The blue Zafara waited nervously in the corridor, clutching the neck of his cello tightly. His foot tapped with impatience as he gazed down the hallway at the line of pets paving the way towards the audition hall. The speckled Kyrii that stood in front of him must have noticed the Zafara craning his neck, and so she turned around, holding her own trumpet lazily in one paw.
"First audition?" Although she seemed genuinely interested, her voice was haughty.
"Yeah," the Zafara said. "I'm Wren. I play the cello, but I've never been in an orchestra before. Always been my dream though. What about you? Have you auditioned before?" The words tumbled out before he could stop himself.
"Kristi," the Kyrii said, nodding her head stiffly. "I've never auditioned for the Neopian Philharmonic before, but I've played in many other orchestras. Last year, in fact, I was a featured soloist for the Shenkuu Symphony. Won first place in the competition and everything." Kristi made no attempt to hide her boast.
"Wow," Wren whistled. He only played for fun, mostly in his free time, and had never participated in any competitions or concerts.
"Yes, I was quite a young winner, in fact," Kristi said. "What piece are you auditioning with, anyway?"
"A selection from the Brightvale Concerto."
"That's a difficult piece, isn't it? Very technical." She scanned the Zafara from head to toe with glinting eyes, as if trying to assess his abilities. "My piece is rather difficult too—I am sure you will hear." She motioned to the line that had progressed during their conversation, and the Kyrii was at the door.
"Any advice?" he called, hoping that Kristi heard him before she stepped through the doors.
"Just... Just play!"
"Well, good luck!" Wren said as the trumpeter walked into the audition hall. The conversation had not been particularly comforting, nor was the advice particularly astute, but the Zafara stared at the doors with stubborn determination. Soon, Wren could hear the sound of a trumpet wafting from the audition hall into the corridor. The sound was melodic and sonorous, and each note carried a pristine ring. The Kyrii had not been exaggerating; she was good.
After the music ended, Wren pushed his way through the doors into the spacious hall. The three judges sat behind a long table, and he slid his sheet of paper on the table before climbing on to the stage.
"When you're ready," a stern-looking Cybunny told him. The Zafara sat down and drew his bow across the string.
The sound warbled out, shaky at first, but the notes strengthened as Wren gained more confidence. His fingers slipped nimbly down the fingerboard and beads of sweat accumulated on his brow. The bow moved faster now, gliding between the strings. Wren focused intently on the intricate passages, even as the loud thumping of his heart pounded in opposition to the piece's rhythm. He did not particularly enjoy playing this piece, but he knew that its complexity was what the judges would be expecting.
The Mynci at the end of the table cleared his throat, signaling for Wren to stop. "Thank you," she said as Wren pulled his bow off the string. "You'll be notified of the result by mail in the next week or so."
"Great, thanks!" Wren managed to stammer as he exited the hall. The judges had not looked particularly impressed, but they were not disappointed either. The Zafara could only hope.
Wren walked at a leisurely pace through the roads of Neopia Central, enjoying the feeling of the warm sun beating down on his fur. His Neohome was about an hour's walk away, but he did not mind, even when he was carrying the heavy instrument on his back. The young Zafara breathed a sigh of relief as he walked; he was finally able to relax now that the audition, one he had been anticipating for days, was over.
"You there, young'un." Wren turned around to see the source of the scratchy voice: a grizzled old Ixi resting on a park bench.
"Hello there," Wren said, dipping his head in a polite greeting.
"What's that—that whatchamacallit on your back?"
"Oh, my cello?" Wren asked, gesturing. "I can play it for you, if you like." Wren slid on the bench next to the Ixi and soon he was tightening his bow and plucking his strings to make sure they were still in tune. "What would you like me to play?"
"Play whatever you like!" the Ixi encouraged. "I haven't heard one of them instruments in a great many years."
Wren was thoughtful for a moment and then he was off, his fingers dancing and his bow weaving across the strings. Although there were times when his fingers slipped and his bow scratched, the old Ixi was bobbing along and the two pets had wide grins spread across their faces.
"Marvelous!" The Ixi stamped his hooves as Wren's bow struck the final chord. "That was Chomby and the Fungus Balls, wasn't it? You know, I saw them myself when I was younger... What a concert!"
Wren smiled shyly. "I do a lot of Jazzmosis too."
"Well, don't you ever stop playing! You've certainly got talent, but you have a lot of fun while you play, that's for sure."
"Oh yes," Wren agreed, "that I do."
"Almost makes me wish I took up an instrument when I was younger..." The Ixi's voice was wistful.
"You still can, you know!" Wren said. "But if you'd rather just listen, I'm sometimes in the park in the evening. Jazzmosis, Yes Boy Ice Cream, you name it! And some more traditional pieces too."
"Well, thanks for the concert, kid, and maybe I'll see you around. I haven't heard Jazzmosis in an age..." The Ixi winked as he shuffled away.'
It had been a week since the audition and the mail had just arrived. Although Wren flipped through the letters casually, his heart quickened with every letter he touched.
New issue of the Neopian Times? No.
A receipt from the auction house? He had forgotten he bid on that zen sofa.
A coupon for two bags of doglefox feed? Maybe later.
A high-pitched whine came from his feet and he reached down and scratched his doglefox behind the ears. "We'll definitely get that later, okay? But not right now," he thought he had reached the last letter when he saw it.
The envelope was crisp and the address was printed in a shiny, blue ink. His nervous fingers peeled past the Philharmonic logo that was emblazoned on the seal of the envelope. Paws trembling, he began to read:
Dear Mister Wren,
We regret to inform you that you have not been selected as a musician for the Neopian Philharmonic this upcoming year. We had the pleasure of listening to a large number of talented and highly-qualified musicians, but...
Wren scanned the rest of the letter, but he did not need to read more than the first few words to understand. "Maybe next time, huh?" The Zafara leaned down and rubbed the doglefox's stomach. The rhythmic petting helped Wren regain his composure and he quickly blinked the few tears from his eyes.
Out of habit, he crossed the room and picked up his cello, plucking the strings absentmindedly. It had been a comfort to him through many hard times and this was no different.
"That's it!" he thought. A pizzicato introduction for the Jazzmosis piece he had been working on would make his cover of the song so much more lively. A smile spread across his face as he sat down with the instrument that he so loved.
Without drawing his bow, he reached for the strings... and played.