While my friends were all at their various athletic competitions Wednesday afternoon, I sat in the Arts Center gallery writing the journal entry that had popped into my mind during English class. I wasn’t thrilled with it, but I wasn’t going to bother trying to improve it until I decided if it was the one I was rewriting for Friday. I had only managed to use one of this week’s vocabulary words and not a lot of adjectives. Maybe, if I did rewrite it, I could look over the vocabulary list and see if I could insert more words.
Of course, that would be after I wrote an essay comparing two of the myths we had read so far. And studying for my vocabulary quiz. And, the mountain of other homework I had for all my other classes. None of which I could start until I had my flute audition and my first religion class at Saint Mary’s.
With a sigh of frustration, I tossed my writing journal into my backpack and glanced at the clock above the security desk in the corner of the lobby. I was pretty sure I had enough time. I made my way to the box office to request a practice room.
Since it was nearly empty, I was able to fit my backpack in my locker, exchanging it for my flute before searching for room 402. After a quick warm up, I spent nearly half an hour polishing the song I had selected yesterday. Eventually, my phone signaled that it was time to head to the basement.
I found Mr. Williams’s office at the base of the stairs. The sweet, dulcet sounds of a stringed instrument rang from the opposite side of the closed door. The sign up sheet was taped to the wall, along with a hand-written notice advising us to wait quietly in the hallways.
I sat on the floor facing the door, opening my practice book in my lap. I turned the headpiece of my flute upside down so I could play without making any sounds. While I liked being able to keep my fingers nimble, I didn’t like that I couldn’t hear whether I was playing the song correctly.
I wasn’t waiting long before the door opened. A tall boy, with long, dark hair tied into a ponytail, emerged. He had a large violin—or was it a viola—in one hand and a folder in the other. He nodded and smiled as he stepped over me, whistling softly to himself as he headed up the stairs.
“Next?” Mr. Williams stood in the doorway. When he looked down at me, I felt like a dwarf beside a giant.
Wordlessly, I collected my things and entered the office. I was surprised by its appearance. Though I wasn’t exactly sure what I had been expecting, this was not it. Two large gray desks kissed each other in the center, while a pile of yellowing papers spilled from one onto the other. Foot-high stacks of papers lined the floor against the walls, which were decorated with framed posters from various musical performances around the world. Every few feet, a six-foot tall set of shelves stood against the wall, upon which sat various music-related knickknacks, such as bookends in the shape of musical notes or a statue of a man playing trombone in a parade. One set of shelves contained an older stereo that actually had a spot to play cassettes in addition to CDs and, I assumed, digital music. Rectangular speakers rested on either side of the large box. The room was warm with a faint scent of cinnamon. I felt more as if I had walked into a cozy living room than a teacher’s office.
Mr. Williams gestured to a black music stand just in front of the two desks. As he sat in the black leather chair behind one of the desks, I rested my book on the stand. I looked at him expectantly. I wasn’t sure what to do next. I had never had to audition for a musical ensemble before. Band was part of the music program at my elementary and middle schools. Was I supposed to just start playing? Or was he going to give me instructions?
“Um. . .”
“You are Melinda?”
“And what will you be playing today?”
I read the title of the piece. He frowned slightly, but said nothing. He gestured that I should begin playing. I twisted my headpiece back into place and played a few notes. His frown turned into a grimace. I knew exactly why.
He held up a hand and I stopped playing. I watched him rummage around his desk a moment before holding out a small black box about the size of my phone.
“Thank you.” I nervously accepted the tuner and placed it on the stand. I played a long tone before adjusting the mouthpiece a hair. I had to do this three times before the light on the box turned green. I passed the machine back to Mr. Williams. “I don’t have my own tuner.”
“There are several free apps for your phone. They’re not perfect, but they’re good for warm-ups until I tune the entire orchestra. I recommend it to all my students. Now, let’s try that piece again.”
I took a deep breath and started over. After performing the entire song flawlessly, I lowered my flute and looked at Mr. Williams. He provided me with absolutely no feedback. Had I done well? Was my piece good enough to get into the orchestra?
Mr. Williams removed a sheet of paper from one of the piles on his desk. He placed it on my stand, humming tunelessly as he did so.
“This is one of the marches we will be playing this semester. Do you know it?”
I glanced at the title. I had never hear of it before. Would I be allowed to join orchestra if I didn’t know the music?
