The following is a true short story that I was asked to write for my English class. I may be updating it soon with any suggestions my teacher has for it. I hope you enjoy! 🙂
“You okay?” my friend Yvette asked. “You don’t look so great.”
“I’m fine,” I replied, “just a little nervous.”
That was a lie. I was more than a little nervous, I was so anxious that I felt physically ill. My nerves had progressed throughout the day and by 5th period when I saw Yvette my stomach was knotted so severely that I thought I might throw up. It made no sense, the competition was so many hours away and yet still I was already a nervous wreck.
That day, Friday, February 20, 2015, was the Solos and Ensembles evaluation for band students in all of Florida. It was my 8th-grade year and I’d already been to the event once before, but I didn’t do as well as I hoped and I was so sure the same would happen that night. I put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed because of the songs I was playing and how important they were to me. The first song I would play was Habañera from the opera Carmen, and I wanted so badly to play the piece well because years before my sister and her friends played it, as per the tradition at Miami Lakes Middle. I had planned to play the song in the previous year’s competition, but the other two flutists in the trio didn’t come through, so I had to wait another year to play it with new teammates. That year, I’d be playing with two 7th graders— something unheard of at Miami Lakes because it was always the 8th graders who played the song— but I had faith in Yvette and Nayeli, the only person I worried about was myself.
“Guys, would you mind running it again?” I asked my teammates.
“Yeah, no problem,” Nayeli replied. “Just let me finish setting up.”
Yvette, who had already assembled her flute agreed to play with us and went to get herself a stand.
We moved into the hall to get away from the noisy band room so that we could hear ourselves better, and when we were all settled— with tuned flutes, properly adjusted stands, and annotated sheet music— I led the group in playing one of my favorite pieces. We ran through it perfectly. And then again. And again after that. We’d played through the number perfectly a million times before, and we did it a million more times in that hour we took to practice. After the two millionth perfect run, when I was slightly more confident in myself, I broke apart from my group to practice my solo.
As nervous as I was for my ensemble, I was 10 times more nervous for my solo. My solo, called Air Gracile, was a lyrical piece— a challenge because of its high notes and slow pace. It would be the true test of my talent as a musician. Not only was I on my own— meaning there would be no one else to carry the melody and cover me up if I made a mistake, and there would be no one else to blame for a bad score— I was also playing the piccolo. While technically I played flute for three years (but if I’m being honest with myself it was only two) I had even less experience on the piccolo. I had begun playing in 7th grade, but since I had to share it with two other players it was difficult to really develop the talent for it. When I picked it back up in 8th grade I didn’t have to share anymore, but I still had a rocky start. Transitioning from flute to the tiny piccolo was strange, and it was all the more difficult when you factored in all of the piccolo’s mechanical issues that I had to work around. All of that combined contributed to the queasiness I felt when I contemplated playing my solo.
I practiced and practiced until the bell rang, signaling the end of the school day, and then for several hours after that until my mother picked me up to go home. Because of the fact that I lived so far from the venue, almost as soon as I got home I had to leave. I just barely had enough time to get dressed, sporting my formal band uniform— a tuxedo shirt with matching tuxedo pants and bow tie, accented with a maroon and gold vest that showed off my school’s colors and mascot— before running out the door to avoid being late. My mom told me to sit down and eat something but I couldn’t, there were too many butterflies in my stomach for me to have an appetite.
On the ride over I ran through my pieces a few more times. My sister who was in the car was delighted to hear me play her old piece.
“I’m so proud of you,” my sister squealed. “Hold on, I have to send a video of you to the old squad.”
I was all prepared to play for my sister’s old flute friends, but when I tried playing the first note, there was no sound.
“OH. MY. GOD,” I screamed. “The flute’s not working.”
I panicked. It could not be happening, not then, not less than two hours before the competition. I would definitely fail. Even if I could borrow a flute, I didn’t have enough time to get to know it, and there was no guarantee that it worked as well as I needed it to. I kept trying and after endless excruciating seconds, I got it to work again. I hadn’t realized that my heart had stopped beating until that moment when it started up again, beating so hard that I thought it would leap out of my chest.
