Author's Note: Well, here's the first real chapter! I hope you like it. As I mentioned in the prologue, this is going to be very different from the original. I won't say much more, because I'm sure you're not all that interested in the reasons behind the changes I'm making. If you are, feel free to ask. And please, please review. It really does motivate me to write.
The tension was almost palpable. Young men and women sat in chairs scattered about the building, clinging to instrument cases so tightly that their knuckles were white and still others tore through the building in desperate search of an open practice room in which to warm up. Already admitted students sat at a table, smiles on their faces and name-tags on their chests, signing the prospective students in, handing out schedules, and trying in vain to lighten the mood. There were some students lounging casually in the lobby of the building, talking about the program like used car salesmen—greatly exaggerating the benefits and not bothering to mention the downsides of the program.
A young man approached the table, a cello case in tow. He was dressed in clothes just a touch nicer than what was expected of one auditioning for college. He wore a sharp black suit contrasted with a white dress shirt underneath. It was mostly conservative, though ruffles on the sleeves of the shirt, which protruded from the sleeves of the black jacket, as well as conspicuous golden cuff-links gave it a bit of a dramatic flair. Long, black hair was fastened into a neat, shoulder-length pony-tail with a black satin ribbon. The smiling young woman at the table shuffled through a few papers, asking, "Name?"
"I am Jean-Claude Devereaux," he answered in a gentle tone, laced with just a hint of a French accent. He offered a polite smile.
Craning her neck a bit to see his instrument, she murmured, "Devereaux… Cello…" Shuffling through papers, she gave a bit of an "aha!" and looked up. She extended her hand and said pleasantly, "Nice to meet you, Jean-Claude. I'm Alice." As they shook hands, she used her free hand to indicate the contents of a black folder she had just opened on the table. "Your schedule's in here. The times aren't precise, it's mostly just first come first serve. You're on schedule C, so you're going to be going to your interview first, followed by your aural test… Those are both upstairs. Then you're going to go down to the basement for your audition, and the written theory test will be given upstairs." Offering another friendly smile, she said, "Good luck! You'll be fine—the professors here are super nice!"
Inclining his head, he thanked her and took the folder with all the information in it. He glanced at it, finding the number of the room for his interview conveniently highlighted in green. He made his way to the stairs, finding them by following the several other students also headed upstairs for some part of their audition. Another student with a name-tag was standing at the top of the stairs. "Interview?" she asked. When he confirmed, she said cheerfully, "Great! There are three people scheduled to go before you, so you can just take a seat and we'll let you know when it's your turn, alright?"
"Thank you, Mademoiselle," he returned, sitting in one of the vacant chairs. His demeanor seemed to indicate that he didn't have a care in the world. There was none of the nervous hand-wringing or lip chewing that was so prominent among other prospective students, nor did he fidget or look to make sure his instrument was still there every five seconds. Instead, he sat with a confident smile on his lips. However, neither did he make too much of an effort to speak to any of the other musicians. While other swapped names and exchanged musical tidbits, he kept mostly to himself.
However, he couldn't avoid conversation for terribly long. A young man with short blond hair and clear blue eyes, sitting beside a guitar case extended a hand and greeted, "I'm Keven." He offered a nervous smile that was meant to be reassuring and asked, "Interview or aural skills test?"
"Jean-Claude," he returned. The only hint of nerves was the slight intake of breath as he answered, "I am waiting for my interview." It was probably the part of the audition he was looking forward to the least. By comparison, the playing part would be absolutely nothing.
"I've got my aural skills test. The last person to come out said it wasn't too bad." He looked over his shoulder, craning his neck to get a better look at the clock. "Don't know what's taking them so long…" He was supposed to be next… "I mean, I'm sure it'll be fine, but I just want to get it over." He shifted in his seat, eyes shifting to his guitar case.
There was a lull in the conversation. However, before it became uncomfortable Keven was sent in for his test. Flashing another nervous smile at Jean-Claude, he said, "Well, it was nice talking to you. Good luck!"
