Rhapsody in E Major
Today may very well be the busiest day of my life. It's certainly one of the most nerve-wracking.
Such are my initial thoughts as my alarm clock blares out a litany of shrill tones. I quickly shut it off, and blink a few times, trying to summon the energy, or the willpower, to drag myself out of bed. At length, the anticipation and nervousness that assaulted me in waves the instant I rejoined the land of the living make me too jittery to stay in bed any longer. I fumble at the nightstand for a few seconds, locating my glasses and slipping them on.
Trying not to make too much noise, I slip out from under the duvet, shivering when the cold air hits my skin…It's February, and even after roughly ten years, I'm not quite used to this Colorado weather. Shaking off the cold, I tiptoe to the master bathroom, flipping on the light and closing the door behind me.
As I shower and brush my teeth, I mentally run through my schedule for the day. Interview with an ASCAP representative at nine in Colorado Springs…about seventy-five miles away from Boulder. Which explains why I'm up at this ungodly hour of the morning. Sigh. John and his family are coming through town…They're going on a ski trip, and staying the night here because a) We haven't seen each other in a really long time (five years-ish) and b) he doesn't have to pay for a hotel room this way, since it was too far for him to drive all at once and his wife, Elizabeth, has a phobia of planes.
Also, it coincides with my concert…Which brings us to the third, and most momentous, occasion of the day. About the time John's family will get settled in, I'll have to head into town to make sure everything's set up properly for the concert…and then it actually happens. I don't usually freak out over events like this, but this particular show is very, well, special to me.
Thinking over it, today really isn't just overwhelmingly busy, but the nerve-wracking-ness of it more than makes up for that.
I rinse the toothpaste out of my mouth, run a brush through my hair, spray some gel in it, and style it in a motion that's become so familiar to me that it takes all of half a minute. I rummage through the closet for a moment before deciding on wearing a classy dark green Oxford shirt and black slacks to the interview. Showered, shaved, groomed, and dressed, I exit the bathroom, and try to sneak through the bedroom without waking Ryan up. I fail.
"You off to your interview?" He asks, voice still thick with sleep.
"Yeah…I should be home by noon. You're not working up at the lab today, are you?" I reply, attempting to hide the nervous quaver in my voice.
"Took the day off for your concert. You know that," He answers with a hint of humor.
"Heh…That's right. Um. Well, I'll see you later, then," I stutter, taking a step toward the door.
"You're stressing. Stop stressing," I am sleepily commanded.
"Yes, dear," I say with a wry grin of my own, even if I'm still a bit antsy.
"That's more like it. Now go away so I can sleep."
"Yes, dear," I repeat and manage to get out the door.
I walk into the conference room with less than two minutes to spare, grinning sheepishly at my almost-lateness to the other two people occupying the room.
"Ah, Dr. Jacobs, good morning," the ASCAP rep says, putting her notebook and pen on the table and rising to greet me. I shake the middle-aged woman's hand, flash her a smile, and reply, "Call me Ethan. Good morning, Mrs…" I let my statement trail off.
"Eddison, but Meredith is fine" she says with a nod, and releases my hand.
"Meredith," I repeat, also inclining my head.
"I realize you've got something of a tight schedule today, so let's get on to the questions, if you don't mind?" She offers, gesturing to a small table and the chairs on opposite sides.
"I don't mind at all," I say, and take one of the proffered seats.
I wait while she gets everything situated, switching on her digital recorder and all. Finally, once everything is in order, Meredith looks up at me, smiles, and begins, "So, Dr. Ethan Jacobs, better known as the man who made classical music modern again."
I half laugh, a touch embarrassed. "Hardly. I'm just the latest in a long line of symphonic composers trying to make instrumental music more accessible to the younger generations."
"And succeeding. How many blockbuster movies have you scored again, Dr. Jacobs?" She asks.
"I'm Ethan. Dr. Jacobs was my father. Or my mother, I suppose. That aside, I've written the score to…oh, goodness, at least twenty films, although I don't know how many of them you'd consider blockbusters."
