Onstage | Teen Ink


August 9, 2013
By elaine69018 SILVER, Bellevue, Washington
elaine69018 SILVER, Bellevue, Washington
8 articles 2 photos 0 comments

A girl grasps several pages of paper. Torn at the edges and the corners unfurling, her beady eyes dart back and forth across the smattering of black inscribed upon it. With the other hand, her fingers faintly mime full gestures as she rehearses, shutting her eyes tightly and quietly humming an outline of complex melodies. She inhales and exhales deeply, then peeks out from behind the velvet curtains at the lines of obscured faces in the audience watching the current performer.
Then, a final note; appreciative, full applause. The second to last contender bows and hurries off the stage, carrying wrinkled sheets of notes, her quick steps making damp thuds on the floor. And then the girl puts down the paper and walks out of the darkness to the glossy mass, her face void of expression. She sinks down onto the cushioned bench, heightening it with its lever for a moment, and lifts her fingers to the fluid array of black and white.

Her entire body seems to be suppressed with the weight of the first chord. Her back tenses, and she leans down, her head tilted, as if she wants to remember every last echo she produces. Then her hands shift to the far side of the keyboard, pressing down with the slightest touch. Full, rich tones reverberate from the structure as her fingers continue to whirl across the keys, her eyes zeroed in, the smallest movement cautiously and scrupulously executed.

And then: silence. In the midst of a tremolo, her hands fall limp; her fingers hover above the band of keys, forgetting. Her mind clutches at the next sequence, but it blanks. The notes and lines that she had torn apart and put back together for months in her head disappear. A tone sounds tentatively, but it comes out feebly, and she swallows, becoming increasingly aware of the white beam of light blazing into her eyes, and the slight itch on her calve, and a stray strand of hair she could see in her peripheral vision that hadn’t been pinned back into place-

Her mouth dry, she fleetingly glances at the audience and catches a glimpse of her mother’s darkened face gazing up at her expectantly in the sea of facades. And with this small shred of familiarity, she remembers her mother standing behind her at the bench day after day, pressing her on as she practiced the same notes, replaying each measure until they together blended sinuously, until every staccato was as short and sharp as possible, every slur connected, every rubato unconstrained, playing well after the day turned black and every bone from her thumb to her wrist started to ache.

And with this, she remembers herself at an earlier time, her first recital, playing a well-known lullaby, her stubby, clumsy fingers tapping the keys determinedly like someone knocking on a door, abrupt and rude. And a little later, when her toes could touch the floor, when there were more notes on her sheet music and more movement in her body, more variation in the position and shape of her hands, more feeling translated from fingertip to key. And even later, when she could silence a room full of storytellers with less than three strokes of her fingers, when she could finally give her mother nothing to criticize, when she could get lost in surging scales and chords and arpeggios, the architect and almighty ruler of the emotions of those in earshot-

Something shifts into place in her brain, and as she regains awareness of the glare of the spotlight above her, of the soft coughing and murmuring among the audience members, she fumbles with different positions of her hands until they fit together like puzzle pieces and resumes with sweeping harmonies and resonating colors, no longer monitoring and meticulously planning every movement, but instead letting the music conquer herself and the apparatus, and her hands move without the help of her head. She plays the last cadence until the sound dwindles and slides her hands off the keys. And then a second of silence, then the thunder of hundreds of hands being brought together as she gets to her feet, surveying the listeners - but they are shadowed, while she is illuminated - and she bows.

The author's comments:
I was inspired to write this piece after attending a piano competition that I was participating in. I didn't win, but a girl who went before I did gave such a transfixing and incredible performance that I couldn't get it out of my head for days and eventually learned the piece she played myself because I thought it was so beautiful. This essay is based off of my experience watching her perform.

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