The Magical Madness of Music

Image from Shutterstock

When I write, I listen to classical piano. Mostly Chopin, because I played a lot of Chopin growing up. My mom put me in piano lessons from age four. We had a beautiful baby grand Yamaha in our home.

I hated playing piano. I resented the daily hours of practice that kept me from playing outside. I was so nervous when I had to perform in front of an audience. But mostly I was terrified of my mother.

She would stand over me and hit my hands with a ruler or smack me in the head when I made a mistake. I would continue playing with blood on my hands and my hair in disarray, getting stuck to my face by my streaming tears. I am still haunted by her screaming, “STA! CCA! TO!!” from the kitchen, which was two rooms away from the piano room.

I tested in a program called the Certificate of Merit and entered competitions when I was in high school. I perfected my performance of Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu. I sent cassette tape recordings of myself playing this piece along with my college applications. Some of the measures still live in the muscle memory of my hands despite not having properly played for 20 years. When I went to college, I swore I would never play piano again. I felt such relief, such freedom.

As I got older, I started to feel regret that I’d let go of a skill I’d worked so hard to hone. One of my childhood best friends never stopped playing. Today she has a beautiful piano in her apartment and teaches her young children. It’s an enjoyable, therapeutic release for her. Another friend told me that when she was young, she begged to go to summer music camp where she would play piano all day long. This is one of her happiest memories.

When I first met my husband, we decided to take a road trip down the West Coast starting in Seattle and culminating in Los Angeles. At one of our hotels in Oregon, I sat down at the piano in the lobby and to my own surprise, flawlessly started playing the Fantasie Impromptu. It had been over a decade since I had practiced anything other than scales. Because of this, my husband has always thought I am an expert pianist and encourages me to pick it up again.

But piano for me is not just an instrument. It is loaded with childhood fears and the trauma of living with my mom’s mental instability. When I walked away from it and swore I would not look back, it was a quiet protest against being controlled and being undeservingly punished. It was the start of my taking control of my life and my sanity, a process that today is still a daily effort.

They say if you’re running away from something scary in a nightmare, you should stop running and turn around to face whatever it is you’re running from. My own experience of depression, anxiety, and panic forced me to turn around and look back. I started “doing the work.” I am learning to truly practice compassion, forgiveness, and surrender. It is not easy. It is not simple. There is no clearcut finish line. There are a lot of unexpected bumps, potholes, and wrong turns.

Listening to classical piano feels like a portal both to the past and to the future. I don’t want to keep moving through life weighted down by uninvestigated fears and traumas from my childhood. The scars may be permanent, but I am working hard to not let them dictate my sense of who I am.

As I listen now to the Fantasie Impromptu, I hear beauty and I hear magic. And I am in awe — in awe that somewhere inside myself, along with the harsh memories, lives that beauty and magic. I even hope to start practicing again.

I am a mama, writer, yoga teacher, and mental health advocate.
More posts by Leah Kim.

Get the latest posts delivered right to your inbox.


Welcome To

Get the latest posts delivered right to your inbox.

Twitter icon Twitter Facebook icon Facebook Pinterest icon Pinterest Reddit icon Reddit
Thanks for Subscribing