"Good luck to you as well," Jean-Claude returned, privately reflecting that he would need all the luck he could get. And he didn't know if even that would be enough to help him. Time passed at an agonizingly slow pace. The minutes dragged by and Jean-Claude idly wondered if the day would ever end. However, the time did pass and eventually his interview did come.
The rotund, elderly woman who he surmised was in charge of the interviews waddled out of her office, followed by the person slated to go just before Jean-Claude. She was dressed in black slacks, a blue blouse with a few sequins, and a white, wool sweater. As he sized her up, Jean-Claude couldn't help but think that the slacks were not the most flattering choice, as they drew attention to her very round middle. Small eyes peered out from behind a pair of glasses and she offered a smile that came across as more than a little insincere. "Hello! I'm Dr. Wolff. If you'll follow me, we can begin." Without waiting for a response, she turned and began to waddle back to her office, only thinking to ask his name when they were walking through the door.
"I am Jean-Claude Devereaux," he replied. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Dr. Wolff." Once she was one one side of her desk and he was seated on the other, she finally shook his hand.
She opened a folder and looked down on it. Still wearing the smile that didn't sit quite right with Jean-Claude, she reclined in her chair and commented, "Well, we're in an interesting position here, aren't we. Why don't you tell me about that?"
Jean-Claude barely managed to keep from grimacing. Apparently she wasn't one for wasting time on pleasantries. "Dr. Wolff, I have already spoken extensively with the dean of the college on the matter. He decided that, provided a suitable contract be drawn up between myself and the school, I may attend. I believe you will find a copy of that contract in the folder."
"Mhmmm… But that was just for admission to the college, not to our department." She leaned forward, resting chubby elbows on her desk. "Our program is much more rigorous than most others at this school. How can you expect to keep up?" With a pitying expression, she continued, "Jean-Claude, our goal is to produce excellent musicians. That requires more than just skill on your instrument. We require courses that are very writing intensive and demand a great deal of intellect. I'm sure you play beautifully, but I just don't see how a werewolf can succeed, and we don't want to set any of our students up for failure. And we also don't want to jeopardize the safety of other students. You may not mean to hurt anyone, but, well, you know what happens when werewolves are overtaxed and can't cope."
Jean-Claude didn't like the sound of that at all. It seemed as though she had already made up her mind. "Dr. Wolffe, if you are concerned for the safety of other students, you will find that that is accounted for in my contract." He reached over and pulled the document from the folder. Flipping through it, he showed her the section he had been searching for. "Here it says that while I would be permitted to keep my condition from the other students, all the professors will be aware that I am a werewolf and may take what precautions they see fit. Furthermore, my professors are permitted to give citations if they deem it necessary and I will be attending weekly sessions with a psychologist on campus." Returning the contract to her for closer scrutiny, he continued, "As for handling the coursework, I believe I have a better chance in this discipline than in others. I am sure you are aware that immortality is part of my condition. Well, I would say that having been alive during many of the periods discussed in the history classes will help me keep up. Also, I was playing music before figured bass became obsolete. I can very easily fill in chords, which will be helpful in musicianship courses. I am not asking you to push me through the program if I truly cannot keep up with the other students. All I am asking for is a chance, Dr. Wolffe."
She nodded, the same pitying expression remaining on her face. "Well, I must say you speak very well for a werewolf. Maybe you are an exception." With a shake of her head, she added, "Or maybe you're not. We'll review your application and you'll have our decision soon."
"Thank you very much, Dr. Wolffe," Jean-Claude said as she ushered him out of her office. Perhaps auditioning was a mistake… He should have just become an English major or something… But, since he was already there he figured he may as well finish the audition. The worst part was over, anyway. Perhaps the other professors would at least pretend to have some interest in his musical skill.
