Even though I wanted a break from Toby and Sway Records, I continued listening to the music he had given me. Beat-driven songs had now completely replaced my classical iPhone repertoire during my commute. The disastrous gig had left me feeling unmoored so, on Monday morning, I decided it was time to devote myself to my Juilliard audition piece. I had been postponing it for a while.
First, I deliberated over the choice – which composition could showcase my talent the best while being inspiring? It had to be something that I would still feel passionately about after hours and weeks and months of continuous practice. If you got fed up with a piece it would show on the day. I had been procrastinating over this ever since Ed had told me the audition date. Over the weekend I finally made up my mind. Chopin’s Nocturne seemed to fit the bill. It was sufficiently challenging, yet its lyrical beauty was so captivating that I felt I’d still be in love with the melody even after all the gruelling practice.
I took my place at the piano in the rehearsal room. I had played through the entire Nocturne when Ed entered. He paused and looked at me.
‘Is there something different about you?’
I shook my head, not wanting to admit that I had done my hair in a new style, copying one of the ravers whose look I had admired. A bit perplexed, he cast me another look, and then sat down. He was holding some sheet music in his hand and he waved it at me excitedly.
‘Your Juilliard piece…’
I was glad he had brought it up, as I’d wanted to hear his opinion on my selection. ‘As a matter of fact…’
But he cut in, too eager to tell me his news. ‘So I was thinking – we both know the scale of the competition. We know how many hopefuls there are going to be on the day, all with the same ambition and very similar skills. This means we need something that will not only stand out for its bravura, but it should be something that will take your listeners on a journey with you.’
‘I’m so glad you think that, because I’ve found the perfect piece – Chopin’s Nocturne!’ I announced, expecting compliments on my choice.
I wanted to go into more detail and explain how touching I found the Nocturne and how it spoke to me at some deeper level, but Ed interrupted me, placing the sheet music in front of me with a flourish.
‘Your mother’s audition piece.’
Ed wanted me to play Mozart? I was completely thrown by this suggestion. So much so, that I didn’t have a chance to feel hurt about Ed not even acknowledging the Nocturne. Ed went on to say that, in his opinion, I could play it even better than her. I was still processing this idea. Ed kept filling the silence with persuasive remarks, telling me that it was not just the best choice but it was the only choice. And the more I thought about it, the more I realised he was right. It was beautiful. I studied the notes, all the while hearing a faint echo of that tune being played by Mum. The melody was haunting, captivating. The Nocturne wasn’t perfect after all; this was the ideal piece. I returned the music sheet to the ledge above the keys.
‘I guess I’d better make a start, then,’ I said and began to play.
Ed smiled approvingly, sitting back and closing his eyes to listen to the piece. But for some reason I wasn’t able to lose myself in the music as I had expected to. Instead of being at one with the piece, I sensed anxiety, which was an alien emotion for me while sitting at the piano. The piano had been my solace, my love, and my conduit. It was never an instrument of torment or vexation. So what had changed?