"And what about your career in theater? You're responsible for three hit Broadway musicals, unless I'm mistaken?" Meredith continues, hardly disguising the fawning in her voice. This is actually a little awkward…I hate being complimented. This reminds me why I've never done one of these interviews in the past…
"I'm far from responsible for them, Meredith. Those shows were a group effort…I wrote the music, yes, but the story, the lyrics, and the characters, belonged to the other writers. Those shows were so much theirs that I sometimes felt like an intruder, truth be told," I explain, thinking back to my correspondence with the two hottest writers on the theatrical scene. Good times.
"Modest, too," she quips, and I scowl. "Alright, on to the next subject. What is your response to critics that compare your music to Eric Whitacre's?"
I scowl again. Those people get on my nerves. "I respect Mr. Whitacre greatly, but there's a big difference between my music and his. Just because both of us have a tendency toward unusual chord structures in our compositions doesn't mean that our music has anything in common, really. That's like comparing two composers who both like to write in the key of…G-sharp minor. Yes, that's a similarity, but is it really even a connection?"
"Good point," Meredith says absently, scribbling on her notebook. After a moment, she looks up, and immediately jumps subjects again. Are all interviews this disjointed, or just mine? "Alright, so, there are two general schools of thought when it comes to music. One, that technical precision is the most important facet of music, and two, that musicality is most important. What is your philosophy?"
I blink, a bit surprised by the question. "They're both important," I say lamely, and rush to elaborate, "But if I had to choose one, I'd say that the musicality is of greater value. I was…Do you mind if I tell a story?"
"Please do," Meredith answers quickly.
"Great. I was co-conducting a clinic in Arizona last summer with another director, and it was this difference in ideology that almost kept us from getting any work done. He kept hammering at the notes and rhythms, and it sounded dead, flat and stale. When I tried to get him to loosen up, he actually went off on me a bit. So, I dragged him outside the rehearsal hall…The walkway leading up to it was lined with maple trees, most healthy, but one of them was turned all shades of orange, yellow, red, and purple. I pointed out the trees to him, and asked, 'in this row of maple trees, which do you find to be the most attractive?' He gestured to the multicolored one and said, 'that one, of course. It's beautiful.' I replied, 'What about the others? They're all healthy, technically perfect. What makes that tree so striking is its imperfection. It's dying.' Needless to say, I got my point across, and we ended up having a great clinic. And…Well, that's pretty much my philosophy. Technical precision is nice, healthy, but something that's flawed can be just as stunning. In an ideal world we could have both."
Meredith nods, and does another whiplash change of topic. "So, Dr…Ethan. You're conducting a concert with the Rocky Mountain Wind Symphony tonight, correct?"
"That is correct." I'm actually the conductor of the Rocky Mountain Wind Symphony.
"And, at this concert, you'll be premiering a new piece, for the first time in almost two years," she says, more as a statement than a question. The musical world has been abuzz with my actions, lately. I usually put out a new tune every few months, but…I've been working on something big for the last year-and-a-half…
"That's right," I say, not giving away the details.
"Must be something special," Meredith comments, smiling almost condescendingly, "Want to give us any hints?"
"Nope," I answer shortly.
She frowns, and presses. "Is it written for a special occasion?"
"A special person?"
"That's entirely possible as well." I lean back in my chair.
"It wasn't just writer's block, was it?"
"Perhaps. Could have been."
"You're not going to give anything away, are you?" Meredith frowns at me.
"Hey! You finally caught on," I answer with mock-enthusiasm. I'd be more polite if the interviewer was more tolerable. I'm not a rude person. I promise.
"You always have been tight-lipped about your personal life, haven't you, Dr. Jacobs?" She asks.
I don't bother to correct her naming. "The personal kind of implies that I'm allowed to be, doesn't it? If I wanted every detail available to the public, I'd have become a celebrity or something."
Meredith shrugs, and backs off, "Well, since I can't seem to squeeze any specifics out of you, will you give some general info about this concert tonight?"
"Sure. Well, we'll be starting the program with A Festive Overture by Shostakovich, then we'll move on to my arrangement of Danny Boy. After that, Holst's First Suite in F, then Kaddish…And following that will be my new piece. Yes, I have been working on it for a long time, and it is something…special, but you're not getting anything else out of me. Wait until tonight."
"Not even a title?" Meredith asks, smiling.
