New in Flash Fiction: The Piano (Chopin: Fantasie Impromptu) by Rose Zu
(Chopin: Fantasie Impromptu)
(“What do you want me to play?”
She pauses, as she always does. But there’s only one answer to his question: “The Impromptu.” There is a twitch at the corner of his mouth. Out of the hundreds of impromptus that were dream-written over the centuries, this was the one she always asked for, this one that began with the deep rumbling of a low octave…)
Every time she looked at it, she would first remember the chaos: of learning new notes one by one, of choreographing dances between the left and right hands, of reading the scripts of the melodies and figuring out which is the sweet schoolgirl and which is the stern soldier. Painstaking notations of fingerings and accidentals like evil correction marks on a test. The technique passages: working them out one measure or two at a time out of eight sets of eight measures. And that hadn’t been half as bad as the theory.
The theory. Endless cramming: note names, drawing the circle of fifths, writing and identifying scales, major and minor, pentatonic and blues. The chords: plagal or authentic? What’s this triad called? What interval do you hear? Listen and fill in the melody. What did this composer compose? What musical period? What country? Should this piece be called a polka or a jig? Who knew? Who cared?
How often she’d dreamed of not having to practice, of an hour off each day to do nothing and just exist, of not gulping down dinners to rush to the piano lesson that she was already five minutes late for. How often she dreamed of free time, especially when homework piled on her desk and friends stood on the doorstep.
But then — music. Delicate fairy tale wings, emotions she never knew were hers to begin with. Dancing with will-o’-the-wisps and long lost loves with her fingertips, she built castles upon castles in the clouds.
But the nitpicking. That note is clanged, touch it like this, no, no, like this? This four-note phrase, crescendo, crescendo, crescendo! See that mark on the music? We made it weeks ago. You missed the slur, keep the slur. What’s the story behind the slur? No, not like that. This is a love story, not a war epic. A lovesick puppy doesn’t wail, he dies. Tell Chopin’s tragedy. You’re jealous here. You’re in love in this measure, fall in love. Fall in love! Fall in love, damn it, before next class!
The week or so before a competition was a constant pursuit of perfection. Music buzzed non-stop in her mind and commands, and she played her fingers on tabletops and black tops. Tears spilled on the piano when things didn’t go right. Anger and frustration collided as clashing chords that were meant to hurt the ivory and black. Taught them right, since they couldn’t play.
And then, the final judgment. Months of frenzy distilled into three minutes of harsh hot lights and hands tripping over sweat, blinding lights that demanded her to stand naked before an unsympathetic audience. Three minutes within the space of a blink, leaving only numb, shaking fingers and the vague recollection of a bow. And finally, the disappointing results, accompanied by sympathetic hands, whispering that it was all right, she would do better next time, she had improved, it was just that everyone else had improved, too.
Always she went home, opened a new page, and started the process all over again…
(He was slowing, and it was finally time to say goodbye—)
…until she had stopped, walked away, tucked the notes into a dusty attic…
(—oh, how I’ll miss you, the last notes said.)
…and, oh, how she missed it.
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- New in Flash Fiction: The Piano (Chopin: Fantasie Impromptu) by Rose Zu - August 27, 2015