A Glimpse of Otium: Playing Piano

Similar to making homemade bread and pasta, playing the piano reveals glimpses of the ideal life I’m seeking.

Non-Utilitarian

I’m never going to become a world-class pianist like Glenn Gould or Arthur Rubinstein. Not only were they naturally gifted in a way I am most certainly not, they dedicated their lives to their art from a young age. Even if I set the bar lower, for instance to simply make a living by playing the piano, I’m likely never going to do even that, as I likely won’t set aside enough time to practice.

Instead, my goal is to simply play piano for the fun of it, to play well enough so it sounds pleasant to my ears and anyone else listening, and to accompany singing or other musical instruments.

I want to have the time to explore songs that I enjoy, to think about why the composer chose a particular note or musical phrase, or hear how the complexion of the song changes if I play it differently or try different notes or pacing.

None of this will pay my bills or be useful to anyone. But, producing pleasing sounds and exercising skill are rewards in themselves. In contrast, being a lawyer is a job, and not a vocation that I would do even if I weren’t getting paid.

Developing Skills Over a Lifetime

The songs I play are ephermeral, lasting only as long as I play each note. But, the more I play, the more familiar I become with particular pieces and the better I play next time. As my fingers get stronger and more nimble, it allows me to have more control over the music I play.

Like any skill worth developing, getting better will take a lot of time, effort and work. This process will never end, and I will be on this journey until my hands and fingers can no longer play.

It’s already been satisfying to compare my skill level now, after many more hours of practice, compared to ten or twenty years ago. And I look forward to hearing what I can do after another ten or twenty years in the future.

In contrast, while I’m certainly developing skills as a lawyer at work, it doesn’t animate me to think about how much of a better lawyer I’ll be in ten or twenty years. I’d rather spend that time and effort to become a better pianist, or baker, or someting else.

Last Thoughts

What all of this signals to me is that I want the freedom to be able to do activities that aren’t oriented towards making money or some other utilitarian goal.

It also shows that my desire to quit my current job isn’t because I’m lazy. In fact, playing the piano takes a lot of diligence, thinking and hard work. Instead, I want to quit, so I can spend my days on something that will add joy and beauty to my life, and I’m willing to work at it.

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