Contralto (A Band Geek Series): Part Three
The year-end concert is apparently a big thing at Contralto. It’s when the director pulls out all the stops, the ensemble is forced to play the most difficult music the director can find, and solos are cutthroat affairs. This year, we happened to be playing a symphony by an up-and-coming new composer named North. He was very secretive and preferred to be known only by his last name. A little eccentric, sure, but his music was fantastic.
The symphony included a flowing trumpet solo in the second movement. It wasn’t overly difficult in terms of range, especially now that I could play higher than ever. It had the potential to be a really pretty moment.
And everybody wanted it.
From Aaron all the way down to Jesse (a spotted Ogrin who didn’t really care about music, and was just there for the “lulz”), every trumpet wanted to be the one to stand up and play that melody. Especially me. To win a solo in a competitive concert like this? That would be the complete and final proof that I was good. Better than Aaron, even. And besides, the solo was a truly beautiful piece of music.
Everyone wanting the solo, however, meant that auditions would be a madhouse.
We arranged ourselves into a kind-of single-file line and waited. Aaron, naturally, was up first. I could hear him through the audition room’s door. As expected, he was brilliant.
But I’ll be better, I thought fiercely to myself. That’s a promise.
All of Aaron’s friends went next, one by one, each sounding exactly the same as the last. Then it was my turn. I had been lucky enough to snag a spot closer to the front. Poor Kota was stuck three-fourths of the way back, among Jesse and his fellows.
I clicked my valves anxiously before the very last of Aaron’s buddies, a purple Krawk, walked out. He nodded at me, clapped me on the shoulder, and said, “Go get ’em.” I was so stunned I could barely mutter my thanks.
I entered the room and smiled politely at the director.
“You can sit, if you like,” she said, gesturing to the chair and music stand sitting in the middle of the room.
“If it’s all the same to you, I’ll stay standing,” I said. “The soloist will have to stand for the solo anyway, in the concert.”
“True enough.” The director looked surprised. “All right then, let us begin. Don’t you have any music?”
“I memorized the solo,” I said nonchalantly. That was my edge over the competition—memorization, and the professional look of standing.
I raised my trumpet and played. It sounded great, but I would need more than “great” to win this solo.
The director looked almost speechless. “Thank you, Juneau,” she said quietly, before instructing me to let the next hopeful soloist in.
I walked from the room with a small smile on my face. The same pet who had clapped me on the shoulder earlier, the Krawk, ran over to me. “How do you think you did?” he asked.
I swallowed what I wanted to say—“Why do you care?!”—and murmured, “I don’t know. Pretty good, I guess.”
I figured he would run back to his buddies, but he didn’t. He stayed, discussing the high and low points of both our performances. As the last trumpet-player exited the audition room, he seemed to suddenly realize just how long he had been talking to me.
“Got to go. By the way, my name’s Damien,” he said before running off.
Walking back to my room, I was confused. A friend of Aaron’s was talking to me? Being nice to me?
It was about as strange as me becoming friends with Yew, the drummer from my old school. Even so, that had happened...
I was hit with a wave of nostalgia for when my world was simple. I had my two best friends, Aiwa and Candia. I had an entire drum section to war against. I had...
No, not everything. Definitely not. After I became friends with Wandol and Yew, that’s when I had everything.
And what did I have now?
Kota, maybe; the prestige of being a good trumpet-player; that was just about it.
“Juneau?” A knock on my room’s door shook me out of my thoughts. I opened it to find the band director standing there, a gracious smile on her face.
“I’m here to congratulate you on winning the solo,” she said.
Any lingering thoughts I had of my old life disappeared.
Maybe Aaron was stunned that he had lost the solo to me. That was the only explanation I could think of for how Aaron- and drama-free my life was leading up to the concert. I saw little of the arrogant blue Draik, and that was exactly how I liked it.
Now, instead of practicing random pieces of music, I practiced the solo. Time and time again, I worked on my intonation. My articulation. Accidentals. Range. Everything.
Finally, the concert was here. I dressed up in my black-and-white concert dress clothes and played through the solo a few more times; then, I started off for the auditorium.
It had been a while since I’d felt this pre-concert excitement. Everyone was bustling around, chatting animatedly. Damien, Aaron’s Krawk pal, talked to me for a while before going back off into his glitzy circle of friends.
The symphony was first up. We played through the first movement with no problem.
We entered the second movement. My paws started to shake and I was breathing hard.
The solo was coming up. Ten measures... five measures...
I stood up...
I played the first note, but somewhere in the back of my mind I noticed that somebody else was playing the note too. I switched to the second note, still perfectly on time, and cut my eyes to the left and right. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Aaron was standing up too, playing the solo. Playing MY solo.
