Dear Mr T,
We live next to each other; yet we can't be more far-removed from each other. I remember how, four years back, a young woman broke an old man's loungey enjoyment of evening television; and the old man nearly broke a young lady's love for playing the piano. And he nearly broke her heart too (because this young lady's heart was always inextricably intertwined with music). Yes, you and me.
Only a fresh-faced teen of fifteen then, I remember getting terribly upset after you called my father and talked to him over the fence. You told him to stop me from playing the piano because you 'couldn't hear the TV'. Dad (bless his stubborn soul) tried to negotiate with you, failing which he firmly said, "My daughter may practice up to 9 p.m. After that, no more." Fair deal, considering how late I got back from school each day, and taking into account the neighborhood's need for sleep.
The next few days following that incident was traumatic. I heard even more stories about you from other neighbors — stories of how you didn't let them whistle, didn't let their dogs bark, didn't let the littlest noises get by you. I didn't dare to play anything. Not a single melody, rhythm, harmony, note — not a squeak. Even well before 9 p.m. I even wrote a song about not being able to play any songs. And it took me quite many days before I could bring myself back to my regular volume.
Fast forward to 2012. By then, my piano skills were much better than they'd been during the time of the incident. And that was the year when everything seemed to begin patching up. I went away for a leadership course for six weeks — and do you remember what happened? You missed my music. You remarked to my dad, "Your daughter's been away for a while, huh? She plays well." I laughed upon hearing that.
But dear Mr T, how things have changed once more. Today, you called me this time, shirtless and annoyed, to talk to you over the fence. I knew what was coming. The saxophone. I unclipped the curved, golden instrument from my neck strap, sighed, and opened the door.
And I was right. You said, "Ah, so you're learning the saxophone now. It's loud. Look — I'm listening to my music now, and I might as well turn it off because I can't hear it." I told you, "I'm sorry. I know it is really loud; but I do still have to practice it, you know." You persisted — but bless my father's stubborn soul and genes — because for once I'll admit that I have this gene inside me too. It was a case of déjà vu. I told you firmly, "I'll practice up to 9 p.m. After that, no more."
But Mr T, think about this. Why did you complain about the piano when I was less competent, and praise me once I grew more skillful? The obvious reason here is that — of course — I would have made better music as a more skillful musician. But dear Mr T, please don't forget this one thing too: I needed to hit those wrong notes and crank up those dissonant harmonies before I could get to where I am today. And the same goes for the saxophone. If you want me to reach a level of competence whereby you can enjoy my music from over the fence, then I would advise you to be patient with the honks and severe overtones and scales that you hear now.
Mr T, I'm no longer the fifteen-year old teen quaking at her knees at the sight of your face by the fence. I will be fair, but also firm with you. You have your right to listen to music; but I will also exercise my right to play music.
The Musician, and Your Long-Suffering Neighbor