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At Music, I Suck … or Used To

By Giovanna Cicalese

When I was younger, I listened to all kinds of music on the radio, mostly guided by my dad, a drummer. I played piano and honestly I wasn’t great or even good. Somehow I got to GAMP (Girard Academy Music Program). Then I picked up the bass. A Big Hulking Upright Bass. Too big for me. (I’d love to play it again though.) The next year rolled around and the too-big-bass was swapped for a trumpet thrust into my hand. I’ve been playing the trumpet for almost six years and honestly I suck, I mean really suck. Tremendous suck.

It’s funny being in GAMP, so much talent, so many singers, players, musicians. And then there’s me. I sing to the radio, I play what I have to, but I’ve got no talent. A while back I inherited a guitar from my cousin. I can’t play it. Not like some can, I’m not good. I play, and play, and play, but I know about one song and a handful of half-riffs. I’m honestly a failure at music.

Then a while back—about two years ago—I got a job. My boss, a woman who wants to involve youth in everything, bless her heart, wanted me to join her Ukulele Club. I was honestly feeling guilty about breaking a typewriter that turned out not to even be broken and so I agreed. So she lent me her ukulele, a little pink thing in a cloth sack. Tiny, tiny guitar. Only four strings. A baby of an instrument, and it sounded perfect. At first, I fiddled. It was fun to play. And then like I so often do, I panicked. I had always failed at music. Always, always, always was no good. I wasn’t going to let that happen this time. I played and played and played, learned chords and practiced riffs over and over again. By the time I got to this club my boss wanted me to join, I was sure I wasn’t going to be a failure. Then I found out the club was me, a nun, an older woman and the “teacher.” Well I wasn’t the “failure” anymore. And you know what, I kept on playing. Yeah, yeah I know how people stereotype me as “the white girl playing the ukulele,” or think, “it’s not a real instrument” but look, I’ve been a failure at music kind of my whole life so I’m gonna keep playing. I’m still not good or great or what have you but it’s the best I’ve done so far. Among all the talent in this world, I have this small thing. I can be comfortable and happy with just this.

Giovanna Cicolese is a student at the Girard Academic Music Program (GAMP) of the School District of Philadelphia.

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