Remember your childhood hobbies? Gave them up as teenagers, right? Me too. Here, Top Sante look at three women who decided it was time to start up those hobbies again – looking at a horse rider, piano player and book worm. These stories will make you dust off your old recorder / violin / tap dancing shoes and see if you’ve still got it – after all, it’s never too late to start again!
I started learning piano again as an adult…
“As I reached the end of I’m walking in the air, my family broke into a round of applause and I jumped to my feet to give a bow. They were always happy to gather round as I performed my latest piece and I loved the adulation.
I loved that the sheet music was kept inside the piano stool and I loved lifting the piano lid and watching the strings jump about as I pressed the keys. During the hurricane of 1987 my piano got wet and I cried. But luckily it dried out and after a retune survived the ordeal.
I grew up on the Isle of Wight and started lessons when I was seven. Dad used to drive me half way across the island to have lessons with a lovely, patient, kind old man. Dad would fall asleep in his car while I honed my skills for an hour. In my memories, it was always sunny and they were happy days.
When I was ten, I moved to a boarding school. As I got older the idea of taking myself along to a practice session that wasn’t compulsory when I could have been hanging out with my friends just seemed crazy. I let my practice slip and I could tell my teacher was frustrated, I seemed to be getting worse with each lesson, not better.
When I announced I was giving up, my parents didn’t protest. My piano was gathering dust and the lessons were a waste of money now that I didn’t practice. I was 17 when we gave away our piano – we were moving house and seeing as it was neglected, we thought it better to go to a more attentive owner. For 11 years, the closest I got to a piano was spotting one in a pub every now and then and drunkenly seeing if I ‘still had it.’ I didn’t. Practice makes perfect and I was definitely out of practice.
To begin with I didn’t miss it. I was too busy. I grew to regret giving up, but I didn’t connect that to actually starting to learn again as an adult – I didn’t think I had the time or the inclination. Wishing I’d never given up was just a passing thought whenever I saw someone else play.
Five years ago I moved in with my now husband and life got more domesticated. Gareth, 31, worked unsociable hours as a photographer and instead of doings something lovely with my evenings, I plonked myself in front of the telly and watched Friends reruns that I’d already seen a dozen times.
Life felt very unfulfilled. In my job as a journalist I stared at a screen all day. It felt uncomfortable and unproductive to then stare at a screen at night too. I longed to do something more creative with my me-time.
Then it hit me – the most creative thing I could do with my time would also be something that would make me so proud of myself – I could start learning the piano all over again.
I saved up £500 and went to a piano shop in Bristol, very excited to be reacquainting myself with my musical prowess. Sadly, even secondhand pianos cost £2000, but I could afford a digital piano, which had weighted keys so unlike a keyboard felt just like a real piano. For a novice like me it was perfect – it never went out of tune and even had a built-in metronome.
I turned it on, sat down and did C major – not the hardest scale to do but I was amazed I remembered the finger placement. I couldn’t wait to find a teacher and start learning songs. Memories I’d long since forgotten flooded back – the happiness and serenity I always felt as a child as I sat before the keys, the pride at successfully accomplishing a song.
I found a teacher, Bryony, 31, and booked my first lesson. I was nervous because I wasn’t really sure how to learn as an adult. I could remember a few things, like Every Good Boy Deserves Fun, the mnemonic for remembering the white keys played in the treble clef, but I wanted to be treated like a complete beginner.
Bryony was, and still is, a brilliant teacher. She’s patient and never pushed me to go for grades when I declared that I’d rather learn fun tunes than study too hard on specific grade pieces. Sometimes Bryony’s previous student leaves her house just as I arrive and it’s inevitably a seven year old, clutching on to their music books keenly. I give them a smile and resist the urge to grab their shoulders while urging them to never, ever give up.
It’s been two years now and I can safely say I’m a lot better than I ever was as a child. After a long day’s work there’s nothing I enjoy more than tapping into a completely different part of my brain. I can get lost for hours and love watching my hands dance up and down the keys as I master a song. When friends come round I perform my latest pieces and I always get a round of applause – just like when I was little. It’s not that I’m particularly good, they are applauding effort rather than skill. I can’t help reverting to a childlike enthusiasm and I find myself laughing at how much I feel like I did when I was seven, taking a bow after performing Greensleeves.
I’d tried other hobbies before the piano and was known among friends as a bit of a hobby hopper – one week it was Pilates, the next it was woodworking or a book-club. While those fizzled out, I’ve stuck with the piano and always will – I love that I don’t have to leave the house to do it and when I finish work, it lures me over with the promise of relaxation and rhythm.
I find it easier to make time to practice now than I did as a child. Back then I was always distracted but now I’m more disciplined and want to see improvements. On weekends when I know we’ve got no plans I get excited because I know it means I can spend hours practising. It’s good for my hand-eye co-ordination and I am fascinated by the fact I can go to bed having not quite mastered a tune then overnight something happens and the next day I’ve got it nailed. Muscle memory, perhaps. Sometimes I’m playing a tricky song while reading the music and not even looking at my hands and I can’t believe it’s really me playing. The first time my dad heard me play again as an adult he thought I’d turned on the in-built track player and it wasn’t me playing.
In some ways I regret ever giving up – if I hadn’t I’d be so good now. But it was right for me at the time, my mind was on other things and I had to go through the break in order to discover who I wanted to be.
As soon as the piano arrived, I sold my TV. I knew I wasn’t going to be watching it anymore. I’m so proud of myself for coming as far as I have, I’ve made a new friend in my teacher and I love that our house is always filled with the sound of music, rather than telly.
The piano softens my soul too. I spend so much time in front of a computer, getting stressed out and worrying about work – if I can redress the balance in the evening by soothing away work worries, I might stave off the grey hairs for a while longer. To practice productively I can’t be thinking about work or anything else, I’ve got to be completely focused and it gives me better focus in all areas of my life. And because I’m doing something with my downtime that makes me so proud, I’m an all round happier person too, as my husband attests.
When I was little, my friend, Charlotte, was a much better musician than I was. She could play a song I absolutely adored, Fur Elise, and when she played I’d be mesmerised. A month ago Bryony and I turned the page in my piano book, It’s never too late to play piano, by Pam Wedgwood, and lo and behold, the next song was Fur Elise. I was so excited. Now I can play Fur Elise off by heart. It’s a true marker of how far I have come and I even wrote to Charlotte to tell her how much she had inspired me. Eight year old me is so proud!
The name of my piano book says it all – it’s never too late to learn piano… Picking it up again as an adult was the best thing I ever did. Rather than saying I wish I’d never given up the piano, I can now say that I’m so glad I started playing again.