Prose, Grades 7-9: Second Place

Aiming for an Octave Higher — Nechama Yardley

I recall the precise moment that I heard I was going to be in a concert. My teacher, Agnes, had trained me for almost seven years, and this upcoming concert was going to be my first ever. Now here I am, the night before, lying in bed, not knowing what to do about tomorrow. What if I mess up? What if everyone laughs when I finish? I have practiced this particular song for quite some time and Ice Dance isn’t a foreign song. So what do I have to fret about? But still, I worry. After much tossing and turning, I fluff up my pillow and anxiously hope to fall asleep. My alarm wakes me at six-forty-five AM. I rub the sleep out of my eyes and slowly get out of bed. My mother is already up and making waffles for me. Mmm, the aroma of syrup and freshly made waffles. I just have to smile. I sit down at the table in my pajamas and dig in. Mom looks on as I finish devouring my breakfast and asks, “Are you nervous, Bianca?” I shrug, not want to express my fear. Suddenly I wish I hadn’t eaten all that food so hastily. “I should get dressed,” I say as I put my dishes in the sink. I choose a comfortable but sophisticated outfit. I pull on a stretchy short black skirt, a white v-necked ruffled top, along with a cardigan. I place a lovely necklace on my bare neck and a small layer of makeup on my face. Mom does my straight blonde hair in a French twist. I then put on some stylish, little black shoes, flats of course. I check myself in my mirror. As perfect as a pianist can get. On the ride to the orchestra, I fidget. My apprehension grows and something large and frightening is forcing its way up my throat. Mom tries to assure me that everything will be fine. Easy for her to say. She isn’t playing in her first concert in a fancy orchestra, in front of a live audience. I start to breathe very heavily. My legs are shaking and I try unsuccessfully to stop them. “Bianca, calm down,” my Mom says. I barely hear her. “I can’t.” My voice is strangely high pitched and it shakes slightly. As we pull to a stop at the building, I almost stop breathing. It is colossal. It must be able to seat at least five hundred people. Oh, how I wish I hadn’t agreed to do this! The sight of my teacher, Agnes, makes me feel better. She is a tall French woman in her mid forties with black as night hair and unnerving blue eyes. She gives me an enormous bear hug. “You OK?” she asks, examining my face for clues. I can’t answer. I follow her into a private room to practice one last time. At precisely nine o’clock, Agnes, Mom, and I enter the auditorium. I gasp. It is gigantic. People are taking their places and I almost faint. I stop. Agnes looks at me. “I can’t do this,” I say, turning back. I would rather have battled monsters right now than do this. “Of course you can. You played this song a million and one times and more than that , you look fabulous.” I shake my head but when I see the defeated look on Agnes’s and Mom’s faces, I continue slowly towards the stage. I take my place among the other musicians. I feel small and young. Most of the others are sixteen, seventeen, or eighteen. I am only fourteen. I focus on breathing slowly. I hear the other musicians play and they are far better and more talented than I. The judges smile at me but I can barely manage to unclench my hands – no way. I attempt to smile back at them. The person next to me gets up to play his piece and I manage to wish him good luck before going back to my worries. His song seems to drag on forever and I start to twitch. Then the announcer calls out “Bianca Strauss.” I walk like a robot to the stairs, careful not to trip. I straighten my back after bowing, and slowly approach the piano and sit down. As soon as my fingers touch the keys I get lost in the music. My fingers flow like a river and my feet tap to the tune like a hummingbird to a flower; soft and gentle, fast and yet no one can hear a thing. The notes are just a blur, but it doesn’t matter. I know them by heart. Not only are my fingers alive, but my whole body is moving to the sounds. I nod my head slowly and my body moves slowly back and forth. The music isn’t just notes on a paper, the notes are me. They become me and they will always be me. The applause is instantaneous. I rise from the bench beaming and bow again. The judges look pleased and one gives me the thumbs up. I plop down on a chair and wait for the few others to play. I grin the entire time. After the last musician finishes, I clap politely and get up to meet Agnes and Mom. They are beaming as though they had just won a lottery. I embrace them both as they congratulate me. It is time for the judging. I stand on the stage with the other performers. The announcer begins: “The judges would like to say that these musicians are the best they have heard in a very long time. They also wish to thank the orchestra for hosting them. And now the moment we have been waiting for.” He clears his throat. “The winner of the blue ribbon is Michael Hudson.” I clap as an eighteen year old proudly walks up to bow and take his ribbon. “Second place is Bianca Strauss.” My jaw drops. Me? This must be a mistake! There were so many others who played much better than I. But I walk up and take the ribbon from the announcer and shake his hand. I take my third bow of the day and return to my spot in shock. The people around me smile and I smile back. I must look crazy, I am smiling so wide. The next few people go by quickly and after we all take a final bow, I nearly skip down the stairs to jump in Mom’s and Agnes’s arms. My face aches from smiling so much. They laugh along with me and Mom looks teary. “Are you disappointed?” Agnes asks. “No way!” I exclaim. “Really?” Mom asks. “Nah,” I say, “After all, I can only aim for an octave higher, right?”