The girl had long fingers that danced across the surface of anything they touched. Whether they stroked the smooth surface of the broad wooden table, romped lightly across the ivory keys on the old piano in the family room, or whenever they touched a handle, skin, or pencils, her fingers moved. Sometimes they would move quickly, beating fast, charging, and other times they would glide smoothly, like ice-skaters on a freshly cleaned rink.
"Lyra Angelica," the girl whispered to herself every morning. "Wake up."
Her name was Lyra Angelica, and she was beautiful.
She had light brown hair that had a certain red glint to it when the sun shone too brightly. Her eyes were brown – dark, penetrating, and warm. Her skin had the pale white look of someone who spent too little time in the sun, but it had a splatter of freckles. But her hands…
Her hands were the hands of a dream pianist. The fingers were long, flexible, and strong. They knew how to move across any surface with agility and ease. She had learned to play the piano at a young age, though she had found the finger exercises too simple and the complex pieces requiring too much body strength. Whenever she sat down at a piano, the result was stunning, but she found no solace in playing, nor any joy in listening to the thick, repetitive notes fill the room. She didn't get the same feeling of excitement that her admirers seemed to get.
She remembered the first time she had found a piano to be truly interesting and beautiful. She had gone to the local music school for her lesson. It was just an ordinary day, but she happened to be unusually early. She wandered around aimlessly until she found a door that led down to the basement, where she knew there were sometimes lessons. No sound came out of the room now, and she made her way down the steps.
The first thing she noticed in the room was the piano. But unlike every piano she had seen in her life, this wasn't elegant and fancy, nor old and comforting. This was a broken piano, upturned with the canopy falling off. Approaching tentatively, almost frightened that someone might yell at her, she reached out to touch the broken instrument. It was then that she noticed the strings.
Every pianist knows that the piano is a string instrument. Knowing it is one thing. Seeing it, and touching it, is another. With one trembling, eager hand, Lyra Angelica's ever-moving fingers touched the still strings within the broken piano. Then, without really knowing what she was doing, she plucked once. And then again. She used her fingernails to lift the strings up. The sound was tinny and slightly out of tune, but gorgeous and rich. It didn't have the typical stuffiness her piano upstairs had. She knew why – she was playing this like a harpsichord.
The word rang in her head the rest of the week. Harpsichord. Harpsichord.
She'd heard the word before. Musicians joked about it. Lyra Angelica. Lyre. Harp. She'd been teased about her name before without fully understanding what was funny, but she suddenly understood.
"What's the harp like?" she asked her piano teacher at her lesson the next week. She'd been itching to ask that question and the relief she felt as the words left her lips gave her a sense of joy and excitement. A thrill. Her teacher seemed surprised by the question.
"Well," he said, trying to sound truthful and honest, "it's a pretty instrument but not substantial. Nothing really incredible." Then, hurriedly, like he wanted her off the subject, "Let's try Grieg's Concerto again, shall we?" Lyra Angelica rested her hands on the keys, but for once her fingers were still. There was no spark within her that compelled her to play, no fire, no need, no desire.
Softly, apologetically, she said, "I'm sorry," and stood up, leaving the dumb-struck teacher behind. Her thumb and middle finger began to dance instead, and they plucked at the air, gently stirring it, letting the silent music glide from her fingertips. She smiled – a slow, gentle smile that seemed to fill the whole world with radiance.
The music school had one harp, one single harp. It was about twice Lyra Angelica's size, and she needed to sit on a tall stool in order to play it fully. But it was worth it. Her teacher, a stooped old man with little in his life save for music, loved her and the music she created. He could sense something special about her, could sense a touch of magic in her hands and in her heart.
"Lyra Angelica," he said the first time he met her, after catching her playing the harp without permission. She'd entered the room and had begun to pluck at the string at random, marveling at the beautiful sound they emitted. "Your name… Lyra Angelica?" She nodded. The old man's wrinkled face didn't move as he watched her. "Play something else," he ordered, and so she did. She tried to mimic piano pieces, and found that though her fingers stumbled more often here than they did on the piano, the result was more beautiful, more passionate, and more emotional. The old man approached her, and said in a serious voice, "You're blessed. You're blessed with a talent I can only dream of. Your name is proof enough."