"Not even a title," I answer.
"Well, Dr. Jacobs, that's just about everything. Thank you for being here today," Meredith says, closing he notebook and switching off the recorder.
"My pleasure," I reply, although, truth be told, the whole experience was bordering on awkward for me.
Perhaps it's cowardly, but I waste no time getting the hell out of that room. I want to go home, eat, and take a nap. If I have time for that.
I'm halfway to my car when my cell phone rings. I fish it out of my pocket, and make a face when I don't recognize the number. Wait…that's a Hillcrest area code. Who could it be? Well, since this is my personal line, I'll assume it's someone I know.
"Hello, Ethan speaking," I say into the phone.
"Ethan, boy! It's great to talk to you again!" The voice says…He sounds familiar, but I can't place him immediately.
"Um, you too. Although I would undoubtedly appreciate this conversation more if you told me who this is," I comment with a touch of dry humor as I reach my car and get in.
"Oh! That's right…I'm old, forgive me. It's Roger Davis. Remember me?"
A huge smile breaks across my face. "Mr. Davis! How are you? God, it's been so long! Sixteen years, is that right? Are you still teaching at Hillcrest?"
"First off, you call me Roger. You're not a student anymore."
"But it's weird to call your teacher by their first name!"
"If you call me Mr. Davis I'm going to call you Dr. Jacobs," my old teacher says in a voice that makes me feel like a high school student again.
"Right, Roger. So, how have you been?" I say quickly.
"I've been good, Ethan. Not as good as you, of course, you international composing figure, you," he praises, and I blush. "Of course, when they ask, you tell them that I taught you everything you know, right?"
"Of course, Dav—Roger. Who else would I cite?" I reply.
"Very good. I trained you well. As to your earlier question, I'm still teaching at Hillcrest, but next year will be my last…I'm retiring. Which brings me to the real reason I called you…"
I tilt my head, curious, and ask, "What's that?"
"I really hate to ask for favors, but…Well, since it's my last year, I want our marching show to be really special, and I was hoping that you…"
I cut him off. "I'd love to write a show for Hillcrest!" I exclaim, honest. "Do you have a theme in mind?"
"I have several; perhaps we can discuss them at a later date, though. I hear that you're pretty busy, today," he says, reminding me of when he used to gripe at students for forgetting about their homework.
"That's right, I do. Well, since you have this number call me anytime…by the way, how did you get this number?" I'm just curious.
"Mr…That is, Dr. Sanford answered your office phone. He directed me to your personal line," Davis explains.
"Ryan better not have been poking around in my office…" I mumble, mostly to myself.
Davis laughs, and says, "Well, I've got a class coming in. I'll talk to you soon, Ethan. Don't be a stranger!"
"Of course not, Mr. Davis. Um. Roger. It was great talking to you."
I hang up, and start my car to head back to Boulder, a stupid smile on my face and a sense of nostalgia wrapping my thoughts.
I get back home right at noon, only to find a strange vehicle parked in my driveway. It's large…probably uses more gas in a month than my car does in a year.
Must be John and company!
I let myself in the front door, and am immediately swarmed by three of the ill-trained but loveable dogs and one five-year-old child, who latches herself onto my right leg.
"Why, hello," I say to the little person, "You must be Trisha." The curly-haired redhead beams up at me. I'll take that as a yes.
A second later, a very familiar face appears in the foyer, striding up to me and removing the small human from my appendage. "Trisha, just because I pried you off of Uncle Ryan doesn't mean you get to cling to Uncle Ethan, okay?"
She looks contrite. "Okay, daddy."
"Now go back to the living room and play with Churro," John tells his daughter, who quits pouting and runs back to the den. Churro, by the way, is Ryan and my oddly-named Great Pyrenees/Akita mix. He's a sweetie.
After watching to make sure Trisha acquiesced to his demands, John turns toward me, grinning from ear to ear. "Ethan! It's been, what, five years?"
I hug John, slapping him on the back, and reply, "Something like that. Trisha wasn't even walking, hardly! How've you been?"
"Fantastic. Life is good," He says exuberantly, and I have to smile. We head toward the living room, followed by Biscuits, Buttons, and Lord Algernon Tyrone The Thirteenth. Better known as the Australian Shepherd, The Croatian Sheepdog, and the Mutt.
