Missing Notes

February 16, 2024

I grew up playing piano. Ten years of lessons, from age eight to eighteen. 

Somewhere in between, though, I picked up a new craft. About six years into piano, I wrote my first book, which triggered a whole new fascination––a new preoccupation, if you will––that took my focus off music and onto words. 

Don’t get me wrong, I still played piano. I took my weekly lessons, and, if I can say so myself, I was pretty darn good. My performance of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata First Movement made someone cry at a recital once. 

Throughout my musical years, I used to walk down to my neighbor’s house and play a few pieces for her. This 98-year-old woman, who played piano herself, would sit in the chair beside her baby grand and close her eyes and listen to me play (and mess up). 

Her name was Mrs. Burch, and she was also a writer. With age, her fingers and eyes could hardly allow her to play piano, and her failing eyesight left her unable to read the notes, much less the words in her own books. By the end of her life, she had to give up her crafts altogether. Every time I walked to my mailbox, though, I’d still tilt my ear toward her house to try and hear her playing. 

I saw her in the hospital some time before she died, and I starkly remember standing over her bed, wearing athletic clothes that I’d thought made me look like a normal teenager. Uncomfortable in my attempt to dress normally, I recall that I had hoped Mrs. Burch wouldn’t think I looked like a regular girl. 

She said in her frail voice, cracked with age and fatigue, “Are you still playing piano?”

The truth was that I was on my second novel and hadn’t practiced piano all week. My mom nodded at me to say “yes,” though I already knew it was the right answer. 

“Yes, still playing,” I told her.  

“Good,” she responded. 

She passed away some time later, and I didn’t wear those clothes again. I’m not sure why my clothes matter to the story, but there’s a message in there somewhere. 

I’m almost 25 now, and throughout the past seven years of being an author instead of pianist, I’ve passed by several pianos. I’ve seen them on the streets of Atlanta, in coffee shops, antique stores, and yeah, I hit a few keys, but I’m not the pianist I used to be. I mess up a lot. 

I could go into how I went to college for music but chose writing instead, and how a music professor told me I’d never measure up to the department’s standards, and how, after years of rejection, I found my path as an author who can find her books on a shelf at Barnes and Noble. 

But I won’t. If you look closely, there’s a message in there somewhere too. 

Growing means missing notes. Missing the beaten path and going off on your own. Choosing one craft over the other and hiking until you’ve made it to the top.

I’m still learning that I can’t be everything to everybody, and while I’m finding that to be true in my little life of words, I’ll be wearing the clothes that make me. . . me.

M.M. Cochran is the author of YA novel Between the Ocean and the Stars and has an educational background in English and creative writing. She has worked in the journalism industry, as well as the agenting and publishing industry, and she is currently a news reporter for The Greer Citizen. M.M. can be found collecting coffee mugs, slipping into an oversized sweater, and hanging out with her standard poodle. Her debut novel, Between the Ocean and the Stars, can be found online at Amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com. To keep up with her writing journey, follow her on Instagram @m.m.cochran_writer.

Featured image by Jordan Whitfield.