Apr 3, 2013

C if for Cello Wars

Well, this piece is more inspired by the video than the actually song. You'll see what I mean if I watch it.

It wasn't right to say he had a music rival, more like his trumpet did.

There were always rivalries in band class. The clarinet section hated the flutes, the saxes the trumpets. Tubas were just the cool people that got along with everyone, the rest of the low brass feeding off their coolness just enough to not be ignored while still being shuffled aside. And then it was all the winds versus percussion.

But that was normal school stuff. While the rivalries had been heated and fun during middle school and high school, by the time Ken hit university it was just an inside joke that really only showed up in prank Christmas gifts and happy hour at the bar. Okay, and maybe the occasional jokes on the blackboard, but that was the professors doing.

Most of the time, they were just concerned with the music. Learning it, playing it, perfecting it, writing it. Ken and the rest of the music majors lived quarter notes and Italian speed phrases. Well, except the crazy few who were double majors. How did Brain manage to also study for his bio degree? Or Susan her history one? He would pass on more time in school and classes where he had to do complex math.

He never had any problem with his other trumpets, not even Janet who managed to pass him this semester in chair rank and bumped him down to second trumpet. She, and the other three trumpets ahead of him, were a challenge. And it was through challenges you got better.

But animosity towards a fellow player, trumpet or not, he hadn't felt until his senior year. The Dungoo Symphony Orchestra, a top of the line group that traveled the country, came to his school to hold auditions. Ken and others from around the country had sent in audition tapes when the Orchestra had announced it was looking for new member and all those who passed in the tri-state area had been informed to show up at the music department of the school.

While he would have traveled across three state lines to the audition, Ken was happy he only had to cross three streets and a rather large grassy hill.

Signs directed him to the room where he had sectionals, and Ken was surprised at how many people were there warming up. He thought the process would be more...selective and that he wouldn't be going up against more than fifteen other trumpeters. Sure, this location was only one of seven in the country the DSO was for auditions, but really, 60 others? More actually, as he signed in on the 60th line and more came in after him.

With such a wait time ahead of him, Ken decided to put off really warming up until it was closer for him to be seen. He had arrived early, the first trumpet wouldn't play until for almost another hour and he didn't feel like his time slot would be within an hour of that even. Trumpet players had big egos, it was necessary to play he thought or there was no way to hit those high notes, and as such he didn't expect for each session to be short. They had been told ten minutes, but really, he just knew things would be behind.

Instead, Ken pulled out his trumpet, propped his sheet music up inside the open case, and went through fingerings after he finished greasing the values. He did that for an hour, lost in his head in how he imagined the sounds to be when he final put air to the notes. A vibrato on this whole note, double tonguing that run, circular breathing during that middle, ballad-esque passage. It was only when one of the professors came in, a flute specialist, to announce four names to follow her did Ken figure he should start blowing wind through his trumpet.

As he fitted his mouth piece on, he was suddenly aware of harsh glare on the back of his neck. He turned around to see a hispanic man, maybe late 20s, looking at him through narrow eyes. Something about Ken obviously riled him up, and now that he was looking at him he was thinking the same thing. The man's darker skin, his uncombed hair, the stiff color of his shirt, and, oh man that trumpet! Hadn't the other guy heard of polish?

Ken tried to shake of the sudden violent dislike he had of someone he'd never met and blew air through his instrument to warm up the metal before settling into a range of scales. Wanting to show the other guy he might as well pack up and go home, Ken made sure to use his best tone and went slightly faster than normal. His lips felt great, his trumpet was behaving as if it wasn't still warming up at all. Ken turned, looking out of the side of his eye at the other guys in a challenge.

When he paused for breath, the hispanic took over playing with the complementary minor scale. No, the blues complementary scale with its skipped notes and accidentals.

Ken then did two octaves.

The other man did it double tongued.

On the same brainwaves, they each took a deep breath and then started playing C, trying to not be the first one to run out of breath. Even with circular breathing, Ken was running out of air, but he held out for one half of a second longer.

He sent a cocky smile to his new found rival.