The rest of the ride went fairly smoothly. I packed away my flute after the scare and I managed to get my heart rate to a pace that was only slightly abnormal. When I arrived at the venue, on time for the first time in my life, I spotted a sea of maroon in the middle of the courtyard and headed for it. I met up with the rest of my band and we walked in together carrying burdens much heavier than our instruments. My group and I got together and rehearsed the song one last time, and then it was showtime.
“Relax girls, you’ll do fine,” my band director said. “You’re capable players and if you play like you do in practice, you’re sure to take the superior title.”
With those words of encouragement, as well as some from our families followed by hugs and kisses, we stepped into the room where our judge awaited. I expected a dragon lady, but she was quite nice. She greeted us with a smile and a warm hello and waited patiently as we set up. When we were finally ready, we all took big breaths and started on the count of three. We played flawlessly and received compliments from the judge when we finished. Finally, it was over. Or most of it anyway.
My solo was next, but the judge asked me to go get Yvette who had left the room because she’d be playing after me. I had to play in 5 minutes and it took way longer to find her, so when I did I rushed back to the room. Except the venue was a large and unfamiliar college campus, so I got lost on the way which stressed me out beyond belief. When I finally did get to my room, I was out of breath from running so far and my chest rattled with each intake of air.
“Are you ready?” the judge asked. I nodded in reply. “Alright, take a deep breath.” And I did, or at least, I tried to. I tried to suck in as much air as I could but my lungs couldn’t take in enough. I began my solo with a shaky breath and every other breath after was shallow and gave me just enough air to hit each note. Once again I received compliments from the judge when I finished, but this time I didn’t run off to find Yvette. Instead, I stayed to hear her play her solo, a difficult piece that my sister had played in the past, and she did so well that she made my sister and I extremely proud.
After that, to pass time before the results came out, I watched some of my other friend’s performances. I listened and applauded to several wonderful performances until it was time to see our ranks. All of my fellow bandmates gathered around the double doors where the scores were posted and waited patiently, for the most part anyway. I was so anxious that I paced and squirmed and stayed in constant motion just to give myself something to do.
“I’m starving,” I announced suddenly, realizing that my stomach had been begging for food as it had been eight hours since my last meal. I got a slice of pizza and a can of coke, the go-to band performance dinner, and continued pacing. What was taking them so long? I thought, and as soon as I did, the question was answered. A man stepped out from behind the double doors and said “Sorry, we’re having trouble with the printers. The results will be out soon.” They were not out soon. I waited forever before I finally heard the door cracked open again and the same man emerged with a group of helpers. We backed away from the door and allowed them to post the ranks, and as soon as they stepped back inside to safety, we pounced.
It was a like some kind of jungle fight. There were people biting and scratching and elbowing all trying to wiggle their way to the front to see how they’d done. When I finally got to the front I scanned the sheets quickly for my name.
It was a blur of names until I made out Yvette’s and saw superior next to it. How great for her I thought, she deserved it. Then I glanced back at the same spot and realized something else; next to Yvette’s name was Nayeli’s, and then right after was mine. It couldn’t be. The score I saw wasn’t for Yvette’s solo, it was for our trio, and we got superior. I was so excited. I had lived up to my sister’s legacy and proven to myself that I could do it. Now, all that was left was to find my solo score. I knew it wouldn’t be superior, my mom and sister told me I that I played well, but also softly because I was short of breath, so I knew that would cost me major points. I went further down the list until I saw my name, but I couldn’t bear to look.
My sister took the burden upon herself and stepped up to the double doors. She looked at the spot that had my name and remained expressionless. I got more worried, if it was even possible at that point. Was I that bad? Did I get below an Excellent? Spit it out woman!
Finally, she turned to me, looked me dead in the eye and said just one word: “Superior.”
Photo credit: Google Images