Jeff hammered out a full, two-handed chord in D-minor on the grand piano and held it until it had faded away to silence.
"Why can't I ever win in the music festival?" he asked his teacher, Mr. Samuelson. "Or even place. I know I played my piece right, almost perfectly. I hardly missed a note. The winner missed more than I did."
Mr. Samuelson, who had been sitting behind him in the studio, got up and stood by the piano. "It is true that your technique is excellent."
"Then why do I keep losing?"
Mr. Samuelson leaned over Jeff and turned the sheet music to the start of the piece he had been working on. "Play just the melody line."
Jeff hesitated for a moment as he studied his teacher's face. "Okay." The line of single notes drifted through the room for a minute while Mr. Samuelson closed his eyes.
"That is enough. How do you characterize that melody?"
"Uh, it's kind of light, almost a dance."
"M-hm. That is not how you played it. You were heavy."
"I don't understand. What are you getting at?"
Mr. Samuelson turned and faced him. "The judges at the festival do not simply judge technical skill; they also judge artistic skill. I know you have an artistic ability, but you are afraid of it." Jeff laid his hands in his lap and looked at them. He sighed. "I know you are not certain if you believe me, and so I will show you something. Play that same melody, but deliberately play it heavy."
"But it won't sound right like that."
"Of course not. Bear with me."
"Alright." Jeff pulled his hands up and rested them on the keys. After a moment, he started, and notes scattered around the studio as if they wanted to break something.
Mr. Samuelson smiled. "Good. Now, continuing to play like that, begin to improvise." When Jeff looked up as if to protest, he held up his hand. "I am aware that your experience in improvisation is still limited. Do your best."
Jeff let out his breath. The first notes scattered themselves until a more haunting melody took over, darting here and there, afraid but defiant. Soon it was dashing itself in anger against the windows, banging at the door. At the end, it faded to a hesitant shadow of itself, scared of what it had done.
"Yes, there was artistry in that." He nodded. "You see, when you are free of the printed score, the melody that is in your heart is free to express itself. You dislike that melody, however, and so you consistently choose pieces of music with more, shall I say acceptable, melodies for the festivals. The clash of those melodies with your own is destroying your art."
"So what can I do?"
"You must deal with your heart, of course, if you wish to win at the next festival. You may either embrace your current melody or release it so that a new one can be formed. There is no other choice."
Jeff gripped the front edge of the piano bench and started to rock himself, just a bit. "Why do I have that kind of melody in my heart?"
"You would know better than I, if you were willing to admit it. But I could place a gentleman's wager that it has to do with your relationship with your father."
Jeff froze and gasped, then let his head slump forward. "Yeah, that's it alright. I had no idea it was affecting my music like this." He lifted his head again, and stared at the opposite wall. "He wants me to get my music degree, go to teachers' college, and teach, just like you." His face relaxed. "I want to perform."
"Do you truly believe that?"
Jeff sat, still staring at the wall, then started to play another musical line on the keyboard. It wandered around the room for a while, then sat for a few measures. It then got angry, just like before. It got scared again too, but soon resolved itself into a major key and came to a stop. "Yes, I do. I can't let my fear of him hold me back any more."
"I look forward with interest to hearing what your new melody will be like."
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