After a brief wait, where he lied through his teeth about what a kind woman Dr. Wolffe was to put the others still waiting for their turn at ease, he was pointed towards the offices on the opposite side of the building and instructed to look for Dr. Montgomery's name outside the door of one of the last ones in the row. It didn't take long to find it, as the names were all clearly visible and the upper floor of the building consisted of just a single hall, from which the names of every office could be seen without much effort. He knocked on the door and was greeted by a small, older man with snowy white hair and large, round glasses that covered a large part of his thin face.
"Well, then, come in. I don't bite," he said without preamble. As Jean-Claude entered, he gestured to the piano bench and said, "Take a seat. You've probably guessed it, but I'm Dr. Montgomery. And you are?"
"Jean-Claude Devereaux." He shook the professor's hand and the man turned and opened a file on the computer.
He raised his eyebrows a bit, remarking, "So you're the werewolf everyone's been talking about…" His tone didn't contain any disdain or condescension, but rather it was intrigued and just a little dry, as though he didn't quite understand what all the fuss was about. His lips twitched into something resembling a mocking smile and he asked with a dry humor, "So. Planning to maul me if this doesn't go as planned?" Without giving Jean-Claude an opportunity to answer, he winked and said, "Don't worry. My theory students tend to plan exactly the same thing when it comes time for sight-singing exams." That managed to draw a ghost of a genuine smile from Jean-Claude. "So, what inspired you to do this, of all things?"
Jean-Claude answered honestly, "The idea of attending college has appealed to me for some time. I have the means and the time, and while I would certainly have found another use for the money, my options for passing time are quite limited. Also, this is a new experience for me and for someone my age new experiences are not easy to come by."
"Fair enough." Turning the the computer, he explained, "We're going to start with some chord identification. You're going to hear a chord, and then I'm going to ask you if it was major, minor, augmented, or diminished." By way of reassurance, he added, "This is just for placement purposes." He played the first chord, which Jean-Claude easily identified as major. The next was also clearly major. However, as augmented and diminished chords were mixed in things became muddled and Jean-Claude was no longer quite so sure of his answers. He definitely labeled far too many of those as minor… However, Dr. Montgomery didn't seem at all displeased and he commented, "Not a bad ear, there."
He pointed to a piece of paper on the piano and said, "We're going to do a bit of sight-singing now. Take a moment to examine the melody and tune up." Jean-Claude scrutinized the paper, finding that the melody was largely step-wise, with a major third or perfect fifth thrown in here or there. He played an F major scale up and down as well as the chord progression I-IV-I-V6/5-I to get a sense of the key. He was about to begin when Dr. Montgomery remarked mildly, "Instrumentalists are always so afraid of singing. Why don't you try singing the tonic triad first?"
Jean-Claude complied and then began attempting to sing the melody. His voice was soft and hesitant, not something the professor expected from the confident man who had entered his office. He noticed Jean-Claude falling into the same trap countless sight-singers before him had. Everyone thought that they could get away with not supporting their singing voices because this was only sight-singing, but that inevitably resulted in a great deal of flat singing. Though, despite the less than perfect intonation, many of the intervals were correct. "Not bad. We'll try that again and this time don't be afraid to really sing it." With a dramatic gesture of the arms, he insisted, "With gusto this time!" The second time, the intonation was much improved as Jean-Claude wasn't sneaking his way into the pitches quite so much.
"Alright then. Well, there's one more thing I have to ask you to do. This one's all the instrumentalists' favorite. Bwahahahahaha. Pick a familiar melody—The Star Spangled Banner, My Country Tis of Thee, whatever—pick a key, and sing. And remember, even if it's not right, sing with conviction. The note's going to be wrong regardless of whether you sneak your way into it or sing it out. If you get off track, at least pretend you know what you're doing." Jean-Claude nodded, finding that he rather liked this eccentric professor. He felt like Dr. Montgomery was seeing him, the person, and not just a werewolf. However, he avoided the patriotic songs and, once making certain it was acceptable, elected to sing "Simple Gifts".
