Finding My ‘Balance’ in Music

Anyone who has treaded the career path of Medicine and Surgery will tell you –  It is a way of life. As all of us try to find the balance between work and living, we ultimately find ourselves juggling between our responsibilities to our patients and our desires to spend more time on our families and ourselves. Some manage to fit their work around their personal lives, whilst others devote their life to their work. One way or another, everyone is continually trying to reach that personal ‘perfect balance’.

Everyone has a Fork in their Life – the moment when they had to make a decision and chose a certain path – mine was between Medicine and Music. I chose Medicine because I wanted to ‘help people’. Unfortunately I found that my music was only helping little kids who didn’t want to practice before they came to their piano lessons. At the time, my very realistic pragmatic parents also had a favourite saying – ‘Music is not a real job, Music is something you do when you are pregnant, barefoot and stuck at home’. I found out that I was as pragmatic as them when, at the age of 17, I relinquished my hard-earned scholarship to the Julliard School in New York. Even though it took six rounds of being the local, state, national and regional finalists and over two years of preparation to win that scholarship, it was surprisingly easy for me to hand it back when it was pointed out to me (by my parents of course) that the only way I could have a regular income in music was to be a teacher – a lot less glamorous than my dream of becoming a performing star. The only regret I had was that my decision broke my piano teacher’s heart.

So since I started my life on the path of Medicine, I have not looked back. Like so many others on this similar path, I made sacrifices – one of which was giving up music, something that I have had since I was six years old. It was a severe case of withdrawal – from juggling piano, flute, cello and singing lessons, regular practice and numerous ensemble rehearsals, to nothing. Nothing but studying, lectures, labs, ward rounds and libraries.

I ploughed my way through medical school with four part-time jobs, and then did the obligatory overtime as a junior doctor to get onto a surgical training program. During which I was overdosed on fluorescent lights within hospitals and LED lights in operating rooms. After that, setting up private practice and running between public hospitals consumed my so-called ‘spare-time’. There weren’t enough hours in the day for my work – let alone for myself. People often asked about my hobbies – and my standard answer was: Eating, Sleeping and Remembering to Breathe. Did someone say Balance? What Balance?

One of my favourite times in the day had always been early morning – while I drove between hospital ward rounds. I often listened to Classic FM in the car, and as I drove past our local performance arts centre on the way, I often allowed myself to pretend that instead of being a surgeon going to hospitals (and listen to my patient complain), I really was a musician going to rehearsals (not that I knew of any musicians who went to work at 6am).

For me, ever since I started medical school, apart from going to the occasional concert, and tinkling on the piano at home occasionally, music hasn’t really been part of my Life.

Just me…. tinkling…..

And I missed it. Everyday.

Then I decided to join our local Medical Orchestra (MO).

Two years ago, after doing another 7-day-80-hour week, I decided that it was time I put time aside for myself. It came at the same time when our local MO was recruiting players for their next concert. My love for making music had always been very personal to me, so joining an orchestra was naturally ‘doing something for myself’. During my first rehearsal, I was pretty nervous – I didn’t know anyone, I hadn’t read music for years, and the last time I touched my flute was before Medical School! Not to mention the embarrassing condition my flute was in – it was so black that I had to spend an hour before the first rehearsal cleaning my flute with a silver polishing clothe, and then trying to explain the friction burns on my hand from doing it too vigorously…..

American Pieband camp

Ok – enough with the flute jokes.

I could not believe the buzz I got during that first rehearsal – for once, I wasn’t pretending I was a musician going to a rehearsal – because I was a musician in a rehearsal. It didn’t matter that I finished a bar earlier than everyone else (hey, haven’t we finished that movement already?) and that I was playing in a different key to everyone else (with our conductor screeching ‘G sharp!!!’ at me across the orchestra).

I was making music.

The first concert I was involved in was both exciting and nerve-wrecking for me – not having performed in public for over ten years. The Orchestra made a magnificent sound at the sold-out concert. I have to admit that it helped that it was held in an old museum, so the acoustic was like singing in the shower – nothing could actually sound bad. I even had to congrat myself that I finished the last note at the same time as everyone else.

