Eliza Bussey has always been around music. She attempted to play the guitar as a little girl and worked at the Metropolitan Opera House as a young woman. But, until recently, she could never read a note.
"I've always watched from the wings, quite literally," Bussey says. "But I felt like I didn't have anything of my own that was something I could do for the rest of my life."
That is, until age 50, when Bussey had an epiphany. The D.C. resident—who's been a journalist for the past 20 years—was walking by a music store in Takoma Park, when she spotted a folk harp in the window.
"It was love at first sight," she says. "I came out a couple hours later with a $2,000 harp."
Problem was, Bussey still didn't know a note of music and, at her age, it was definitively harder to learn an instrument. But, she patiently toiled through music theory and lessons with a private instructor.
"I decided I was going to give myself a year without judgment," she says. "I was playing 'Row, Row, Row Your Boat' and just staring at the notes."
After a while, Bussey upgraded to Chopin and Handel, and also traded up instruments to a much more complicated French pedal harp. She practiced three to four hours a day and noticed that she began to play a little differently. In fact, Bussey was recently featured in a New York Times article about music's affect on the brain.
"I remember staring at my fingers, willing them to move," she says. "I could feel my brain trying to learn the material and I could feel new synapses forming."
Now, Bussey is a freelance reporter and studying part-time at the Peabody Conservatory of Music alongside fellow students who have been playing music since age five. But she tries not to let comparisons get in the way of her practice.
The one common factor she shares with fellow students is, of course, the music. Bussey says that learning an instrument has been a great metaphor for her.
"Everything you learn about life, you can learn from a musical instrument," she says. "If you make a mistake, you have to move on or you're lost. You have to be in that moment."
Bussey admits she probably couldn't have picked a more difficult instrument, as her harp has 47 strings and 21 pedal positions, not to mention she had to learn two clefs and play with eight fingers.
But, she advises others to embrace the challenge: "Don't let the fact that you don't know anything about something stop you from doing it."