Unbridled Passion

My son’s obsession with football has got me thinking a lot about what I’m passionate about. I mean on the same level of enthusiasm that he exhibits. My reflections have reignited some childhood memories of playing the piano. I loved playing the piano. It was an obsession. By the time I was ten I had attained a Grade 4 in music having only previously done Grade 1 and I remember my teacher saying I was the youngest person in Africa to achieve that. And by the time I was fifteen or sixteen, I had completed my Grade 8 examinations with a pass grade. I recall crying because I had always gotten a distinction in music. I was gutted. As gutted as my son feels when his sister tears one of his football cards (I’m starting to see that apple doesn’t fall far from tree here).

I was gutted because I spent all my time practising to the detriment of my other subjects. Music was the only thing that I was good at in school. It saved me from feeling stupid in an educational system that was based on, to paraphrase Sir Ken Robinson, the transmission of knowledge and the testing of data. With music I felt free and confident. I would sit down at the piano after rushing through my homework, and practise scales and pieces for at least three hours, everyday after school – involuntarily. No one had to make me do it. I loved it. I was self motivated. And I played very very very well but I hated the theory. The theory was the reason I got a mere pass.

There isn’t any interest under that gaze of heaven that doesn’t require an understanding of the rudimentary elements. Whilst I had excelled in playing the piano, I payed very little attention to the theoretical aspect. I knew the elementary things but as I progressed it got more and more difficult for me. It was easier to play. Who wanted to learn about chords, triads, transposition and the rest of it when I could just play it? I didn’t need to understand them I thought. Wrong! The exams did not just require you to play an instrument but you were also tested on theoretical aspects as well. And as I had really done the perquisite Grade 5 theory exams just because I had to, my only focus was to get through the barest minimum. As a result, I lacked a true understanding some of the vital points of music. I just wanted to play. I didn’t want any of the seriousness that went along with it. Clearly I need lessons on dedication from my son.

Every passion needs taming. Without dedication and commitment to honing a skill or talent, you end up feeling unrequited love or even worse – mediocre. I probably could have done a lot more with my musical gift; but I was unwilling to discipline myself. I was unwilling to embark on the uphill journey that all masters of a craft must take. I wanted the easy way out. The path of least resistance. The path of the least amount of work. I wanted the rewards of being a pianist with very little effort.

I can still play and read music quite well but I wouldn’t consider myself an expert. My children are taking lessons now and it’s nice to be able to help them along with that. However, I know if I had to strike a conversation with someone who did it the right way, I would struggle. That is not what you would expect at that level. I should be able to tell you composers I loved, what it was about them I liked and what my favourite piece was and so forth but alas I can’t because I wasn’t paying much attention to that. I have acquired a great skill, but it would have been nice to have mastered it properly.

So I guess the morale of the story is, if you claim to be passionate about something, possess a willingness to learn all about it; take the time necessary to grow the passion and give plenty of opportunity to practice it. Yes, even if it is football trivia. No one has a right to tell you what your passion should be but if you claim to have one, do it some justice and live it wholeheartedly and have no regrets!


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