We asked some of our sports department colleagues to share this week what their lives have been like without the usual routines of news, practice and games to guide them. This is a six-part series.)
About 19 years ago, I spent a summer without sports. In the process I discovered a passion for two things that stuck with me since — piano playing and songwriting.
As I’ve spent most of the last few months alone in my apartment, they have been two of my best friends.
When I was 14, I developed a stress fracture in my lower back, so instead of playing baseball that summer, I spent it indoors, wearing a back brace for three months.
Suffice it to say, I was bored and needed something to pass the time. I had always had a deep love of music, more than most 14-year-olds at the time probably did. In a bit of fortuitous timing, my Aunt Paula bought a keyboard, and I played it much more than she ever did.
I was at her house every day, but I never took a lesson. I was just figuring it out on my own. I didn’t want to play Beethoven, I wanted to play the songs I loved from my favorite artists, such as Mariah Carey. So I bought the sheet music for Mariah’s “Daydream” album and for most of the songs, I wrote in pen — underneath some of the sheet music — what notes they corresponded to on the piano. By the end of that summer, I was able to play the melodies to songs such as “Fantasy,” “One Sweet Day” and “Always Be My Baby,” on my right hand.
Through helpful music books, I learned about chords and how to play those. They form the bedrock of songs. They set the mood and can help dictate where the melody is going.
Gradually, I started playing the chords with my left hand and I began to notice something: A lot of pop songs had similar chord patterns. You could play different song melodies in your right hand, never changing the chords you were playing with your left.
Then Carole King’s “Tapestry” entered my life, and that opened up a musical Pandora’s box. King doesn’t always use typical chords, and her chord changes can take sudden left turns. That was exciting to my ears and it fascinated me as someone who studied how to construct songs. Songs like “Beautiful,” “So Far Away” and “It’s Too Late” are technically pop songs, but King didn’t use typical pop chord patterns to write them.
When I was 22, I met my first boyfriend, a singer-songwriter, and he helped me unlock my ability to write music.
Even after our relationship ended, I continued writing. I knew how to do it now. I had taught myself the tricks of the trade and I learned from the best, like Mariah and Carole. When I write songs, I feel like I’m using a part of my brain that I don’t access in every day life.
As I’ve spent the last few months staying mostly in my apartment, I’ve reconnected with my keyboard like I did when I was 14. It’s something I often don’t have time to do when I’m traveling all over the country to cover the Timberwolves.
I took requests from people on Twitter, and it’s been fun trying to write music again. I’m working to get some old demos of mine rerecorded by singers. I like to think music informs my sports writing. But I’m not sure exactly how. I guess there’s a structure, but within that structure you can try to be creative and find unique ways of telling a story.
Kind of like a pop song.