Once in the living room, I shove Churro off of my seat and plop down next to Ryan on the loveseat. Elizabeth, John's wife, and Landon, their son, are sprawled across the couch. John claims the chair, and Trisha grabs the ever-patient Biscuits' tail. Buttons tries to crawl up in my lap, and I let her, knowing full well that I'll be covered in dog hair later.
After a moment of slightly awkward silence, John states forcefully, "It's good to see you two! Nice place, by the way."
"Thanks," Ryan says with a grin, "We bought it about three years ago. It's a bit further from town than we wanted, but…" He lets the statement trail off, so I pick it up.
"It is, but everything about the house was perfect. The dogs love the big backyard. And the neighbors are great, too," I add, implying that the neighbors aren't the 'Ew, there's a gay couple living next door' type. Nah, Marty and Susan are great.
Another silence, and I prompt, "So, what about you all? Anything interesting happen lately?"
Elizabeth says, "Well, Landon's going to be a sixth grader next year, and he's got it in his head to be a French Horn player."
"Good choice," I point at the eleven-year-old boy, who blushes a bit. "It's the only instrument that matters." Ryan nods his head to agree with me.
"Hey!" John says, reminding me of high school, when we had these conversations all the time. He looks to his wife for backup.
"Don't expect me to agree with you. I was in drill team; I know nothing about you band nerds," she says noncommittally.
"So, I designed a table for the White House," John not-so-subtly changes the subject. He's done well in life. An architecture major, he does not design buildings. What he does build is custom furniture and woodworking, and it's pretty in demand. Elizabeth teaches photography classes at their local high school.
"That's pretty intense," Ryan comments, "Something special?"
"Oh, not really, it's just a high grade mahogany with…" And he begins speaking a foreign language at this point, and I just smile and nod. "…And a final coat of deep cherry stain, a glaze of lacquer for a bright shine, but…" Elizabeth reaches over and smacks him on the side of the head.
"You're rambling, dear. So, Ethan, tell us about this concert tonight."
I blink. People aren't much into smooth conversation shifts anymore, are they? "You're not getting anything more out of me than the ASCAP lady did, so I'd give up now."
"Secretive, aren't you?" Elizabeth smiles conspiratorially. I smirk.
"That's an understatement," Ryan mutters, "I haven't been allowed in his office for the past year…"
"It's not just you," I comment breezily, petting Buttons, who is beginning to paw at my face for attention.
"A year? Wow…this must be big," Elizabeth comments.
"That's what she said." John winks.
"Oh, grow up," His wife replies, smiling, "But that is quite a while…How long have you two been together, again?"
Ryan answers for me, "Seventeen years, tomorrow." Yep. Today is February the twenty-sixth, and tomorrow is our seventeenth anniversary.
"That's so sweet…are you doing anything for your anniversary?" Elizabeth asks, shifting on the couch.
"Just dinner…Ethan's been stressing over his top-secret concert," Ryan answers.
"Hey! I'm taking you to Brazil next month!" I remark indignantly.
"Oh, that's right. You are. I forgot," he muses, then looks back at Elizabeth and adds, "Also, we're going to Brazil next month."
She laughs, and the conversation dies off.
Another abrupt subject change… "Have you heard from any of our old friends?" John asks.
"Alicia e-mailed me about a month back…Oh! Mr. Davis called me earlier today!"
"Did he? How is Davis these days?" John and Ryan both perk up at the mention of our old band director.
"He's going to retire soon…He wanted me to write next year's marching show, since it'll be his last," I explain.
"Are you going to do it?" Ryan asks softly.
"Of course!" I answer.
"Alan sent me a signed copy of one of his books, the little snark," John comments. Alan has also done well in the world. He writes bestselling trashy romance novels. He's filthy rich. Lives with his partner in Switzerland, I believe. John hates his books. Truth be told, Alan hates them, too, but he writes them sort of as his own personal joke, making fun of the people who actually read them. He's pretty happy.
"Sell it on e-bay and I bet some sixty-year-old woman will pay hundreds for it," I suggest.