The other man looked murderous and looked like he was going to charge. Carefully, he put down his trumpet in the case, and then stood up looking as if he was going to sock Ken.

But, as he was standing, the other's face smoothed out for a second, his desire to start a fight fading. In fact, he looked as if he didn't actually know why he wanted to start a fight to begin with.

That grated Ken.

“What, not man enough to do anything?”

The hispanic flopped a hand at him. “I've got better things to do.” And with that, he sat in his chair again.

But as soon as he touched his trumpet, something strange happened. It was if the metal burned him. He looked up at Ken.

“What?” Ken snarled at him.

Still looking at him, the hispanic took his hand on and off the trumpet. The behavior was so odd Ken's dislike of the other faded to confusion. What was he doing?

Before he could think of an answer, his number was called. Goodness, he was so caught up in competing he hadn't actually played any of his trouble sections. Too late now. It wasn't like he hadn't practiced the piece a billion times.

To his surprise, the hispanic was called too. The professor indicated they were to each stand outside a different door. There was already another trumpeter standing at each one, but no noise from within the rooms. Shortly after they took their places, a girl walked out of Ken's assigned room. A voice barked out 'next!' and the first trumpeter walked in.

Ken spent the time fingering, sending glances over at the hispanic. He was doing the same. Eventually, two more trumpets arrived and stepped into line behind each of them, and then Ken was called into the room.

Deep breath, he told himself. Think of it as an S&E competition, you rocked at those.

The room was one of the small practice rooms, not much space for more than a stand and the panel of judges five feet away. There were three of them, and Ken bet they all played in, or were associated with the DSO. These could be his future fellow trumpets.

He said hello and gave a little bow.

“Let's start with scales. Play C minor.”

Half way through the scale, he realized he could hear sounds from the other audition room, and he knew exactly who was playing.

In hind sight, he didn't really remember playing for the three DSO representatives. His entire focus was on playing so good he blew the hispanic out of the water. He didn't care if he didn't land a job, as long as he was better that his rival. He had never felt so passionate about playing his best. He had also never played as good. Tone, breathing, color, technique, he had never gotten this close to perfect playing. Grudgingly, he attributed it to the hispanic. But only after he had been dismissed and was giving a quick polish to his horn before laying it back in the case.

As Ken closed his case, he looked up and watched the other auditioner enter the room. As he passed Ken figured he should probably be friendly. He didn't know what had sparked the animosity he felt towards the other player, but maybe getting to know him would help. Ken held out his hand. “Hi, I'm Ken Price.”

The other trumpet sneered at his hand and quickly went to put down the instrument. As soon as he did so, his face relaxed and he turned around to offer his own hand just as Ken was pulling his back. “Conor Caraballo.”

They shook.

“Look man,” Ken began. “I felt extra competitive today. Not sure why, but I just wanted to let you know it wasn't your fault.”

Conor nodded. “No big deal. Hey, try something for me?”

Ken shrugged.

“Look at me without touching your trumpet, and then while you are.”

It was a crazy suggestion, but Ken figured there was a reason for it considering Conor had done just that earlier. He sat on a chair and pulled his case onto his lap. With a snap, he released the catches and with his hands hovering over the trumpet looked at Conor and thought about what he felt about the guy.

Okay, kinda friendly and maybe a little bipolar, but a pretty darn good trumpet player.

Ken placed his hands on the trumpet.

Conor was a no good show-off who shouldn't because he had no skills to show off in the first place. He smelled, cheated, manipulated others to gain ranks in groups, he -

Ken took his hands of the trumpet.

Conor zipped his own case closed. “See what I mean?”

“That was...weird.”

“You're telling me.”

“So...our trumpets hate each other?”

“Did you hear yourself? That's crazy.”

“Yeah, but...” Ken trailed off, looking at his instrument before slowly closing the case. “You have any other ideas?”

“No. Just that I'm gonna ignore it and hope I never see you in a situation like this again. And now, to make up for all that anger I felt towards you I feel like I should buy you a beer.”

“I know just the place.”


In case you're confused, the trumpets were rivals in past life. If they were Darth Vadar and Obi Wan, maybe. You choose.


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