Friday, September 7, 2007

Upon the Stage

This piece was written years ago, more as a recorded memory than a fiction piece. Think of this as flexing my writing muscles. This was one of the many first exercises before I completed my first novel.

Upon the Stage

Peering through the crack in the door she could see the auditorium filling and she flexed her fingers. After four years, one would think she wouldn’t be so nervous before the annual Spring Concert. The year before she’d risen to the honor of first chair flute and had been the soloist. She’d been nervous then, but this was something different. Maybe because it was her last year; maybe it was because she was playing piccolo this year instead of flute. She wasn’t sure.

She turned away from the door again, but the band room didn’t hold any appeal. She could hear the various other instruments tuning up and practicing one final time. If she went over the piece one more time, she could make certain of those trills, but the thought caused the butterflies in her stomach to break mach 3. Maybe she could straighten her uniform for the millionth time.

As she entered the bathroom, she caught a glimpse of herself – blue trousers, blue suit coat, tuxedo shirt – complete with ruffles, bowtie. She looked awesome. Taking her brush out of her purse, she brushed her hair to a sparkling glow. It was time.

Back in the band room, her friends and fellow band members were lining up for entry onto the stage. She waved at Janine who shifted her oboe and waved back. Janine would soon be headed off to Michigan State. She nodded to Joe who smiled and went back to practicing fingerings on his sax. He would be off to U of M. Many of them would be leaving high school soon – off into the world and the future.

Taking her place, she turned to look at Don – the new first chair flute – and smiled. She thought about the day when he had won the chair position from her. He was good; he practiced hard; he deserved to lead the flutes. She hadn’t tried to beat him – which bothered her still – but she already had her sights set on taking the piccolo position. It was a simple shift, and she still lead the section. Tonight would be her first public piccolo performance of the one piece that had scared her four years ago. On the flute, it was difficult; on the much smaller piccolo, it was excruciating.

As they ascended the stage, she scanned the crowd. Far in the back, she could make out her other friend, Maria, who had come for moral support. She suppressed the urge to wave. Concert flautists didn’t wave and she was ‘in the zone’. In the middle to the left she spotted her parents. Dad was wearing that powder blue suit coat, which would have bothered her at any other time, but was strangely comforting tonight. Mom looked great.

The entire band took their places, standing straight and proud before their chairs. The teacher nodded and as one they took their seats. He raised his baton and the music began. Each piece sounded flawless to her ears and she was playing better than she had ever played in her life. But she knew that those pieces were nothing compared to what was scheduled for the last piece.

Finally, the program was coming to a close. It was nearly time. The conductor tapped his baton on the podium and they raised their instruments to their lips in one fluid motion. Her body was poised in the perfect shape of an L – back straight, head held high. And Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever began.

She was never so proud in her life. The notes were coming from the piccolo as if it had a life of its own, but she knew that she was the one who gave it life. Never before – and never since – had she played with such precision and such clarity. The trills, which had always given her trouble, were easy beneath her fingers.

When the final notes were still lingering in the air, the conductor lifted his arms and they rose again and bowed. He nodded and the senior members of the band walked to center stage. The crowd rose to its feet and the applause was deafening. She bowed one last time upon the stage and lead her band slowly down the steps.

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