Alissa Portillo
Staff Writer

Originally residing just a few miles away from Santa Monica Pier, with its beautiful ocean views and soft breezes, Kaitlyn Taft moved away from her home at Pacific Palisades to attend Whittier College; she moved into Stauffer Hall as a first-year student. Taft brings to Whittier College her musical talents of being a piano player and a person who leads with her heart and emotions when creating music. Taft said, “. . . When I play the piano, that is when my heart and my mind are truly free.” I believe we all strive to be in this ecstatic state of mind, where our mind and heart are free of overbearing thoughts and instead have a space to release and let it all fade away.

It all started eleven years ago, when Taft was just roughly around the age of seven and was having difficulties connecting with the world around and within her. Having a neurological disability, she began to experience the disconnect from her peers in schools and always felt that the disability she had would continue to conjure challenges for her. She said, “I have always been criticized and belittled for [my disability]. When I was younger, I had more challenges than I do now, but I had to work really hard at it.”

One day, Taft heard her older sister play the piano in her home, and that encouraged her to sit on the cushion sitting in front of the piano. She began to trace her fingers against the keyboard, allowing the flowing movements of her hands to reach and interact with the different notes and keys; it was at this moment that Taft felt an energetic pull towards music, specifically through piano playing. This soon became a lovable aspect of Tafts’ life, and she would begin to use music to escape her ‘normal’ world. She explained, “. . . Music would [ . . . ] transport me to another world without stress, without pain, where I could be free and feel free.”

Music, in many ways, has not just brought Taft happiness and groundedness; music has brought those around her happiness as well. If there is a piano set in public, with an empty seat in front of it, she is conditioned to place her hands on its keys and pour her emotions into a pianistic song — a song that either has been self-taught, or a song that simply pours out of her heart, through her fingers, onto the black and white keyboard. Whatever emotion, experiences, and thoughts she has in the moment of her piano-playing is what Taft believes the audience will connect to as well. That is the beautiful art of music and piano-playing; the audience may be able to hear, with an open heart, what the creator is saying — not just physically, but emotionally, through their music.

During this time of vulnerability, Taft told me that not many know she has a neurological disability, the reason being that she has felt uncomfortable sharing this information so easily, especially because of the rootedness of belittling, criticism, and judgemental impacts it has had in her life. Through our Zoom call, I could see her discomfort in sharing this information with me, as she lost eye contact and looked down or around her current dorm room so intensely. She did share, though, “One of the things that has helped me whenever I have been really down or feeling upset, or feeling like I was losing myself, was music [ . . . pause . . . ] is music.” I expressed my gratitude for her courage to use this time to share a story on how a neurological disability had inspired her to dive into the realm of music and piano-playing.

After all, this is why Taft had shared this piece of her life with me. She has witnessed a growth in the representations of others’ own neurological disabilities through social media and public spaces. Taft said, “They are being vulnerable and have blown up to amazing-ness because of how brave and confident they are. I have also seen people who have neurological disabilities and have found music to be their escape, and something that brings them joy and purpose.” We see more people bringing their own stories to light through platforms like TikTok and Instagram, where they share both their good and bad days and/or experiences. This is what Taft wants to do through this article, and in sharing a part of herself. Taft wishes to inspire others into stepping into the places where they are their happiest, and to find what assists them in releasing their emotions in a healthy way. She also strives to inspire those who are just like her, whether they have a neurological disability or not, for those who use music to escape and bring purpose to their lives, and to remind them to keep playing and do what they love the most.

Music of all genres brings us a sense of calmness, happiness, and provides us with the experience of being connected to parts of ourselves and the communities that are built through music. Music is everywhere, and we are impacted deeply by it. Most of the time, we may not know how soulfully driven we become when listening to the music we admire and love. As Taft delicately expressed, “You can find yourself immersed in it. It feels like just another world that is separate from your realm.”

Featured Image: Courtesy of Kaitlyn Taft

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In collaboration by Quaker Campus staff members.
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