Best Personal Essay EVER

As I sit on the pews, waiting for my cue, I shake my foot anxiously. I know that I am completely prepared and I am perfectly capable of performing, but I still don’t want to. I don’t know why I agreed to this. As they announce our names, my mother and I approach the stage. I pick up my guitar, adjust my skirt, and put on my capo. My mother counts us off and I begin to strum chords I know all too well to a song I barely know. The tension in my shoulders refuses to ease as the song comes to a close and the audience stares. They clapped, I cringed. I make every attempt to  avoid eye contact. The next song flies by in a heartbeat and I still can’t shake this uneasy feeling. The pit in my stomach is bouncing on a trampoline with every beat. Finally, it’s over. The crowd gave an acceptable amount of applause. I put the guitar down, stood up, adjusted my skirt, and returned to my seat in the pews.

This was the first time I had performed since my grandfather, Clarence Matthews, passed away in January of 2015. Not that I was big on performing before that anyway, but it felt different. He is the main reason that I play the instruments that I do. Way back in the 50’s, my grandfather was a bell ringer for the Salvation Army in Harlem, NY. He began going to the church services to listen to the band and he fell in love with the music. There, he met my grandmother and they had my mother and four other kids. They all took up an instrument or two. My mother learned to play the piano, the trumpet, and the EAlto horn.

I was born in the Bronx, NY but then my family relocated to Philadelphia, PA in 2005. At my church, I learned to play the trumpet, the guitar, and the piano. At my school, Shawmont Elementary, I was taught to play the violin and the cello. I was also involved in the school musicals. My last year there, we did Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and I played Charlie’s mother, Mrs. Bucket.  

Recounting the night we got the news my grandfather passed, my sister and I had just come back from our friend David’s house. It was movie night and we watched the Green Hornet. We took our jackets off. As I set up Netflix on the Wii, my sister went and told my mom we were home. We sat on the couch to watch tv, just the two of us, while my mom was in the back watching a movie. Suddenly, the phone rang. It was my Aunt Valerie. We payed it no mind and continued watching the show but what came next was completely unexpected. My mother screamed, “What? What do you mean?” My sister and I ran to her room. My mother was in tears. She hung up the phone. She could barely get the words out. “Your grandfather is dead,” she stuttered. She told me to call my father and tell him to come home. The three of us went out to the living room, sat on the couch, and cried together. My father came in from the garage and sat with my mother. Later that week, we found out more information about what had happened. They said he died in his sleep, peacefully and that’s all we could have hoped for him.

After that, I sort of stopped playing the guitar. It wasn’t intentional, I’d just lost interest. I readjusted my priorities. School and friends and family trumped my music, then more than ever. It was my first year of high school and I decided that it was no longer going to be a part of my identity. I wasn’t interested in going into the music industry even in the slightest. It was hard even though I didn’t notice a change.

During that summer, the church where I currently attend Youth Group went on a Mission Trip to Vermont. One of the nights there, we had a bonfire at a farm that was the worksite I was stationed at earlier in the week. There, we had somewhat of a confessional time. I was there with some of my closest friends and I had developed a fairly strong bond with the other teens I had met there so I decided I was comfortable sharing about myself. We got to open up about our struggles in life and prayed for each other. It was there that I remember for the first time realizing I shut myself off to my music after my grandfather passed away. As soon as I returned home, I got into playing again.

Later on that summer, my dad, who is a college professor, arranged a meeting with one of his co-workers, Ms. Jackson, and I. He said he wanted us to talk about my options for college and my plans for after. We ended up talking about scholarships and schools that I could apply for regarding my musical abilities. I told her that I didn’t want to pursue a career in music however, she said that I shouldn’t completely rule that out. If it’s something I’m good at then I should go for it. We talked about how I could expand my audience and she suggested I start a YouTube channel and post videos of myself singing. The next day, I began filming a video of myself singing Lost Boy by Ruth B. A little while after posting three videos, I began to think this wasn’t for me. The I decided to post recordings of myself on SoundCloud. To date, I have 5 tracks posted and I intend on making more.

As of right now, I still don’t perform for people often and when I’m practicing and someone opens my door I stop immediately, but I’m a lot more open to performing than before. I think that self-reflection is extremely important and sometimes you need to check in on yourself more than others.

Comments (1)

Claire Byrnes (Student 2018)
Claire Byrnes
  1. I learned about Liv's strength in choosing to return to music, even when she had lost her interest, readjusted her priorities, and knew it would be uncomfortable to relearn.
  2. I liked the nonlinear timeline aspect of this writing. We read about Liv performing, then her grandfather passing away, her history in a linear fashion, and then how she found her own way to become attached to music again.