Finger control on timpani in front of a mirror that allows me to see the angles of my hands otherwise not visible. Pitch-changing exercises. Meticulous ear-training, singing a note for ten minutes that, to anyone else, sounds the same, but to me is maligned with horrific inflections that send a cringe through my core. Then incrementally adjusting it from 430 hertz to 440 hertz before moving to the next note.

Distinct movements in my wrists and arms to uncover the mystery of even-toned snare drum rolls. Control of the tiniest spasms in the muscles of my hands; making infinitesimal movements. Piano rolls, pianissimo three-stroke ruffs. Doubles in my left hand, my weak hand, with an audible hitch. It needs to be smoother. The space between doubles in my left hand are a few milliseconds too long. Even smoother. Only a millisecond hanging in suspension. Not audible anymore, but nonetheless chilling to me.

The repetition of major, minor, augmented, and diminished scale arpeggios. A wrong note. I repeat it again. Another wrong note.

“If you hit a wrong note, stop, start it over, and do it slower,” was Tom’s instructions. “No wrong notes.”

His words loop in my head as I repeat it again, but slower. All the right notes. I repeat it again, now at the same tempo. Perfectly executed. Tom was right. I repeat it again, faster than the original tempo. A wrong note. I repeat it again. Still faster than original tempo, but slower than the faster tempo. No wrong notes, but I repeat at the same tempo before going back to the faster tempo.

When not in the practice room, I use pencils in class to work on finger technique, the patter of footsteps in the hallway to make syncopated rhythms, the warm hum of light fixtures to sing tri-tone intervals. The surroundings captivate my attention only to the degree that it satisfies the dissonance in my mind, melodic and harmonic puzzles that won’t go away until they’re solved.

The music is in my head, crowding my mind, and has nowhere to go. Sometimes, I think I might save myself by writing, by creating the space to leave the practice room in the practice room so the music that clogs my departure is emptied through words. I won’t have to tediously sift through it every moment that I’m awake.

I’m not sure that writing will make it better or worse. The possibility of opening a new avenue of obsession scares me. Maybe I’m thinking too hard about it, but that’s the problem I already have and cannot help. That’s the problem that I don’t know will go away. I write to find out if I’ll ever be free.