Music is universal. Transcendent of time, space, and culture, people don’t need to speak the same language to understand what another feels when they pour out their hearts in song. Music comes in many forms, from Latin chords resonating off the arching ceilings of a sanctuary, to the hardcore beats of classic rock vibrating the very bones of one’s body.
Artists and composers have expressed themselves and their beliefs through music across the ages. It is how they choose to change their world. Music has meaning, and with meaning comes power. It brings healing to the hurt, comfort to the disheartened, a home to the lost.
Many musicians accomplish this goal without having to write a single note, like Nicholas Henson, a freshman Theatre major at SHSU, who taught himself to play the piano by ear.
“Theatre and music are my passions; I like to enjoy having a time where I can throw the world aside and play make-believe because that’s what theatre is at the heart of it,” Henson said. “I feel like it’s important for humans to express themselves and to let their imaginations run wild.”
Henson’s fascination with the piano began at a young age. He not only enjoyed its pure, melodic sounds, but he also realized how influential it could be to learn other instruments. The piano is a so-called “gateway” instrument that, because it is structured so similarly to others, allows fledgling artists to grasp them more easily. However, one memory in particular inspired him over anything else.
“When I was a kid…there was one night my family went to eat at a nice restaurant, and there was a lady playing the piano,” Henson said. “She was playing some random song that I knew from a TV show and [it made me] so happy.”
Henson has been playing the piano for the last six years, starting just two keys at a time. From there, he began to memorize the tone of each key individually and in conjunction with all the other keys. Sheet music has little effect on him at present for lack of knowing how to read it, but learning how to play “correctly” is one of his many aspirations. However, that has not stopped him from pursuing his passions. For practicing his skills for 30 to 60 minutes a day, every day, his dedication has definitely paid off.
“Say I hear a song and I listen to it pretty regularly, and I want to play it on the piano, I can usually play it,” he stated. “It does vary, but…it probably takes me about a minute to, not perfect it, but to get the keys down.”
As a freshman just beginning his journey, Henson’s future goals are still largely undetermined. Theatre, musical theatre, music, dance and even business have crossed his mind. Although any one of these may one day develop into a flourishing career, for now, the piano serves as his primary outlet for self-expression.
“Sometimes it’s hard for me to want to openly express my emotions, and music is really important to me because it lets me do that freely,” he said. “I put my heart into the piano whenever I play it; it’s an emotional connection.”
A skill juxtaposed with his frantic fingers is the use of his voice. For the past four years, Henson has been coached in the most unusual style still yet to be named, but could be summarized as “getting into your mix.” This rare style is taught by only four vocal instructors in Texas. The idea is to balance the high and low ranges of one’s voice to meld into a favored middle ground. Other benefits include more easily meeting desired notes and improved breathing methods.
This, too, has encouraged Henson’s abilities to create his own music.
“I have about six or seven [songs] that are performance-worthy, but I’ve [created and memorized] tons of songs that I’ve either never finished, or they don’t live up to the standards that I feel I should be able to show people.”
This has incurred quite the contradiction; however, because many of his rehearsals take place, not only in his dorm or the Belvin practice rooms, but most afternoons in the Lowman Student Center Art Gallery for everyone to hear.
“I feel like there’s no point in playing music if you have no one to hear it,” Henson said. “Some people may be annoyed by it, but if there’s just one person who’s like, ‘Man, that was great,’ and I just made their day better, then that’s something that I love. I love making people smile.”