Feet flat on the ground.
And so it begins again.
I'm sitting in the lobby of First Methodist Church of Clearwater, where the American College of Musicians' Guild Auditions are held, awaiting my turn. Months of hard work and an emotional, love-hate relationship between myself and four pieces of music have led to this moment.
I'm sure the thermostat is set at a comfortable 72 degrees. If only my internal thermostat could be so lucky. I feel like I'm freezing, though the music books slipping through my sweaty grip beg to differ. Cold sweats. A familiar feeling that just never gets old.
Thoughts tussle in my mind:
I do this to myself every year. I'm a stressed-out mess! This is all my doing! But the inked "superior" written on the certificate really does make it all worth it. I'm auditioning at a collegiate level. This is my seventh year in this seat. I should be used to this . . .
My anxiety is interrupted by the sound of a creaking door. Oh God!
I'm guided through the double doors of the main chapel and begin the long, quiet, awkward walk down the aisle. Even though I'm not the religious type, I'm pleasantly distracted by the alluring reflection of stained glass on the glossy wood bench as I approach the beautiful grand piano. All thoughts drain from my mind, leaving me to concentrate on gracefully taking my seat and avoiding the obnoxious clunking as I pull closer to the piano. I need to make a good impression. Clunk!
Despite my nerves, I try to maintain my composure while listening to what the judge is saying to me. Small talk.
"It's a bit chilly in here."
"That's a pretty dress!"
Okay. At least I don't look as jittery as I feel. Or maybe she's just being polite.
"F Major scale, please. Then, follow with your Bach Invention No. 8."
And I'm off. I can feel her judging me. I try to keep my focus on the music, imagining the notes in my mind and not on the scratching of her pencil. Those little notes she's taking could make me or break me.
My focus changes again. Keep my feet flat on the floor! I hear my teacher's voice inside my head. Clarity. Clarity. Clarity.
After I finish the first piece, I glance at her. The judge is nodding, scribbling on my certificate, in a moment that always feels longer than it really is. My thumbs twiddle, and I look around the room. I spot the miniscule, cross-shaped windows on the double doors that every year I imagine my mother and teacher peering through.
This routine continues three more times.
G Major scale. Beethoven, Sonatina in G.
G Minor scale. Chopin, Polonaise in G Minor.
C Major scale. Marianelli. Mrs. Darcy.
I then realize I've finished my program. What's done is done. The B-flat that I missed can no longer be recovered.
"Thank you," the judge says politely.
I dissect her tone on my way out, wondering if it was just courtesy or if she actually liked what I just played. I review in my mind every slip of a key and every accidentally elongated pedal blur as I pass through the double doors to meet my teacher and my mother. I continue to analyze the judge, trying to decipher what she may have been thinking.
I see the reflection of the ceiling lights darting across the cross-shaped windows. It's the door opening. The next student goes in.
It's just my mother, my teacher, silence and my overpowering longing for a superior. We are handed the results.
Disappointment flushes my face.
Hours of practicing. For what? Had I disappointed my teacher? This isn't just a judging of me, it's a judging of her, too!
The disappointment dissolves when I realize what I've accomplished.
I know this music. This is one judge. This does not define me as a musician.
Hours of practice.
Four pieces, plus scales and cadences to be memorized.
Through time-consuming practice, anxiety-inducing commitment, memorization through repetitive, robotic movements, among a sea of other personal, academic and extracurricular activities, I never gave up. And I know my teacher is proud.
I believe that to be superior.
Jade Sullivan begins her senior year in the fall at Osceola Fundamental High School in Seminole. She's an aspiring journalist but is keeping her options open.