Mr. Williams waved a dismissive hand. “I’m sure you’ve heard it. Perhaps after a few rehearsals, you’ll recognize it. However, I do suggest to my students that each time I give you a new song, you should search online and listen to several different performances of the piece so you are more acquainted with it before you attempt to play it. Now, please begin at measure twenty and play to the end of the page.”
I counted the measures, nearly kicking myself when I realized it was already marked on the page. Picking up my flute, I began to play slowly. I made several mistakes, continuing as if they had been the correct note. In the back of my mind, I was positive I had never heard this song before.
When I lowered my flute, Mr. Williams nodded at me. “Good. Let’s try it a little faster this time.” He clapped his hands at his suggested tempo. It was more than a little faster.
I nodded my head to the beat as I counted myself off. I made many more mistakes, although I pushed through the piece until I reached the bottom of the page.
Mr. Williams rose from his seat, walking towards the door. “Thank you, Melinda. Our first rehearsal will be tomorrow evening at seven. Please be sure to inform your house advisor that you will be at orchestra rehearsal during study hours.”
I grabbed my things, exiting the door as he opened it, entirely uncertain whether my audition had gone poorly or well. But, I didn’t have time to think about it. I went straight to the third floor, disassembling my flute in the hallway. After quickly cleaning it with my magic brush, I exchanged it for my backpack and ventured into town.
Since I had no idea where I was going, I gave myself plenty of time to find the church. We had passed two when we came into town last weekend. I was confident Saint Mary’s was one of them.
I passed the first one. It was a Baptist church. The second was Methodist. Frowning to myself, I continued towards the center. I was only a little concerned. I would just double check the location on my phone.
I sat on the bus stop bench and tried to pull up the map. I had next to no signal. The app wouldn’t work. With a groan of frustration, I looked around. There was a coffee shop behind me. I went inside and asked the cashier for directions.
I hadn’t walked far enough. I went back to the bus stop, crossing the street diagonally and continuing for another block until I finally found the church. Now that I was here, I had no idea where I was supposed to go. My mother’s text had only said to be at the church by half past four. She didn’t tell me where in the church.
I walked up the front steps into the building. It was empty except for a little old lady quietly praying in one of the front pews. Obviously, my class wasn’t being held here. I made my way to the alter, reflexively crossing myself in front of the tabernacle before looking in both directions. There were exits on both sides, but I couldn’t see past them. With a shrug, I decided to try the door on my right, solely because I wouldn’t have to pass by the woman praying.
The hallway led to a set of stairs. As I descended, I noticed an increasing volume. At the bottom, I opened a thick door and was hit with a wall of sound. There had to be at least fifty kids around my age milling about the room. Some were on their phones, others were shouting to each other from opposite ends of the hall.
Eventually, I found someone who might be in charge. A tired-looking, middle-aged woman was standing near the middle of the room, holding a clipboard. She occasionally glanced around the room as she spoke with another woman, who was trying somewhat unsuccessfully to hold on to a screaming toddler. I waited until the mother walked away before approaching the woman.
The woman looked slightly frazzled as she turned to me. “Oh, hello. How can I help you?”
“Um, I have no idea where I’m supposed to go.”
“What year are you?” The woman sounded almost bored.
Over the past two weeks, I had grown accustomed to answering this question with third form. However, no one outside Hartfield seemed to understand the term. “Freshman.”
“I suppose this is your first year? In the confirmation program that is?” When I nodded, the woman gestured to the room. “Have a seat anywhere you would like. We’re still waiting for your teacher . . .”
She wandered towards one of the doors, towards a man practically dragging a sullen-looking boy. I looked around for a place to sit. There were about a dozen folding tables scattered around the room, each with some folding chairs around them. Some people were sitting in small groups around them. Others were sitting on the tables themselves. Then there were the people standing in small clusters against the wall, chattering to each other while playing on their phones.
I found a chair at an uninhabited table and glanced at my phone. Somehow, I had a better signal in the church basement than I had outside in the center of town. I texted Sarah to ask about her field hockey game. When she didn’t respond, I assumed they were still playing. I thought about texting Walter to ask about his game, but I still hadn’t gotten over Sarah’s question yesterday morning. If she saw Walter and I as a couple, did other people see us that way, too? Did Walter think of me that way?
Wednesday, September 20
(Author’s Note: I could use your help! What should Melinda write about today?)
Pat’s story will begin in March
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Stay tuned. Episode 13 will be released on Tuesday, February 16.