It was then I realised that in the last twenty years of immersing myself in Medicine, I had forgotten how much I loved making music. The exhilarating feeling of finding an old love totally took me by surprise. It was an indescribable feeling. The amazing thing is that, even after two years, I still relive it every time I play my flute in the orchestra.

So for all of you out there who have forgotten how much you loved doing something before your career took over your life, maybe it’s time you do something for yourself.





20 thoughts on “Finding My ‘Balance’ in Music

  1. That’s you “tinkering”??? are you kidding me. I would chew my left leg off to play something like that. First I need lessons though.

    I too was a flute player. I got to a point where I wanted to go to the Royal Conservatory here in Toronto. I had the grade and skill level for it. I was crushed to find out later I needed Grade 6 level piano and Grade III Harmony and Theory. It was my final year of high school. I would never get to those levels in time. So I too abandoned my love of playing music. I had also dabbled in bass guitar, guitar and other instruments. Music was my one true passion.

    Then I just puttered about. Took this and that in different colleges and universities until I settled on my chef profession. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy it, and cooking was a passion of mine too (it’s different now that I have been doing it 20 years now – I don’t cook much, as I am in management, so I am more paper pusher than salmon slicer the last 10 years or so). But music….

    My son was taking guitar lessons, and he, like those kids you mentioned, wasn’t into it. He only played when at lessons. I was so jealous! I just don’t know if I have the time or inclination to pick up again (my cheeks used to hurt big time when learning the flute!), but it tugs at my heart like you wouldn’t believe. Part of me wishes I had taken a year or two off to get those grades and get into music.

    I guess we are pulled to where we need to be. There is perhaps a larger plan that we aren’t privy to. Doesn’t mean I can’t go and take harpsichord or harmonica lessons, but I always wonder if it’s too late!

    Anyway, I love this story as it obviously tugs at me…and so happy to hear you play so wonderfully! And congrats on being in the orchestra…what a thrill!!

    Have a fab day 🙂


    • Thanks Paul! I love cooking, I think I would cook a lot more if I had the time. But I suspect it is so different when it’s a job. Everyone has regrets and gives up something to become ‘grown ups’. I am just glad that I found my love for music again because I thought I would have never had the opportunity! Glad I found another fellow flute player/music lover! Take up the harmonica! It’s so much fun 🙂

  2. I stopped dancing when, just before my wedding, my teacher retired. I cried for days when received her retirement letter. I’d danced since I was 2 – my class was like family.
    Then, some years later, I took up ballroom classes and once again got that dance buzz. (Plus there was the social side of ballroom dancing – social dances, pretty dresses, champagne…). But then I had my 4th child and babysitting seemed an unfair request. And then my teacher retired on me. Again! Well, she was 91!!!
    I was bereft for a year. But recently I started a jazz class. It immediately felt like family again. And I took part in my first show in 12 years earlier this month. I was so scared that I’d become too old and fat to pull it off, but I LOVED it!
    Nothing better than making time to do something you love.
    I wish I could play the piano like you. Very jealous.

    • Thank you 🙂 I am so glad you went back to dancing. You would know exactly how I felt when I joined my orchestra! It’s so great to have such sense of community with the group too. I missed that too (especially the sledging between the string and wind sections).

  3. What a wonderful story. You are very talented. I love literature and reading and learning but had decided not to attend university and got myself a job instead. That is one of the great regrets of my life. I stayed away from school after being told by countless people how useless a degree in the arts is and it will be a waste of time. Until one day I had finished reading J.M. Coetzee’s novel Disgraced, and I was floored. I was desperate to talk about it with someone but I had no one. Not one single person in my life gave two shits for reading, literature, or thinking of any kind really. Then I became scared, really, really, scared. What if this is how the rest of my life goes? Fuck me. So I made a radical change in my life and made it so I could attend school and study literature. It was as though I had come home. Some days I actually had tears of relief. I haven’t looked back. I married my Shakespeare instructor and my life today is filled with reading.I am friends with poets, writers, artists, academics, and even some musicians. And, strangely enough, the first novel I studied in university was J.M. Coetzee’s, Disgraced, and I went on to win the prize for best first year essay for a paper I had written on it. I am so glad that we live in an age where our lifespans are long enough we can ammend some of the regrets in our lives.

