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A Chamber for Music
The room in the barn where my teacher and I drill scales always strikes me as bare and cell-like. The decrepit ivory walls form a casket, jerking your attention to the exact middle of the room where there are some disfigured chairs from different parts of the building. A scrutiny of the rough walls reveals scuff marks and chipping paint near an oily clock and a mirror. The shrill tick grinds at my ears, seeming faster than normal, but it is not nearly as off-putting as the hulking missile the mirror is reflecting. It is a black effigy, straining at its bottom and slack at its top. A number of slick harnesses and shiny zippers augment its disturbing reflection. The effigy’s ashen-colored accomplice lies on the dark gold floor, head resting on a diminutive rubbish bin. The bin is putrid, smelling of decomposing bananas and other rotten fruit. There is also the muffled buzz of fruit flies near the bin, though none are visible. Perhaps I am confusing it with the drone of the fluorescent light fusing with the harsh clock; I am not sharp in the fetid air, which leaves my mouth as dry as the gritty ceiling. The ceiling, like the walls, is shedding its paint. There are thin gray streaks on the ceiling and powder on the floor, both from the fallen plaster. The powder plugs the black punctures in the floor, and the effect is similar to the leftovers of a darts match that used a drill lathered in liquid chalk. Stepping on one of these punctures produces a bleached nebula around your foot that smells of ammonia. This powder coats a russet brown bass opposite the cased basses, whose shape is sinuous and elegant compared to the rest of the room.
My teacher enters with a flurry of activity. He is cursing to himself, something about a late-night gig at a stingy club. He looks like he had one. His usual uniform of patched black jeans and an unwashed button-down has new rips and stains, most likely from a brawl. Leaning against the wall, he picks at the dried blood on his knuckles. Sawdust smears the wall he is leaning on.
“What are you waiting for?” he growls at me. “Prepare, warm up, tune! Preparation is half the battle!"
His gravelled accent jolts me into action. I hurry outside to my already uncovered bass, stick my bow in my quiver, and haul it back. He doesn’t help me with the door.
“D Major scale, two octaves, now.” His command is a whip. I hesitate, rebellious. We meet each other’s gaze. He jerks his marred hand. Don’t play this game with me. I surrender. During the second octave of the scale he stops me.
“What do you think you are doing?”
I stare blank faced. I’d say I was playing, but he would sic his fists on me.
“That’s right: you don’t know. Do it over.”
I repeat my scale and he stops me in the same place. He asks me what I am doing and I don’t reply. After four times through this cycle, I crack.
“I’m playing! What the h*ll do you think I’m doing?”
A smirk splits his stony face, a fissure in granite.
“Finally,” he says. “I thought I’d never get some emotion out of you.”
My grip attempts to strangle my bow. Fifth-degree murder flits through my mind.
“What is this about?”
“Music is emotion,” he says. “Learn to control it and let it guide you."
"Then you play."