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Opinion: Developing musical skills expands knowledge along personal growth journey

Hayley Labia sits at a piano and smiles for a portrait. (Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Hayley Labia

May 23, 2024 11:26 p.m.

I slammed the car door shut. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I aggressively threw my piano books everywhere.

“I don’t want to do piano anymore,” I cried to my mom.

After three years of playing piano, I was eight years old and rebellious as ever. Anything my parents told me to do, I tried to do the exact opposite. Most of all, I was eager to quit learning piano – something my parents had gotten me into – but I didn’t.

Although I’d like to say this was because of my persistence, I must admit that the true cause was parental coercion. My mom kept driving me back to weekly lessons and making me practice during the other days of the week.

But I am now inexpressibly thankful that I was forced to continue my musical journey. If I had quit piano, I would have closed a door on an activity that has brought me substantial amounts of joy. I have met incredibly talented people, overcome mental obstacles and helped others in their musical journeys.

Although my own mental barriers prevented me from initially enjoying piano, one of the most important people in my life helped me realize how music can be a gift. My piano teacher, Jennifer Reason, is one of the most talented, hard-working musicians I know, and I credit her for all of my musical ability.

She encouraged me to learn more advanced, novel techniques, which led me to continue pursuing music. I realized that I sometimes need a little push to become the best version of myself.

When I was seven, my parents also encouraged me to join my local children’s choir – but this time, I actually enjoyed it. When I got to high school, I auditioned for the chamber choir and formed unforgettable bonds with many people from my school and other campuses. Singing with others is truly a one-of-a-kind experience that brings people together.

Through my turbulent teenage years and early adulthood, music offered solace when words failed me. During moments of profound sadness or overwhelming stress, piano became my sanctuary – a refuge where my thoughts could flow freely.

(Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Hayley Labia looks into the distance while sitting at a piano. (Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

The act of creating music allowed me to reclaim control over my mental health.

Songwriting has allowed me to express my musical ideas and pour out my emotions in a positive manner. I delved into songwriting during my latter years of high school and discovered a strong sense of empowerment in crafting melodies, lyrics and instrumentals that echoed my feelings.

During my junior year, I wrote my first choral composition called “Seasons” as a part of my honors project for choir. It was originally a tribute to my friends who were graduating seniors at the time, but it grew into a piece about the ever-changing nature of the world.

This was the first time I had written a piece with a violin instrumental part, and I worked with a gifted violinist in my high school’s chamber orchestra. In many other instances, music served as a bridge connecting me to others on a deeper level.

Through singing and playing piano, I met individuals who expanded my knowledge of music and even taught me some of their native languages or other unique aspects of their cultures. Collaborating with fellow musicians and sharing my compositions with audiences gave me a sense of belonging and camaraderie that transcended differences.

The composition was a testament to my resilience, a tangible reminder that I possessed the determination to balance high school with my extracurricular activities.

A year later, “Seasons” was sung by a professional nonprofit adult choir that donated all the proceeds from their concert to a charity that promotes music education. Knowing that my music helped others was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

Fortunately, I have been able to find another musical community at UCLA. When I first came to college, I knew I wanted to sing in some form, whether in a choir or a cappella group. I auditioned for Random Voices A Cappella during the fall and was blessed with the opportunity to grow my musical arranging, writing and performance skills alongside my best friends.

When I was younger, I didn’t comprehend music’s capacity to change lives. Today, I recognize the numerous ways in which it entertains, heals and establishes community. I have been able to appreciate and understand music so much more than if I hadn’t studied piano and music theory. The amount of creativity, skill and collaboration that goes into music is a highlight of humanity.

Avoiding music is a disservice to oneself. Unique music, instruments and choirs are everywhere, and I would highly recommend people interact with them more frequently, whether it be attending concerts, listening to new genres or even picking up an instrument. More recently, I have tried to further explore music through guitar, which has added rich layers to my repertoire.

Reflecting on my journey with music, I am filled with gratitude for the piano lessons I once utterly dreaded. I have grown in so many ways, and yet I still have much to learn – not only about technique but also about myself.

What began as a reluctant obligation has blossomed into a lifelong passion and enriched my life in ways I could have never imagined.

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