Pianists and the art of letting go


Ever since I purchased them my first year of university, my musicbooks, especially my Urtext editions, have always been with me. I took them to England as an undergraduate when I did a semester abroad, filling one “leviathan” duffle bag with books and the other with my clothes. After graduation, these books traveled with me through 11 moves, always gracing my bookcase and my piano desk, old friends and respectable threads to the past. They have been part of my identity as a musician, even as I moved away from playing traditional repertoire and focused on compositions by living composers.

Today, in preparation for another move, I donated most of them to a local music school. Not only had I not played this repertoire for a decade, I’d made the switch to digital music several years ago, a process I wrote about in "The Paperless Pianist." Sentimentality wasn’t a good enough reason to move 50 pounds of books one more time, and the knowledge that young students will be learning the wonders of this music from books I loved so well made it easy to let go. I left that pile of "old friends" with a grateful music school receptionist, and walked out feeling like I'd let go of more than just a stack of books.

For many of us, this is a season of shedding old ways of being, doing, and thinking. Our yearlong (and counting) pandemic-enforced retreat from the rest of society has prompted many of us to look at all areas of our lives and ask if we’re living true to who we are, or if we’ve been consumed by the “shoulds” and “ought to’s” of others. Our priorities have changed. We’ve changed. Is it any surprise that many things that mattered greatly a year and a half ago no longer seem relevant today?

Living an authentic life requires us to shed that which no longer serves us in order to make room for the new. Donating a pile of music (or ridding the house of other things) is just an external manifestation of internal changes. I like to think of this as pruning. We cut away the unnecessary so the necessary can grow. This is relatively painless when the stakes are low; the challenge arrives when we know we must walk away from choices that affect others as well. But hanging on to things or a life stage just because we fear letting go causes us to spend our precious lives being caretakers of the wrong details. 

Letting go isn’t loss, it’s opening up. Letting go allows us to exhale, stretch, and move lightly through our lives. It doesn’t matter how important a thing, belief, or way of being was in the past, if it no longer fits, we owe it to ourselves to release it. Because there, in the newness and freshness of emptiness, we’ll see the green shoots of new possibilities.