Are you ready for another installment of “The Mad Pianist Confessions?”  Okay, so maybe that’s not a real thing but it is what we are doing today.  This may surprise some but I am probably the most insecure person that I know.  In fact, I have been fairly insecure 95% of my life.  I have been very blessed to have people in my life that have helped to buoy me up and offer me praise but that’s never really enough, is it?  Confidence is something that has to come from within and cannot be imposed upon oneself.

Erich Fromm has been quoted as saying, “The task we must set for ourselves is not to feel secure, but to be able to tolerate insecurity.”  So, how is it that we get to the level of toleration?  That is the question of the day, isn’t it?

I look back on my life and see my insecurities so firmly rooted in my experiences.  In high school, I had a great piano teacher but I never felt quite “good enough.”  I remember leaving my lessons more than once in tears.  She had another student that seemed to be pitted against me often.  I have no idea whether that was something done intentionally or just by chance.  We were paired for duo piano and played comparable pieces.  I came to really detest the sound of her name.  “Well, this is what [name] is doing.”  I was ahead of her by a year in school, so I moved on and became a piano major at university.  She came to audition the next spring and I prayed she would go somewhere else.  “Please, anywhere but here.”  She did end up attending another university.  I have come to a peace about that time in my life and those experiences but I hope that I never cause a student of mine to feel as I did.  I was good but it was never quite enough to be acceptable.

In college, I remember my insecurity growing so large that I would often not seek out opportunities because of the chance of failure.  I remember meeting with my piano teacher during my junior year to talk about my future.  I was going to be graduating the next spring and really wanted to go to grad school but was so insecure.  I really just wanted her to tell me that I was good enough.  Well, it turns out that she had told me in different ways from my very first semester that I was talented and definitely good enough.  She was a huge supporter of mine from the beginning and it has taken me years to see this clearly.  During that meeting, she did, indeed, tell me that I was good enough and would be a good fit for graduate music school.  Another day, another post, and I will tell more about this time in my life, the conversations I had with this professor, and the life lessons I learned while at the keyboard.

Not only am I insecure with my relationship to my talent but with my relationships with my family, friends, work, and God.  It is always the “am I good enough?”,  “Will I be liked better if…” and so on.  This is my mountain to climb, I suppose.

I am at work today and did a music group with about seven people.  One of them said to me:  “You are so talented, what are you doing here?”  I really had no reply.  I know that I have talent and I know that I should feel confidence in what I can do and accomplish.  There are days that I am well aware of this and others that I just struggle.  I have talent, artistry, and desire but now I need to seek that which I lack: the ability to see myself with those qualities.

So, for those of you struggling, I say push on.  You are more than good enough.  You have all you need within you to succeed.  If I can do it, so can you.

 Peace and love,

The Mad Pianist


Music as Emotion

“When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest times, and to the latest.” – Henry David Thoreau

Music has always been known to evoke emotion. I hardly think there was a time when humans thought otherwise. Music can evoke emotions of love, joy, sorrow, unease, rage, complete euphoria, and limitless others. So, how is it that we define the sentiments that we want to feel? Is this a conscious choice? Is it born within us or developed? I guess that is the whole nature vs nurture question.

I have never been one to listen to music that leaves me feeling undesired emotions. I like music that leaves me feeling better and more positive about myself and my surroundings than I started. I suppose, for this reason, that this is why I do not like listening to hard rock, metal, or rap. I guess I like to think myself as a purist. Give me a symphony that evokes pure beauty over electric guitar anyday. In a previous post, I did declare that I do like to listen to some pop music and top 40 and I am not now trying to deny that fact. I am just stating a new fact about myself.

I have been thinking about this concept of aesthetics and how we, as humans, choose what music we listen to for enjoyment. I find art pleasing for arts-sake and find no reason to justify it but is that how everyone else views their choices? I have a family member that enjoys listening to all of the “music” that I do not. Does that make his choices any less valid? I think this is a valid point to think on.

