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I play the B.
A small square office, no more than ten feet wide, holds two upright mahogany pianos sitting back-to-back. The metronome marks the beat, ta-ta-ta-ta, first 100 beats per minute, then 105, 110, working toward 120. The door is closed, the hall empty. It is a sunny Saturday afternoon; some Governor’s Honors Program (GHP) participants are playing ultimate Frisbee on West lawn, others are attending the square dancing seminar, but four pianists are practicing the opening chord of Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony” for the first time on two Yamahas.
It is not just any “Unfinished Symphony”; it is my “Unfinished Symphony”.
Or so I thought.
Jessica joins in with the F.
Two days before Dr. Indergaard had announced to us, “We will be holding a concert at the end of six weeks. I need you to submit the ensemble pieces you will be performing.” I thought back to my solo debuts, to bowing to a sea of thunderous applause, to striding toward the stage to receive my trophy, to forgetting the entire development section due to uncontrollable anxiety. I had become accustomed to playing alone, earning distinctions alone, accepting failures alone. The only time I had performed in an ensemble was with my teacher, and all I had to do was learn my part. She would accompany me. Besides, I had a program ready – Chopin’s “Fantaisie-Impromptu”, Brahm’s “G Minor Rhapsody”, Bach’s “Prelude” and “Fugue in C Minor” – it was my choice. So what would I do with three other pianists, taking my time and disregarding my interpretations of the piece? I could no longer work for myself, but I made up my mind to dominate, to play the first piano part, to make the piece mine.
It is now the third week, and our progress has slowed. I am frustrated with the tempo, the dynamics, and the style. Jay plays the beginning with too ominous a tone, J.D. is too loud, Jessica’s legato is more accurately a staccato, and the rhythm for my opening part is not in sync with the metronome. Making this piece sound decent is going to be harder than I thought.
Jay plays the C.
Six weeks of practice – of missing the ’70s dance, of opting out of the 5K race, of running back to the dorms from Whitehead Auditorium in the rain before lights-out – amount to this. The lights dim, the spotlight finds its target: we are on stage, the four of us, eight hands, performing Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony” in front of six hundred and seventy-five Governor’s Honors finalists and instructors. But this time, I am not alone. I look up from the keys, meeting Jessica’s glance as she waits for the next cue. I nod to her and smile.
It is not any “Unfinished Symphony”; it is our “Unfinished Symphony”.
J.D. plays the G.
GHP is over. The school year has begun, and I find myself once again teaching music at a local elementary school. I look down at my students, who are sitting around the piano in the classroom listening to me play Beethoven’s “Sonate Number Twelve”. They too must learn that, though the beauty of music arises from the notes, sharing it with others is the joy.
We play the F sharp.
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