Memorizing music has never been easy for me. I curse the day when Clara Schumann — purportedly a better pianist than her husband — decided she would play from memory, wowingily wooing the salon bourgeoisie. I’m not terrible with the score in front of me, but take it away and instead of “Lachen und Weinen zu jeglicher Stunde“, you get “Lachen und Wienen hum-hm-hm-hm some-thing”. Take it away and I’m a child plunking Für Elise.
It is not that I can’t hear the music, because I can. Though laid beginning to end in my ear, I can’t transform what I hear, but do not see, into reality. A wide frustration is a scoreless performance. For, without a road map, I can’t wrestle the ideal from the heavens. I just can’t bring it to pass.
“Put your books down”, the director said to our little ensemble a few weeks before the competition. Almost immediately, they all protested, so the director followed it with encouragement, “Come on, guys! You know this!” The day of reckoning had arrived: dies irae, dies illa! And, with her empire waist from beyond the grave, Clara Schumann readied her scythe, eyeing my soul.
I remain resolute. I do not show the fear quickly deteriorating my insides. How could I show it, when I am the appointed and (perhaps, even anointed) soloist? I am the best. I would continue to be the best, just as a matter of directed natural events, like the shifting tectonic plates or cornfields. So, placing the folder on the chair behind me, I let out a slight cough. That’s all they’ll see from me today. I breathe shallowly, readying myself, as that familiar chord (our starting note) is slowly rolled from a distant piano.
Fear seldom expresses itself directly. Morbidly afraid of making a mistake, a high schooler tightens his entire body and widens his eyes. He bravely fights against it with all of his might, teetering above the abyss of non-existence. Yet, a simple tap, like a kind critique or an innocent wayward glance, would fell him in a single “timber!” So, he sings beyond his ability, hoping his passion will dissemble doubts about his ability, his meaning. Afraid to be afraid, he slams the door and brings up the drawbridge.
In more spiritual years, I dream every-so-often of dark forces trying to abduct me from my home. Just like the Pentecostals, I rebuke those formless forms in the name of Jesus, shouting, “I am a servant of the Most High and you can’t touch me!”. They stalk away to the edge of the road, staring at me under the streetlight. Half-lit and half-dark, they would mumble to themselves. With uneasy peace across no-man’s-land, we watch one another, while their indeterminate mumblings ring in my ear.
Dangling near the abyss, I sing, trying to hold myself together. I didn’t make any mistakes, even though I’m pretty sure all that tension pushed the pitch and wrecked my diction. But, what did it matter? I arrived at the judgement seat and was not found wanting. I was still the best. The sun could continue his course and the cornfields would grow. Clara Schumann would have to stalk the earth for another soul to ruin. My body begins to loosen. This isn’t so bad now, is it? The second solo is coming up. This is the line about the Jordan being “chilly and cold” while the rest of the ensemble hums. It is just me, out there, by myself, naked.
I can’t remeber the first words! All this subcutaneous relief distracts me! No, no, no! My life would be rendered meaningless in a few moments. In a few bars from now, I would fail and I would fail horribly. I can feel my defenses weaken. I can feel the icy stare of the mumblers at the edge of my consciousness. In three measures, I die.