A Measurable Standard

I was a piano performance major in college, but I never thought I would major in music. I was your typical Asian overachiever. My parents, teachers, and peers all thought I would go to med school, law school, something-really-smart school. Almost no one in my high school knew I played piano, and those who knew I played didn’t know I was any good.

And I didn’t know I was any good, either. I knew I was an adept enough student that I could master anything I had to learn. But music…you could practice for hours and never achieve perfection. Or even if I hit every note accurately, there was still that intangible musicality that could never really be measured. And I didn’t know if I had it.

My sophomore year in high school, I auditioned for the Governor’s School for the Arts. I was one of eight pianists chosen across the state for four weeks of intense musical training. We had music theory every morning at 8am. We had three hours mandatory practice time. We had individual lessons, group lessons, ensembles, and competitions.

I loved every minute of it. It was brutal. It was fun. It was a world of continual growth and no measurable standard of achievement, aside from the sheer love of performing and crafting music together.

On the last week, all the piano students got to ask our two piano professors anything  – any topic was fair game. Some people asked silly things, or personal things. I had one question: “How do you know if you’re good enough to go into music?”

I don’t remember exactly what they said, but it was what they didn’t say that stayed with me. It’s not like they said, “If you can play this piece, or if you’ve done this many competitions by this age, or if you can play scales this fast…THEN you know you’re good enough.” They basically said, “You may not know if you’re good enough. But don’t let that stop you. Once you try it, you’ll know soon enough if you can’t make the cut. But you won’t know either way until you try.”

To step out and do something I love without knowing if success was guaranteed? To risk looking incompetent and inadequate? To just flat out fail at something? Totally foreign concept.

And yet, appealing. So I majored in music, ended up getting two degrees in piano. I still don’t know if I’m good enough. But I’m starting to learn that maybe that’s not the point.

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