In graduate school, I took a class called “The Aesthetics of Music.” In this class, which really was one of my favorites, we debated a lot of subjects. We read a lot of critiques and portions of works by different 19th and 20th century philosophers, discussed the Mozart effect, talked about the music of other cultures, and so on. So, now I am out in the real world. Does my view of what makes a piece of music “beautiful” mean that it is what the world deems “beautiful?” What are my reasons and do I really need to have reasons?

We all have tastes and it will vary from generation to generation and culture to culture. I know that my view of beauty and art varies from my parents and varied considerably from my grandparents. Our tastes will even vary between people of the same set of education and focus. I have a friend from my undergraduate years that loves a piano concerto that I think is lovely but am really only lukewarm toward. I mentioned to a group of current undergraduate piano students at our local university about my love for 20th-century and more modern music. They looked at me as if I came from another planet.

How are we letting these differences influence our thinking? How are we letting them define us as individuals and us as a culture? How are we letting our unique artistic tastes divide us from each other?

I guess that is enough to think about for a Friday evening. Emotion, tastes, culture, beauty — it’s all a lot to swallow when grouped together. Well, just know that this topic or group of topics is far from off the table. Let’s just let it settle and see where we come up on the other side of the dawn.

What are your thoughts? Send me an email (, use the contact form, or leave me a comment and I will get back to you!

Peace and love (and good taste),
The Mad Pianist

Gratitude: Talent


The Mad Pianist playing Horowitz’s piano. Photo: TLG, 2011

Not many people know exactly what I do for work.  To be honest, there are times when I am not exactly sure what I do when I am at work.  My schedule and functions change fairly regularly – mostly monthly.  I work with the elderly in a long-term care setting but I am not a nurse.  I work within the recreation department but I like to view myself as a “non-licenses music therapist.”  As a result of all of my music training, I have the opportunity to share music with this population.  It is a hard but so very rewarding group of tasks on a daily basis.

Today, as they were getting ready for dinner, a lady wheeled herself up to me.  She said, “When are you going to play the piano for me again?  Can you do it right now?  Do you have something you can play for me?”  At the moment, I was getting ready to attend a staff meeting but we made plans for me to play for her this weekend.  I am going to play some Bach, Beethoven, and a piece composed just a couple of decades back.  Her excitement is kind of funny, at least I think it is.  Nearly everyone at this facility knows that I play the piano (and some know I play other instruments as well) but she is really one of the only ones that seeks me out to play for her.  She is an artist and so I keep trying to tell her that I will play for her if she will paint me a picture.  I think she has figured out that I will play for her anyway.

As a part of my weekly schedule, I have a music group.  Those involved in this group are usually all long-term patients.  They have varying illnesses, cognitive levels, and use of their limbs.  About a month ago, I was leading my music group and they decided that it would be fun to work on some Christmas songs and then record them.  They want to be able to give CDs to their family members for the holidays.  Now, I thought (and still think) that this was a terrific idea.  Little did I know at the time how much work this was going to be for me.  As a group, we picked five songs to work on:  3 traditional carols and 2 of the more “modern” Christmas tunes.  One of these I had never heard and we are learning the words tomorrow.  I have had the opportunity to arrange each of these pieces for the group.  They will be singing and playing various percussive instruments.  I will be on the keyboard and I have arranged for some of my musician friends to assist us.  The closer we get to the recording date, the more excited everyone seems to get about this project.

So, for today, I am grateful that I have this opportunity.  I get to see the smiles on each of the faces of this population.  I get to see the impact that music truly has on each individual and their varying circumstances.  If anyone doubts the power of music to heal and to bridge gaps, come visit with me.  I have seen Alzheimer’s patients become more coherent and balanced.  I have seen behaviors decrease.  I have seen people come together because of the music.  I am a believer.

I am grateful for being given this talent that I can share with the world.  My mom is always telling me “don’t hide your light under a bushel.”  I could be content, mostly, with living in the shadows but that is now what I have been meant to do with my life.  I have a gift and the accompanying training to bless others and to bring a smile and commonality to the lives of those around me.  I will not squander my gift.  I will showcase it and allow it to grow even further.

What talent are you sharing with the world?  I want to hear from you!

Peace and love,

The Mad Pianist Continue reading