"Whilst that is a good idea," John begins, "I don't think the sixty-year-old women would enjoy the 'John, you were always a good lay' written on the inside cover…"
"John! Don't say things like that in front of our son!" Elizabeth admonishes.
Landon replies coolly, "Mom, I already know what that means."
"I'm gonna kill him," John says darkly, "Kill him dead."
The room kind of falls silent except for the distant sound of Trisha chasing Biscuits, Lord Algernon, and Churro up and down the stairs.
"Um. I'm hungry. Who's hungry?" Ryan breaks the silence. "Lunch. Our treat."
"I could eat," John says, and it is decided.
Lunch was great, but I had to bail early and help set up. John and company won't be attending, since I didn't know they were stopping by in time to get them tickets to the concert. The concert. Which is starting. In. Fifteen. Minutes. Meanwhile, I have to be all amiable and shake hands with dozens of people I don't know, making polite conversation.
The symphony is warming up on stage, a pleasant cacophony of instrumental tones weaving in and out of each other in chaotic patterns. I'm putting a lot of trust in those instrumentalists…Please, make this the best it can be tonight, especially tonight.
After seven or so more minutes of enduring people, I make my escape and loiter about backstage for a few minutes, pacing and trying to calm my nerves. Finally, I can put it off no longer. It's 7:59, and I must get this show on the road.
I enter from the stage wing, slightly intimidated by the sheer number of people occupying the theater. I've conducted plenty of concerts before, but this one is…special. Deep breath. I am Ethan. I am strong. I can do this.
Stepping up to the podium, I raise my white-gloved hands, and the musicians fall silent, eyes trained on me. I point at the first clarinet player, who holds a sweet, pure note. Another gesture brings in the rest of the band, who adjust and tune to the pitch center.
That done, I turn around, step over to the mic, and say simply, "Welcome. Festive Overture."
I turn back to the symphony, and with a motion, begin the first piece. It goes smoothly, with no major blips, so I'm feeling fairly reassured by the time it finishes. I mouth a good job, guys to the players, and go over to the microphone.
"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for coming out tonight. We've put in a lot of work for this concert. The musicians are fantastic. I couldn't ask for a better group. Anyway, we all hope you enjoy the show, and onwards we go. This next tune is a classic Irish melody, arranged by…yours truly. Here's Danny Boy."
I conduct the ballad, feeling the soaring lines and melodies in the music, and, oh yes, I have a good feeling about tonight. I get through the Holst suite reasonably calmly, but about halfway through Kaddish my nerves begin acting up again, and I cue some instruments in the wrong part of the song. Luckily, they seem to know the music better than I do, and they continue playing it flawlessly. Thank you, Rocky Mountain Wind Symphony. Thank you.
It finishes, and I give the group an apologetic look before going back to the mic.
"Okay, get comfy, I'm going to talk for a while," I suggest to the audience with a grin. I take a second, hopelessly scanning the theater for him, knowing that I'll never pick him out in the sea of faces.
"Many people have been wondering where all my new compositions went…It's been, what, almost two years since I released a new piece, right? It's not that I haven't been writing. Far from it, in fact. True, I usually premier a piece every few months, but this one is worth so much more than a few months. It's to be a reflection of someone very, very special to me. I don't think it's perfect…A lifetime wouldn't be long enough to make this perfect.
"You're here tonight," I say, the tone of my voice letting everyone know that there's only one person I'm talking to right now, "You've been to all of my concerts. Well, except that one that you were in the hospital with pneumonia…And you tried to make it to that one. You have no idea how much that means to me. I don't think I've ever told you. I'm…not exactly great at expressing myself. Not verbally, at least. That was always your strong point, and it's one of the myriad things that I love about you.
"But I'm not good at it. That's why I wrote this. This song is for you, about you, about me, and everything that's happened to get us to where we are today. Words can't express that. Music…though…can come close. Because I don't…can't…say it enough, I love you. This is for you. Presenting, my Rhapsody in E Major."
Shaking, I return to the stand, and open my score. There, under the title, on every copy of this piece, in my handwriting, is written 'For R.S. All my love, E." The dedication strengthens me, and I look up at the symphony. Their eyes are trained on me.