Not understanding, Lyra Angelica asked timidly, "What do you mean?" The old man walked over to a cabinet and opened it. After a few moments of rummaging through its contents, he emerged with a music book. The title, in bold black letters against the yellowing paper, read Lyra Angelica – Harp Concerto, by William Alwyn.
And then she understood.
Her hands accepted the sheet music willingly, as well as a fingering chart. Within a month she convinced her parents to lease a harp, and though they protested, they finally consented. They wanted to do anything for their young prodigal daughter, and if it meant buying a harp, then it meant buying a harp. Prodigies must be encouraged.
On morning, something changed. Lyra Angelica awoke, and, as was her routine, said quietly, "Lyra Angelica. Wake up." She pulled her hair back away from her face with quivering fingers, and then, almost like a whisper, someone answered.
It wasn't with words. It wasn't with formed sentences leaving a structured mouth. It was with a soft, gentle twirl on the harp's strings. Frozen to her spot (who dared touch her harp, for it was the most illegal of things?), Lyra Angelica listened to the sweet sounds of the harp, horrified that someone else could make the music sound as good as hers. Finally, gathering the courage to confront the villain, she marched over to the music room, and stopped dead in the doorway.
The girl had long fingers – strong, quick, though rather clumsy fingers. She had soft, light brown hair that had the smallest glint of gold shining in it. Her eyes were innocent, wide, and bright blue. Her skin was so fair it was almost translucent, but soft, and clear.
Her name was Marie Laura, and she was beautiful.
She was also four years old.
Marie turned at the sound of footsteps, and caught sight of her older sister. With a bright, baby-tooth filled grin, she ran over to Lyra Angelica and tugged on her hand.
"Like you," she said proudly, pointing at the harp with one finger that so mimicked Lyra Angelica's own. Marie's smile was one full of childish innocence and joy, and then she skipped back to the harp, still clutching onto Lyra Angelica's hand, who followed her younger sister slowly.
"Play something," Lyra Angelica said softly, watching as her sister gazed at the huge instrument with wide, eager eyes. Lyra Angelica's twitching fingers rested gently on the small girl's head, and stilled. "Play something for me." She bent down and lifted Marie up, placing her down on the stool before the harp. Marie reached two hands out and stroked the strings. The sound was sweet, angelic, and almost electrifying. Lyra Angelica could see the energy flowing from Marie's small hands through the strings and out into the room. Everything was in tune, in key, and after a moment, Lyra Angelica realized that Marie was playing the Lyra Angelica Concerto from memory. Marie didn't seem to need notes, or a fingering chart. The music was in her eyes, in her mind, in her heart.
At the end of the concerto, Marie lowered her hands, and turned to her sister. "That's your song, right?" the little girl asked, blue eyes looking up at the wise older sister. "Your very own song?" Marie seemed intent on getting an answer, but Lyra Angelica found that she was unable to speak. The words were getting stuck in her throat. Her eyes had filled with tears as Marie had played through the whole concerto with only one or two mistakes. She opened her mouth once, closed it, and then bit her lip. Her fingers slid off Marie's soft head and fell limply to her lap.
Lyra Angelica remembered when Marie's fingers had barely been fingers. They'd been cartilage, entirely, completely flexible. Now they were slightly hardened, but still mostly soft and bendy. She remembered the day Marie had come home from the hospital, and how she'd played for her. It had been back in her piano days, playing for her Träumerei, the softest, most lullaby-like song she could think of on the spot. She'd then given her sister a kiss and had proceeded to play Tchaikovsky's massive concerto, pleased that she had finally worked her fingers around it.
And in the days and years that followed… She'd always been preoccupied. Maybe she'd only been eight when Marie was born, but she'd already had her path paved for her. She was meant to be a concert pianist, the biggest and the best. But even when the piano plans crumbled to dust, there was still the harp, and most of her day was spent practicing, and occasionally composing. Her days were spent in what was formally the family room, now the music room, fingers moving, moving, moving…
"No," Lyra Angelica said finally, wrapping her hands one around the other so that her fingers were trapped and motion-less. "It's your song now."
Inspired by Lyra Angelica - Harp Concerto, composed by William Alwyn