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My own eyes were closed, but I could sense hundreds watching us. My fingers, previously swathed in thick woolen gloves, were loose and warm. I exhaled slowly and willed all my muscles to relax. I brought the cold, smooth mouthpiece up to my lips and softly blew the opening notes of our piece, letting the notes ring in the vast theatre. Other voices gradually joined in: the low drone of a bassoon, the threatening rumble of the timpani, and the melodious hum of a clarinet. Performing with my wind ensemble has always filled me with a certain satisfaction and empowerment that only creating music with a large group could yield. Although the strict deadlines and exhausting rehearsals were overpowering at times, the sense of comfort and acceptance I experienced was unparalleled. Playing the flute gave me the opportunity to be a part of a community, in which creating music was our communication.
However, in the middle of my sophomore year of high school, one of my closest friends presented me with a guitar that he had picked up from a local yard sale. It was simply constructed with plain, pale pieces of wood, and although the instrument was old, stained, and cracked in many places, I could tell that it had character; a rich history of creating music. As I picked up my new guitar, I could feel a flash of childlike excitement flicker through me, and I couldn’t help but already love the battered instrument.
The next few weeks passed in a blur as I clumsily tried to teach myself how to play the guitar. After plowing through countless YouTube videos and online tutorials, I finally learned how to strum the most basic set of chords, and I was thrilled. I proudly showed off the thin calluses on the tips of my fingers to my friends and passed hours in our local music store gathering a collection of picks. To the dismay of all the inhabitants in my house, I spent weeks loudly belting out songs of my own invention, while strumming the only four chords I knew how to play. Trying to learn the guitar filled me with a silly, innocent happiness that could only be described as pure, unadulterated enjoyment.
Although I never excelled at the guitar, trying to teach myself a completely new instrument changed my perspective toward music-making in an unexpected way. When I played the flute, I was performing as only a small chunk of a much larger entity. However, when I learned how to play the guitar, I was performing for myself, and only myself. There were no external pressures, no expectations, and no looming deadlines to meet. I practiced for the sheer joy of it, rather than in preparation for an upcoming recital. Only when I was thrown into an environment where only an instrument and I existed, could I realize how much I truly enjoyed making music.
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