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Turn Flaws Into Stories

Barron Ryan

Outdoor Lecture  by Sewanee: The University of the South

Outdoor Lecture by Sewanee: The University of the South

I really wish I could take requests. Some pianists have an amazing ability to hear a song once and not only remember it, but play it months or years after hearing it. Taking requests is easy for them. "You want 'Stairway to Heaven'? Sure, I heard that on the radio once in college. Look at me go!"

I have never been one of those pianists. I used to not even be able to pick out chords from a song, much less recall both them and the melody while under the duress of playing a tune for somebody who knows it by heart. I used to (and if I'm being honest, still sometimes do) get frustrated that I'd disappoint people who couldn't hear their request. But I realized that even my artistic flaws could become captivating by turning them into stories.

You see, I learned the piano in a classical tradition. My very first lesson introduced the concept of written music, and I stuck with that throughout my first decade of playing. But I always wanted to play by ear, so a few years ago I decided to stop complaining that I couldn't do it already and start the process of getting better at it. And though it's still not where I want it to be, my improvising has improved tremendously.

Now instead of making excuses about why I can't play 'Deep Purple', I tell that story. Hopefully the requester is less downcast about not get to hear her favorite song, and more interested in the reason I gave. Not only does it soften her disappointment, but it demonstrates that I'm simultaneously aware of, at peace with, and ameliorating my artistic flaws.

You may be frustrated that you don't already have a particular skill in your art (or business, or whatever). That's okay. Turn that weakness into a story that tells me about you. Help me understand you more, and I'll like whatever you produce.