He was looking at me as well, so I figured he had memorized the solo. To try and trip him up, I let go of the second note early and continued on, holding the note at the end of the next phrase. Aaron scrambled to keep up with me, and then tried the same thing on me.
Now I was getting mad. This was my solo—and here was this stupid, egotistical idiot, trying to take it from me!
(A small part of my brain noted that this call-and-response thing we were doing sounded kind of cool.)
We both tried to beat the other for the next phrase, resulting in us playing it together, perfectly on time. I frowned against my mouthpiece and took the next note up an octave. Some of the audience applauded. Aaron responded by throwing in some flowing improvisation.
The solo was almost over, and I hadn’t gotten to play any of it by myself!
Aaron was slightly behind me for the last phrase, so I held the last note until he finished, then switched to a lower complementary note.
If I was going to have to share with this solo thief, I was going to make it sound good.
We both put our trumpets down, and the audience erupted in applause. I smiled reluctantly at the crowd and chanced a look at Aaron. He was looking at me with a completely blank expression; I couldn’t tell what he was thinking.
I don’t remember the rest of the concert. I was too shell-shocked to really register any of it.
A bunch of audience members caught me afterwards. “That was a fantastic duet,” one told me, smiling broadly.
“Just great,” said another, “I can’t believe that you and Aaron sounded so incredible together.”
The symphony’s composer himself was there. A shadow Xweetok walked up to me, waited quietly while I finished talking to some pets, and shook my paw.
“My name is North,” he said.
“Oh my Fyora,” I whispered, my eyes widening. This pet was a true legend in the music world. Here he was, shaking my paw, talking to me! I almost fainted right then and there.
“I liked what you did with the solo. Playing it as a duet was an interesting interpretation.”
I smiled ruefully. “It wasn’t really intended as a duet, but thanks.”
His eyes bored into mine. “I know. That other player shouldn’t show his face in public again after a stunt like that.” He nodded, breaking the intensity of his stare. “But it was pulled off well.”
“You... how did you know?” I asked.
“I notice things,” he said with a small smile. “Well, it was nice to meet you. You’re going to go far in this business. I hope I see you again someday.”
“Yeah, I hope I see you too,” I practically whispered. He really didn’t miss a thing, did he? And he was on my side as far as Aaron was concerned. That made me happier than it had any right to.
“Juneau!” I heard my name shouted from somewhere down the hallway.
It was Aaron. I couldn’t believe him. He had the gall to come to talk to me after stealing my solo?
“Pretty awesome duet, huh?” he said, grinning.
“Not intentionally,” I snapped.
“Don’t get all sore about it,” he warned, the smile falling from his face. “I did what I had to. It sounded about ten times better than it would have with just you playing it.”
“I won the solo fairly. The least you could have done is respected that, for once in your life, YOU LOST TO SOMEONE ELSE.” My voice rose to a shout. I couldn’t help it.
Two haughty-looking royal Draiks walked up behind Aaron. “There a problem, honey?” the female Draik asked.
“Not at all,” Aaron replied, throwing me a dagger-sharp glare.
“Actually, there is a problem. A huge problem, might I add.” I shouldered my way in front of Aaron and faced his parents straight on. “I won that solo through audition, and I was supposed to play it alone.”
“But it was a duet! How...?” The male Draik looked confused.
“Your son,” I growled through gritted teeth, “decided to play with me. The duet was the result of both of us trying to outdo the other through the course of the solo.”
“Aaron, is this true?” his mother asked, looking totally stunned.
“No! It was a duet from the beginning!” he lied, grinding his foot onto my short tail.
“Why would I lie about something like that?” I shouted angrily. “Even the composer of the symphony noticed!”
“North was here?” Aaron blurted out.
“Yes, North was here. North was here, and he realized your dumb stunt for what it was.”
Aaron took his parents by their arms, wheeled around, and disappeared down the hallway. About a week later, I heard his parents had pulled him out of Contralto and sent him to a normal high school. I figured that was just about what he deserved.
It’s funny, but Aaron’s path after Contralto was pretty similar to mine, except mine was by choice. Two weeks after Aaron went, I left Contralto for my old school. I’d had enough of this constant drama.
Like Kota had tried to warn me beforehand: Contralto is a mess of egos the size of Kreludor.
And my old school had some good points I’d forgotten about: namely, my friends. Wandol, Yew, Candia, and I had a huge reunion and made up for lost time. For the first time in a while, I was really and truly happy.
There was one low point to leaving Contralto: Kota didn’t come with me. He had decided to take his chances with the newly-Aaronless school. I can’t say I blame him. It is a really nice place.
Ellen was so excited that I’d come back that she gave me the best present ever—the hypothetical icing on the Tigersquash Swirly Cake.
She promoted me to first part.