practicing on a digital piano with headphones during their nap time. That worked for my piano practice, but practicing singing was harder. I couldn’t do it during nap time. Instead, I sang a good deal of lullabies and toddler songs to two little blonde boys. I didn’t have anywhere to use my classical or jazz singing so it felt futile to even be doing that. It was evident, I wasn’t going to be a singing star. I was simply a young mother who taught voice and piano in a private studio. There was no glory.
In time I directed a children’s choir. I also occasionally sang on a contemporary worship team at church. Doing those things created mommy guilt. I was having to drop my kids off with someone else to do that. Truthfully, I was exhausted from the ongoing demands of small children. Changing diapers, meal planning, cleaning, and of course playing with them were my life now. I loved my little family. But it also felt like a letdown to all my musical aspirations.
My actual life wasn’t at all what I thought it would be. I felt out of practice, and frumpy. All my dreams of singing professionally were gone, gone, gone. Practicing was now in snippets. A little bit here a little bit there. But, really- not much at all. There just wasn’t time or energy for it. Keeping myself motivated to grow was not easy. I seriously considered stopping music altogether.
If I could say that it got easier and that as my sons grew older, I had more time, that would be nice. But, it would be a lie. Each stage of my kid’s development was a time sucker. There was a huge personal void in my life for the things I had personally wanted to do. Good parenting is a sacrifice. I knew that, but I still struggled with that reality.
The truth is I tried to quit music over and over. I felt so much inner turmoil and pain over it. It seemed easier to quit than to accept progressing at a tortoise pace. But I couldn’t give it up. Music is in my soul. I decided that if I could only progress at a tortoise’s pace, then that is what I would do.
Little by little I resolved to accept and run my own slow race. My hare days were over, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t keep going. I was still on the path of my own musical journey. I was still a musician.
As a result of this acceptance, my husband and I taught our own kids when they were little. They enjoyed making music with us, and we had a family band. We played in the community and regionally. We had many fun adventures doing that. I also wrote children’s songs for the church preschool kids when they were that age. Every season of their childhood, I didn’t quit, I adapted.
In time I realized that also though my life was completely different than what I thought it would be, it was rich and fulfilling. Simplicity was beautiful. I learned to appreciate all the little joys that come with each moment. I loved being a mom, and a part-time music teacher. Life was good.
These days I am on the other side of parenting. My kids are grown. I only teach half the day in the afternoon. I can order my morning however I want. I have found that I face a different type of trial. I have had to be honest with myself.
After all the years of valid excuses, I now have to face my own laziness. I have also had to ask myself some soul-searching questions, “Now that I can practice, how will I practice? What kind of music do I even want to play or write? What do performances or composing look like for me now as a middle-aged woman? What should my focus be? Why do I even want to practice? Why am I not in the practice room right now? Who would I like to play music with?”
Wrestling with all these questions has brought me to a new place of motivation and rectitude. I know how to practice effectively; I just need to do it. Since I am a free agent, I can play and learn whatever type of music I want. This has opened up all kinds of possibilities. I have made a daily appointment with myself. I set goals and I’m daily working through those goals. It’s good to be queen.
If you are in a stage of life where parenting or work commitments, or whatever else are keeping you from practicing and growing on your instrument- I encourage to not give up. Accept it for what it is, and practice in the snippets of time you are given. Consider thinking about it like this, “I may not have time to read a novel, but I can read short magazine articles.” I read magazine articles for years because it was all I could manage. I also practiced in tiny amounts. I found time, such as when my students missed a lesson. If they missed, that time belonged to me to practice whatever I desired. You may need to find the time. Small amounts of focused time can be very productive. Embrace them.
When my kids were tiny, a mentor teacher encouraged me with a scripture verse. “For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little.” Isaiah 28:10 (English Standard Version) This is so true and relevant. Every little bit adds up over time. Rest assured that if you practice little lines and concepts, you are still growing. Slow growth is still growth, and in time it develops maturity. Things may look different at this season, but that doesn’t mean you have to quit. Keep growing you lovely musical flower!