I used to think an introverted old man in a drab, monotone suit couldn’t truly harm a soul but I’m wrong. My piano teacher called his students in for a workshop today, where we take turns performing in front of one another and the best player goes again. A pretty sad deal for the ‘winner’ if you ask me. The reason why I didn’t quit piano right when I realized that the guy was a lunatic is because I have a speech impediment and therefore music is the only way where I have a shot at my deep emotions being conveyed to a group without being laughed at.
The impending finals week has already sucked out my soul and I’m merely shivering here on this uncomfortable chair. The room is filled with shelves of musical publications and apathetic pianists who want nothing more than to leave. None of us would be here if he didn’t threaten to kick those who didn’t attend out of his studio. Maestro is beckoning me, “Jennifer, it’s your turn.” To piss myself? Seeing that my feet are quite useless in the art of piano survival, I find it funny how my legs tremble more than my hands as I trudge to the bench. The nervous energy is compounded by each pair of eyes locking onto my body.
Stepping on stage, I could feel the worst elements of summer and winter invading the room and chasing each other around my calves. Maestro is scribbling some god forsaken notes down, probably along the lines of: “Idiot. Kick out after collect tuition fee. Extreme shaking, looks terrified”. He’s just that type of person who goes out of their way to annoy you and then kick you to the curb when he’s satisfied. The musty scent of Old People Spice grew stronger as I listened to the weak, routine clapping of my audience and took my place at the bench. This time, I’ll impress them. No more procrastinating the praise.
Crashing chords, lush harmonies, and racing scales make Ravel’s Animé an exhilarating showpiece. Arrogant strength racing through my fingertips, a crystallizing vision of Maestro Zimel’s satisfied expression accompany the exuberant melodic sentences. However without warning, my genius thumb decided to slip off of the keyboard and drag my flow with it. The sixteenth notes malformed into crude daggers, stabbing and abandoning the dream to bleed out and crumble away. My left hand betrayed my fake confidence and continued to spit out false notes. The suffocating inkling of failure roared in my head as I realized how much muscle memory is failing me. If the dissonant notes and slowing tempo persist, I might as well curl up and die. I felt the new attention, a menacing change of spotlight spilling on my shoulders and the silent jeer of failure weighing my arms till I considered dropping them.
Squinting, I briefly considered taking a repeat but I knew that I might not recover and make matters worse. I also could compose my own bridge like professionals did, but this was a performance, for God’s sake. I absolutely can’t disappoint, I can’t. The one time I need to be decisive and I fail hilariously. You know what? Screw it. I’m only jealous of lunatic perfectionists successfully recreating what they thought composers wanted anyway. Just let me resort of stuff I’m pulling out of midair. Desperately trying to recall any chord from the section, I map out a bridging improvisational section, struggling to replicate the cascades of broken chords and breathless crescendos. After all, this piece is characterized by an unstable, though full tone color from subtle dissonant notes. An asymmetric grin lit up my face when I sensed the music mirroring my slowing heartbeat. By the recapitulation, I disregarded the score that I had tattooed inside my brain, adding extra octaves to arpeggios and repeating the rough horn calls in a separate key as I saw fit. The torrent of uncertainty and self- assurance grind against each other within, and this is my cloud nine. In a flurry of rapid cadential developments, rapid ostinati and tumbling cascades of notes conclude Ravel’s miniature masterpiece.
Pelted with stares, I leave the piano’s side and flop into my chair. Was I not as good as I thought? Oh no. Awkward eye contact. Maestro Zimel squared his shoulders and gestured for everyone to look in his direction.
“I suppose Jennifer’s surprising,” He paused to glance in my direction, “performance is a fitting conclusion for today’s event. I believe that great pianists not only have the ability to righteously manipulate the score to suit themselves, but also have a beautiful melody hidden within them. I see that Jennifer has gone above and beyond, making the score her bitch.” He tried to replicate popular rapping motions for a while, giving us all second-hand embarrassment.
“So, I want her to come up again for us and sing her interpretation while I play the piano. That beauty can be emphasized with two different instruments, specifically the most natural one of all.”
Wait. There was no decade’s advance warning. This isn’t legal. If Santa could zap me with a bolt of electricity used to light up all creation in his honor, I would have rejoiced in my wake. Make me play something else. Shove me off a cliff. Block YouTube. I can’t sing. I just can’t, and he full on knows that. Even when I’m sitting alone in my room and BLACKPINK’s Boombayah is on full volume, my mouth ready to try, my throat squeezes shut. In lessons, I just can’t croak out a note, no matter how encouraging he is. This is where he's going to get me. Sauntering up to me, he said, “It’s something you’re going to have to get over. True musicians sing.” My legs took me to the front of the room again as I dreamed of bolting outside and lying down on the highway. Some car has got to save me.