    • Wow! Amazing. I am glad you have found time for this in your life. For some reason your last 2 posts hadn’t appeared in my reader, I thought you had been quiet recently, very glad to see you are blogging away. My little boy loved your playing too, Xx

      • Mrs JB. Same here! Your comment didn’t even come up in my notifications. I think WordPress is trying to keep us apart! I am glad you guys liked a little bit of Chopin! Maybe your boy is a budding musician?!?! 😛

        • Weird. I’ll have to keep making special
          visits. Chopin is lovely, I’m a fan. I played as a child and a teenager (as all budding medical students do) but have no gift for it. My dad does though, he can play by ear and is good so hopefully it has skipped a generation in me but will be in my son! X

    • That’s a great story!!! I am so glad you has to courage to pursue what you love. And to marry your lecturer!! You must have some interesting dinner table conversations. Sometimes I wished I had just ignored my parents and ran off to Julliard. But… Then I think I wouldn’t have gone to medical school and fallen in love with my husband. Funny how life plays out! I was in love with my conductor when I was 16 and in the school orchestra. Didn’t matter that he was married, 35 and had two kids. So was the rest of the orchestra…. Imaging being a hot popular good looking music teacher who played electric guitar in an all girls’ school.

  4. This is very inspiring, and this blog is inspiring as well. As a student on the medical journey, I give a little shriek of joy when I see others in the medical field tend to their passions to help them continue with life. You play that Etude beautifully! ( I myself am working on Etude 3).I’m happy you’ve been able to get back to your roots in music.

    For me, I view medicine as an art form first than a stiff science. It’s less intimidating that way. And I believe this perspective works for me best because I am able to create that “balance” early on in my medical journey to continue it for the future. Doctors should be able to keep the things they love and not be slave to the profession. Medicine is a part of life, its not life itself.

    Again, great post! And I look forward to reading more.

    • Thanks for coming by my post 🙂 I am very lucky that I have chosen the most ‘creative’ specialty of medicine: plastic surgery, where I get to reconstruct missing body parts! But I have to admit that unless one knows the science well, the creativity is limited! I totally agree that we should try to have a balanced life and not centre it around our work, but I am sure you will find out as you go through the next few years, decisions and sacrifices sometimes will have to be made so that you can achieve your goals in your career. I have no regrets, because I consciously made them and so unlike some, I don’t resent the fact that my work sometime DO have to take over my life. Good luck with your studies and thank you for following and reading. Hope to hear from you again 😀

  5. OK, please tell us normal people that you joked about Julliard. For that is frigging awesome!
    It’s interesting how we sometimes choose careers that are very different from our creative paths. I’m not sure if we forget as much as it’s life getting in the way. But in those rare instances when we get the opportunity to participate in something creative, it’s a high that you want to experience over and over again.

  6. Well, what can I say that hasn’t already been said. Guys, you all took the words out of my mouth. What a lovely accompaniment to my breakfast of porridge, yoghurt and fruit – how blessed I felt to have such a beautiful way to greet the new day. Thank you for the beautiful music and the inspirational post. Like many of the folk who have commented I opted for a career of my parents’ choice. However, glad to say life offered me another opportunity to take a different fork and I fulfilled a life dream of university study in social welfare. It changed my thinking and life – I feel now I live a fortunate and blessed life.

    Those fingers? They were destined to do something great!

    • Awwww. Thanks QP! I so admire people who chase and go after their dream like yourself! I don’t hate my job, but I so wish I can use my fingers to tinkle all day long! (although I try to remind myself that they do other pretty important things!)

  7. This is definitely one thing I miss at the moment – my piano is currently in need of $600 worth of repairs to make it playable again (mouse invasion at our rental. Landlords are lucky I’m not making them pay for it!) and it’s just not the same playing my little synthesiser 😦

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