Harvard Supplement: The Essence of Music

Harvard Supplement: The Essence of Music


Music has always been a dominant force in my life, inspiring and motivating me to challenge myself. With music, I could work towards mastering increasingly demanding passages while releasing my emotions through the melodies. For many years, the desire for acclamation drove me to practice and perform. I yearned for acknowledgement of my talent and the assurance that my playing was unparalleled; I wanted people to be astonished by my technical abilities and stylistic interpretations.

Even when I played at volunteer concerts for seniors, my focus was on displaying my technical capability and receiving compliments after the performance. I chose difficult pieces with virtuosic passages and wide spectrums of dynamic expression. As the final chords resounded, I would lift my fingers from the keys with a flourish and then watch the reaction from the audience. The seniors always clapped politely, but I was left unfulfilled. I mused over how I could provoke more enthusiasm — perhaps I could add more glissandos or speed up the arpeggios.

After one of our concerts, I was asked to play an additional piece as an encore for the seniors. I was thrilled at the request until I realized that I had already performed all the pieces that I prepared. Everyone was looking at me with anticipation, so I reached for the sheet music that was on top of the piano: Imagine by John Lennon. The notes seemed easy enough and I trusted my sight-reading ability. Taking a moment to skim through the pages, I delved into the famous introduction.

When the verses came in, many of the seniors started to hum the melody. Some of them even began singing the tune while swaying with the piano chords. I was taken aback by the response and glanced distractedly at the audience until my fingers slipped on the keys. Turning my attention back to the piano, I poured my wonder into the progressions and the chorus. The room swelled with a medley of chords and voices that were slightly offbeat but somehow blended seamlessly with the music. Touched by the inspiration in the room, I joined my audience in singing the words of the timeless ballad.

When the final notes of the song faded, the response was overwhelming, not in applause but in emotion. I watched as the seniors turned to each other, all smiles, forming connections and exchanging memories, and I could feel the warmth and happiness emanating from the crowd. In an instant, I realized that all my preconceptions about performing were wrong; I had been focusing too much on my ability and not on what actually mattered. I may have been the person at the piano, but the concert wasn’t about me at all. It was about the people listening — what they wanted to hear, what they enjoyed — not what I wanted to show them. It was a life-changing moment for me, a startling realization of what I had been missing. As I walked out of the senior home that day, I knew I had created more than a melody; I had created a memory.

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