It’s a wild thing to watch your hands move. Myriad muscles harmoniously coordinating the pull and push of oddly ridged bones against ligamentous constraint. It’s even wilder to be a spectator as those same fingers finish Chopin’s Sonata No. 2.
With a gratuitous flourish, my hands roll forward and away from the keyboard. They float for a moment, carried off with the dramatic final chord as the hall swallows it into silence. Then, they find their place in my lap, and I push myself from the bench to bow. The crowd comes to its feet with me. A few spectators ignorant (or defiant) of traditional concert decorum begin chanting my name.
Makes me almost wish I knew how to play the piano.
No, really, all I know is about eight pretty sick bars of Don’t Stop Believin’. Sure, that’s a great attention-grabber at a party, but then — inevitably — everyone wants to join in and start singing.
I can’t play. Any instruments at all. I’m not describing me ten years ago, I’m describing me now. Me if I weren’t wearing a beanie and shades to conceal a multichannel TMS device affixed to my skull. If my piano ‘teacher’ weren’t in the building next door, wired up to a computer and performing her heart out on a twin piano while watching my zombie-like hands follow her every mental command through the imperceptible camera lens in my glasses.
Does it feel like a lie? Yes. But does it feel incredible to be the closest thing to a rockstar I’ll ever be? Absolutely.
Scratch that. I could be a rockstar. I just need to find a good guitarist who doesn’t like the limelight … Tall order.
I soak up the applause until I realize the crew member peeking out of the onstage door is not cheering my name, but telling me I need to clear the stage. I wave to my fans, blow a kiss, and then my hands point me off stage.
“Fantastic job,” the crew member says once I’ve slipped through the door. “You’re a testament to what a pianist can be if they have the strength to weather Dr Lee’s —” he purses his lips, “demanding curriculum.”
Oh. Another of her former students. The traditional kind. Somehow you can always see the trauma in their eyes. I hurriedly flip the switch to ‘off’ on the box in my pocket.
“You must spend hours in that old castle,” he continues, eyes wide. “I honestly hadn’t realized anyone was still taking lessons from her. Figured she’d sold the place. She’s really putting everything into you, huh?”
“Yeah,” I reply with an ambiguous chuckle, thankful for my sunglasses.
He puts one hand on my shoulder, clearly pitying me. “Well, good luck. Judging from that applause, it seems your dedication might pay off — for both of you.”
Six hours later, I’m becoming one with the upholstery as a greying man MCs the world’s slowest awards ceremony. My hands fidget in my lap. It’s not clear what’s me and what’s Dr Lee, although there’s some resistance when I crack my knuckles. (OK, I’ll stop.) The TMS device is switched on, should an encore be requested. Suddenly, I hear my name boom from the speaker system.
Was that —?
Everyone is looking at me. It was.
I am the winner of the Baltimore International Piano Competition. A jaw-dropping $120K sourced from benefactors unknown (to me) is mine. Or, rather, exactly 25% is mine. Gotta say, $30,000 for being under the age limit and willing to endure a few hours of brain-stimulation calibration is as good a deal to me now as it was a year ago when Dr Lee presented the contract.
I push myself from my chair and stride to the stage. I’m handed an absurdly large cup trophy that would probably make a great punch bowl, and the MC leans towards the microphone again.
“Truly, I am impressed by your maverick skill,” he begins, giving me a suave smile. “It is apparent that you feel music differently. The judges and I were enthralled by the intense emotion that you bring to each piece, swaying and emoting in a way that often seems wholly removed from the confines of time signature, tempo or technique. Even more so, I am impressed by your sudden appearance on the international piano scene. What a fine example of raw talent, honed through sheer determination.” He returns his gaze to the audience with a chuckle. “The student has certainly surpassed the instructor. I doubt Dr Lee could have given such a performance at this age, or perhaps any age.”
I laugh at this, which looks a bit odd paired with the high-velocity slap that my hand lands on the MC’s face.
The audience freezes.
The MC freezes.
My hand does not freeze. Instead, it flips him the bird before forming a fist and settling defiantly onto my hip.
For a moment, the hall is as quiet as it was after the Chopin.
“I — suppose loyalty to one’s instructor is noble,” the MC mutters, rubbing his cheek as security guards grab my renegade arms. My new punch bowl, surely symbolic of the prize money, too, is tragically extricated from my grasp one stubborn finger at a time.
The audience is awash in excited whispers. As I’m shuffled off stage, I glimpse the woman holding the second-place trophy sweep away a lock of hair and sit up straighter. Behind her, a man’s face is blocked by his phone, camera trained on me.
I guess any press is good press for a punk rockstar. I think the quiet guy in the apartment below me is getting pretty good at the guitar.