• tab The notes from the piano wove through the air like dark ropes of light. Each sound was fully and richly formed, held for its whole length before seamlessly melding into the next sound. The melancholy beauty of the music rolled through the air like waves in the sea. Emmie’s fingers gently depressed the keys at the exact right time, deftly molding the individual notes into a gorgeous song. Her eyes followed the printed music, translating the black shapes on the white paper into motion. She immersed herself into the emotional strains of the song, her thoughts drifting like in a dream.
    tab She was jolted back into the present when her fingers stumbled and the music faltered. Gritting her teeth, she went back and attempted the measure again. Her fingers slipped at the same spot. She tried it once more, and again failed. Emmie closed her eyes on rebellious tears. “Why can’t I ever get this right?” she asked the empty room. She gently put her arms on the piano keys, trying not to make a sound, and rested her head on her arms. A few salt tears slipped down to anoint the keys.
    tab “Stupid triplets against eighth notes,” Emmie grumbled. “I could play them in that other song, the reverie in one or another key. But no, I can’t play them now. Not in the dumb Nocturne in C# Minor by the oh-so-talented Mister Chopin.” She sat up and wiped the tears off her face. After a moment, she eyed the sheet of music guiltily. “All right,” she told it. “You aren’t dumb. I am. I’ll keep trying.”
    Putting her fingers back on the keys, she started one measure before the spot that gave her such trouble. She played at an exaggeratedly slow tempo and got the notes right. Her mouth quirked in a small, sarcastic grin. She played the measures again, a little faster, then again a little faster than that, then one last time up to tempo. She smiled at her triumph and kept going.
    tab The very next line, she messed up again. She grimaced, but didn’t stop playing. She stumbled on through the song until she got to the next page, which she knew better. The music flowed beautifully from the piano once more. Until the last few lines and the ridiculous runs in the right hand. Emmie felt like screaming when she missed some notes, but instead elected to bang her hands on the keys in a cacophony of sound. She pressed her lips together and tried the run again, leaving the left hand out. Even without the distraction of the left hand, she still messed up. Tears welled up in her eyes. She swiped at them angrily. “Why am I crying?” she muttered angrily. “It’s just a piano song that I’m having trouble playing. I mean, it’s not like it’s a big deal. No one cares that I can’t play it.” Still fighting tears, she ripped the music off the stand, threw it down on top of the piano, and grabbed another piece of music, one that she knew pretty well.
    tab She played straight through the familiar song, letting her frustration tinge the music, playing it sharper and faster than usual. Once she finished, she felt a little better. After glancing at her watch, she put up her music and went to get her things for school.

    tab Later that week, Emmie drove to her piano teacher’s house for a lesson. She felt much happier. The nocturne had gone really well that morning. She had only messed up a few times, and they hadn’t been very bad mistakes. She walked through the front door of her teacher’s house into a room dominated by a grand piano. Her teacher came out of an adjacent room. She was a stylish woman with short dark hair, Band-Aids on her fingers from playing the piano, and an exuberant personality.
    tab Emmie smiled. “Hi, Mrs. Houston.”
    tab “Hey, kiddo,” Mrs. Houston said. “What’s new?” Emmie’s smile widened. Mrs. Houston always wanted to know about any new gossip. “Not much,” Emmie replied as she walked to the piano.
    tab “Surely something interesting has happened,” Mrs. Houston said. Emmie thought for a moment. “Um…I visited some colleges this weekend,” she said.
    tab Mrs. Houston beamed at her. “Well, what did you think?”
    tab “They were ok,” Emmie replied.
    tab “Come on, you’ve got to tell me more than that!” Mrs. Houston exclaimed.
    tab “Well, the first one was pretty, but it was a lot smaller than I thought. The other one was absolutely beautiful, but it’s out of state and in a big city,” Emmie said.
    tab “Don’t worry about it being out of state,” Mrs. Houston told her. “You can handle it.”
    tab “Thanks,” Emmie said.
    tab “Now, what do you want to play first? Did you practice?” Mrs. Houston asked.
    tab “Yes, I practiced a lot this week!” Emmie said proudly.
    tab “Oh, goodie!” Mrs. Houston said. “Why don’t we work on the Chopin?”
    tab “Alright,” Emmie replied, and put the nocturne on the stand. She took a deep breath and began to play. The keys on the grand were harder to push down than the ones on the piano she was used to, so some of the notes didn’t sound. She tried to concentrate on playing the melody loud enough, which made her miss some notes. Taking another deep breath, she tried to calm down and kept playing. She got to the place that always tripped her up and, once again, her fingers fumbled for the right notes and missed. She stopped playing.
    tab “Why don’t you try it slowly from the beginning of that line?” Mrs. Houston suggested. This time, Emmie played the right notes, but the rhythm was off. She sighed angrily and tried again. The same thing happened. The traitorous tears started burning in her eyes. Sniffing, she attempted the line again and messed up even worse. A tear rolled down her cheek. She wiped it away, embarrassed and frustrated.
    tab “It’s ok,” Mrs. Houston said. “Take some time, and when you’ve calmed down we can try again.”
    tab “It’s just so annoying,” Emmie said. “I played it fine this morning. And I feel so dumb for crying.”
    tab “Don’t feel dumb. It just shows that you care about the music,” Mrs. Houston told her. “It’s a hard piece to play, but I know you won’t let it beat you.”
    tab Emmie took a deep, shuddering breath. Mrs. Houston was right. She wouldn’t let the nocturne beat her. She suppressed her tears and determinedly began playing again.

    Days passed and Emmie continued to work tenaciously on the nocturne. She was finally able to play it nearly note-perfect. Then came the challenge of memorizing the song, because music wasn’t used for competitions or recitals. It was hard, and caused more pain and frustration, but she refused to back down.
    tab The day of the honors recital soon came. Emmie sat in her seat at Mrs. Houston’s house, nerves making her palms sweaty. The person in front of her finished his pieces and bowed to the applause from the other students and the parents. “Next is Emmie, playing Toccata by Alexander and Nocturne in C# Minor by Chopin,” announced Mrs. Houston.
    tab Emmie stood and walked to the piano. Her hands shook a little as she sat down. How she hated recitals! It was just her in front of everyone and if she messed up, everyone would hear.
    tab She placed her hands on the piano and began the toccata. It was a fast-pace, exciting song and it flew by quickly. She nodded in reply to the applause, as she had been taught to do before her first recital, when she was seven.
    tab The time to play the nocturne had arrived. Emmie braced herself and played the opening chords. They floated into the air gracefully, evoking a lovely melancholy feeling. The introduction done, she began the main theme of the nocturne. The melody soared out over the accompaniment, the balance perfect between the two. She deftly shaped the phrases, the crescendos and diminuendos making the music even more beautiful. The trouble spot went by without a hitch. She began the last page, where the first theme was heard a second time. She poured emotion into the music, giving it life. The longs runs in the right hand shimmered above the broken chords in the left hand. She slowed as the end came, letting each note ring softly for an extended time. The last note hung in the air, holding the spell woven by the music for a moment longer. She breathed in as she held the note, and then released it and her breath.
    tab Emmie stood and bowed toward the audience. The applause wasn’t any louder for her than it had been for the other students, but that didn’t matter. She was so happy, relieved that the nocturne had gone so well. It hadn’t been perfect, but that was to be expected. The small mistakes hadn’t thrown her off and she had succeeded in expressing the full emotion of the song.
    tab As she walked back to her seat with a smile on her face, she still had to hold back tears. This time, though, they were tears of joy.