One, two, three. The sunlight streamed through patchwork clouds into my practice room, spreading a pattern over the faded green rug. Two and three four. My parents had offered to replace the carpet when they put in new shelves and fresh paint last year, but I declined. One, two, three, rest, rest, two and three. The worn-out fibers beneath my feet were familiar and comforting, a reminder of how far I’d come. Four and, and one and two. I closed my eyes briefly and felt the vibrations of the strings under my bow.
My auditions from a couple months ago were packed neatly away in a box in the back of my head. I tried not to open it or examine the contents, but I still often found myself looking back and going over the minutes that were to determine my future. When I couldn’t stop dwelling on the past, I locked myself in my practice room and took my frustration out on my cello. It was good to be doing something rather than looking back, rather than wishing I could change the dozens of small mistakes eating away at my opportunity. But today it did nothing to calm my mind. Rows of notes blurred together before my eyes, and my arm ached from sawing back and forth to pull the music out of my instrument. I paused, letting an unfinished note hang and then sink into the suspended silence of the room’s soundproofed walls. A retreat. Or was it a prison?
One floor above me and two rooms over sat my laptop on a freshly-laundered comforter, surrounded by three textbooks and a half-drunk bottle of Fiji water. I had checked my email so often over the past month that the action worked its way into the corners of my dreams. This was useless, of course--Juilliard results didn’t come out for at least a week--but the constant scanning of subject lines was another occupation, another fruitless routine. My mom always said that busy hands kept a person from worrying. Back in the day she’d been a renowned pianist in her own right, but now she sat downstairs doing crossword puzzles and making meal plans while Dad was at work. Every once in awhile she practiced on the baby grand in the living room late at night, and the music drifted through layers of thickly carpeted floors to my bedroom. I would lie awake to listen and float away into dreams of concert halls and city lights. Yet when I woke up the piano was always closed and no mention was made of the melodies that briefly united our busy lives in the darkest hours of the night. It was as if it had never happened--as if it didn’t matter.
Was that all I, too, was destined for? A short burst of sound and then a lifetime of silence with a rich engineer? I stared out the window at the smooth, carefully landscaped lawn speckled with sunbeams. That wasn’t what I wanted. Or at least, I didn’t think it was what I wanted. What if I couldn’t handle what I wanted? I knew I was sheltered. The realization had dawned on me slowly over eighteen years, when I discovered that not everybody had maids who cleaned their room, or horses at their ninth birthday party, or shiny new cars waiting in the driveway when they got their license. Or parents who smiled indulgently and bought them new instruments when they told them they wanted to be musicians.
My school orchestra director described me as a bright, strong young woman in her letter of recommendation, but I did not feel particularly bright or strong. In fact, it seemed entirely possible to me that everything I had accomplished over the past years was reliant upon my parent’s money, not on any cleverness or tenacity of my own. Concerto competitions and leadership positions looked good typed out on applications, but when it was really just me, alone at my first college audition facing a panel full of critical eyes, I froze. My voice cracked when I attempted to answer their questions, and my fingers were trembling when I stumbled through the Bach Suite No. 4 in E-flat major, rushing over all the rests. I had never felt so small. When my parents asked how the audition went, I mumbled something positive and brushed it off. The memory still cut deep.
So what if I couldn’t handle the world on my own? What if I didn’t like life without stability and security and soundproofed practice rooms? What if I crumbled under the pressure? Even if I got into Juilliard, my dream school, I would be studying alongside the most talented music students in the nation, perhaps the world. There would be people who had fought tirelessly to get where they were, who had never had anything handed to them.
But music isn’t something that can be handed to anybody. Though circumstances might bring you closer to it, you still have to reach out and take it, and make it yours. I stared at the threadbare spots on the carpet from where I had moved my practice stool and thought of all the hours I’d spent between those four walls, straining and straining to attain something, anything, that I could truly say I had accomplished for myself. I still wasn’t sure if I had gotten there yet. I ached to go out into the real world and prove to myself that I had. And yet each time I resolved to prepare myself for this future, I ended up back here again, separated from the world by walls and windowpanes and worries.
I shook out my sore fingers and reached for my bow, which sat precariously balanced on a nearby chair, swaying from one side to the other. Taking a deep breath, I relaxed my muscles and focused my gaze on the stand in front of me, sinking into the music again. I would be ready when the time came, wherever I was headed, whatever was waiting. The bow connected with the strings, pulsing a melody into the air once again. One, two, three.