I angle my body toward the first French Horn player, who nods at me. I cue him, and he begins the initial solo line as a percussionist gently tinkles the wind chimes. The line soars upward to a glorious held note, where it is joined by the second horn. The parts twist and harmonize, finally fading out on a longing chord. A brief moment of silence. Then, the full band comes in, softly, a simply, impressionistic but sweet melody that grows more complex as the movement goes on.
The first movement of my Rhapsody, the Overture, tells a story. A story of a boy who thought he had it made, who didn't know he was looking for love until it all but smacked him in the face. A story of months of longing, of dancing around the truth and each other. Of a stormy night when everything got laid out in the open, and of the promise of a wonderful future.
I open my eyes when the final tone strikes and holds, not realizing that I had closed them. I conduct the musicians to release the chord, and pause to turn the page on my score. The audience is silent—they're the educated type that knows not to clap in between movements of a suite.
Part two is the part that I worked on for the majority of the writing period, though…Movement II, a Song without Words. I raise my hands, and the still tension is near tangible. A flick of my wrists, and the deep, abstract melody begins. Softly, so softly, quiet and calm, rising in pitch and volume through a series of soulful, heart-wrenching chord progressions.
There are times I still can't believe I wrote this. I close my eyes again, conducting simply by sound and feel, leading the symphony, shaping the melody as it emerges around the ensemble.
Finally, after the agonizing rising section of the music, I dramatically give the downbeat to the peak of the song, a wonderful triple-forte chord with a delightful fermata over it. I fan my hands toward myself, telling the musicians, bring it…play louder! Louder! And they deliver. Satisfied, I cut off the music to a ringing silence. A motion, and they begin again, softly, but triumphantly. I cue the horns, who come in with another solo line reminiscent of the beginning, but sweeter, fulfilled. They really play. I have them hold the last note as long as I think they can without their lungs giving out before demanding silence.
It lingers in the theater for a few moment before I turn around, and thunderous applause sounds. As harsh as it sounds, I can't bring myself to give a damn about what they thought of it. I'm looking for a familiar, beautiful face, with dark hair and blue eyes. I'm looking for the man I fell in love with seventeen years ago.
Suddenly, I spot him. The first person to give a standing ovation. I suddenly need to see him. Now. With a quick, "Thank you everyone, goodnight," in the microphone, I jump off the stage, not bothering with the stairs, and begin walking up the aisle. Ryan meets me halfway, and by unspoken agreement, we wrap our arms around each other, clinging. I think he might be crying.
I don't care who sees us, who's going to write about us in the newspaper, who's going to stop donating to the symphony because they know I'm with another man. I don't care. With startling clarity, I realize how unimportant that is compared to the man in my arms, and everything I have with him.
"That was for me?" He asks in a small, wavering voice against my shoulder.
As tempted as I suddenly am to say 'Noooo, that was for Buttons' I don't want to ruin the moment. "Who else would it be for?" I murmur, kissing his hair.
He doesn't answer, merely holding me more tightly.
Finally, I say, "Come on…let's go."
He releases me and asks resignedly, "Don't you need to stay and deconstruct the set?"
"Let someone else do it tonight," I say, grabbing his hand and pulling him toward the door.
He is content to be led, and I determinedly ignore the scandalized looks we receive from a few people while grinning at the thumbs-up and wink I get from one more.
Nevertheless, all the outsiders fade into the back of my mind, all my senses focused on the hand attached to my own. We get into my car, and sit in the silent darkness for a few minutes at the parking lot begins to clear. Finally, when just about everyone is gone, I speak up.
"Let's go home."
"Yes…home," he says, those two words saying about a million more.
Life is good.
Author's Notes: Well, it's finished. Thank you everyone who has read Rhapsody and enjoyed it. Thanks a million to everyone who faved, alert'd, and reviewed. You all made it possible to turn this simple idea into the monster it became. So thank you. You're awesome.
Keep an eye out for my next stories! 476 AD will be much in the same spirit at RIEM, and Fragment will be…well, entirely different.
Also, I'm most likely starting a series of one-shots based on the RIEM 'universe' with plot bunnies I never managed to fit into the storyline, college bits, etc. They will be updates randomly and sporadically. So…uh…watch out for that.
Thanks again. You're all fantastic. :)