Once he finished, the professor commented, "Like I said, not a bad ear. Intonation's not always there, but that's common in beginning sight-singers. It'll get better with regular practice." Extending a hand, he said, "It was a pleasure to meet you and best of luck with the rest of your audition." With a conspiratorial wink, he added, "I'm certainly of the mind that you'd do just fine, and I'll make sure the rest of the faculty knows it."
"Thank you very much, sir," Jean-Claude returned, shaking his hand more firmly than he had when they first met. Some of the bitterness that had been stirred up by his interview had begun to subside. He was pleased to know that at least some people here were able to look beneath the surface.
He headed down the stairs to the practice rooms to tune his instrument and warm up. As he entered one of the small rooms, he was struck by just how much it resembled an old closet. They weren't exactly the cleanest, in fact he spotted mold on one of the walls. The piano, he noticed, had suffered more than a little neglect. But, he had brought a pitch-pipe with him to use as a tuner. He supposed he could have used one of those electronic tuners, but he regarded them with the same distrust with which he responded to all electronics. The pitch pipe was better. Besides, he only needed it for the A string. After that, he tuned the strings against each other.
Once he was satisfied, he played several scales and arpeggios. He played through some of his audition materials, making note of a few last minute things to keep in mind while playing the audition. The music was very well learned, but there would always be a few things here or there that could do with a little more polishing. He sat in a chair outside the band room. He was met by a young man who was to be his accompanist for the audition. He took advantage of the time to discuss tempos and point out a few of his markings.
Before long the audition commenced. He entered the room, where three professors sat in a row of chairs. He introduced himself and was informed that there would be time for a brief conversation when he finished playing. This promised to be, by far, the easiest part of the audition. He knew he was skilled on his instrument. Music was one of the few areas where his apparent confidence was not just false bravado. Many musicians grow more and more anxious as they play. Jean-Claude, however, grew calmer with each note, soothed by the warm, rich sound of the cello and the familiar feel of the strings beneath his fingers.
Once he finished, he was invited to sit in a chair facing the row of professors. One of them commented, "I see here you also play the piano. Is there a reason you chose to audition on the cello instead?"
"It is simply a matter of personal preference, Madame. I enjoy the sound of the cello more than the sound of the piano and I find it more pleasing to play," he answered. Apparently satisfied with that answer, there was little further discussion about his choice of instrument.
Another commented, "I see you flexing your wrist. Are you going to be able to play your instrument for extended periods of time?"
A valid concern… "My wrist was injured some time ago. Though it has healed, there are still moments when it gets a little stiff and sore. It does not happen terribly often and the soreness does not make it impossible to play."
And then it seemed they were through beating around the bush. "Jean-Claude, you are aware that this is a rather unusual pursuit for someone with your affliction." When he nodded, she continued, "How can we be certain that you'll be able to handle the pressure we put on our students? We regularly lose students as our regular students often find that this is too overwhelming for them. Now, we don't really have to be concerned about safety with a regular student dropping out of the department, but we are concerned about what will happen if you cave under the pressure."
Jean-Claude stopped to think for a moment, trying to figure out what a suitable response would be. After a moment, he explained, "Madame, other faculty members have addressed the issue of safety and my answer for that is that there is a section of my contract with the school addressing such concerns. As for handling pressure, there is nothing at stake here, Madame. There is nothing of great import that I stand to lose should I play a wrong note or not score as high as I would like on an exam. Given the circumstances, I so not feel as though this situation is very high-pressure at all and I am confident that I can cope with it quite well."
Not too much later, he was dismissed and sent to take the written theory exam, which was really quite simple, as it was mostly for placement purposes. The only mandatory page was the first one, which consisted entirely of note identification. The school was not willing to accept students who couldn't read music, but beyond that they figured what information was lacking would be made up for by the theory courses all students were required to take. He finished quickly, handed it in, and left. The day was over and now all there was left to do was wait.