Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Musician

There was once a prestigious music school renowned through all the world.  Countless bright and talented people could only dream of admittance into this university.  Year after year, thousands of students applied to study within and hone their skills under the tutelage of the best music instructors that the world had to offer.  But only a select few were permitted to enter and within the hallowed halls.

A young musician shared the dream of other hopefuls and sought to study at this university.  Accomplished, prestigious and hardworking, the young man had almost no trouble gaining acceptance.  He was a prodigy, and somewhat famous in the musical community.  Growing up, his teachers helped him develop his remarkable talent quickly, reaching a nadir of skill that few could dream to achieve.  After several years of instruction from the best teachers near his hometown, he became known as a "perfect musician" to those who knew him.

Perfect.  If only he could become such.

He was accomplished at many instruments, but his favorite of them all was his violin.  Due to his affinity for the instrument, he decided that he would be the most satisfied with his higher education by professing in violin performance.  Carrying his instrument on his back, he ascended the steps into the main building of the campus, and was immediately greeted by the faculty.

"Well here he is, our newest and brightest student," said a woman, clearly the authority of the group.
"We have long awaited your arrival and are excited to work with you and you're god-like talents.  Shall we get started then?

The musician looked blankly at the faculty.  Several professors, all world-renowned, were gazing at him with wondrous eyes.  It were as if he were some kind of divine entity, or royal aristocrat, gracing them with his presence.  Many other people, both teacher and student alike, stopped briefly to have a look at the legendary violinist.  Whispers grew louder as the crowd grew bigger in front of him.  Amongst other words, he heard the word "perfect" resonate in the hall perpetually

When the whispering and staring almost became unbearable, the young musician broke the silence.

"I am ready," he said, "but I have much to learn.  Who will be teaching me?"
"Oh, if anything we will be learning from you," said the woman, who the student soon gleaned was the headmistress.  "Nonetheless, your teacher will be this young woman here, the absolute best violin teacher the world has to offer."  the headmistress beamed, very pleased with what she had just said.

The musician had heard of this teacher before.  Every violin student sought her out, spending years, even lifetimes, to earn just a moment of tutelage from her. And here he was, standing there, with the most prestigious violin teacher in the world at his complete disposal.  What did I ever do, he though, to earn this honor?

The headmistress beckoned him to follow, and he obeyed.  The crowds slowly dispersed as he walked through the halls, although their eyes never left him.  Every person he passed by gave him a look of admiration, envy, jealousy, or even malice.  Nonetheless, all eyes caught his presence, except for one pair that was looking the opposite direction towards a window.  That pair belonged to an old man, a janitor, busy at work cleaning the windows.  The musician was momentarily intrigued, but soon forgot about the man.

Anxious to begin, the musician didn’t waste any time.  He began to have daily lessons with his teacher, sometimes lasting for hours.  At first he was thrilled to learn from her, and he felt like she had a lot to offer him.  So thrilled was he, in fact, that he never once questioned or innately doubted her methods and experience.

This sentiment, however, was short-lived.  He began to notice that he was teaching HER more the she was teaching him.  It felt as if she had never taught him anything at all.  After a few weeks, she began to hail him as the “perfect violinist,” saying that there was none in comparison to him.  He was, in her eyes, the zenith of all musicians.

All of this flattery perturbed him, and one night he requested to end his lesson early.  She was puzzled, but he merely said that he wasn’t feeling well and needed to rest, which in a sense was the truth.  He dismissed himself, and left her office.

It was nighttime, and all the halls of the university were empty and dimly lit.  Stars shone through the windows, slightly illuminating the dark hallways.  He had always loved the stars, their majesty impossible to comprehend, and one of the few perfect creations that he knew of.  As he walked through the halls, he was accompanied only by the echo of his footsteps, softly echoing the troubles of his conscience.

And then he heard something.  It was faint, yet distinct.  Distant, yet fulfilling.  Piercing, yet graceful.

It was the sound of a violin.

The musician briskly followed the sound, running through the halls with exasperation.  Where was the music coming from?  After a few moments of searching, he turned a corner and found a small, dimly lit room with the door slightly ajar.  He crept slowly to the door, dominated by curiosity.  The music emanating from that room far surpassed that of his teacher, the world’s foremost authority on violin.

Approaching the door, the boy timidly pushed the door open to get a look at this mysterious instrumentalist.

Grey hair fell from his head.  His skin was slightly wrinkled, his posture bent yet mysteriously regal.  He wore simple clothes and sat in a chair facing away from the door.  In his hands he held an old violin covered with black notches an cracks, spotted with patches of old varnish that had long since faded, all indication that the instrument that was older than the person that was playing it.

As the boy pushed the door further open, a small creaking noise underneath his foot immediately compromised his skulking.  The man stopped playing, but didn’t turn around.  He remained silent for several seconds, and the boy out of fear didn’t move or speak.

“You are a gifted boy,” the man said in a slightly harsh tone.  “Some say you are the greatest prodigy to have ever come here, the master musician.”

The boy stood frozen.

“The people here worship the very ground you walk on.  They look to you as their perfect little brainchild,” the man said with a hint of distaste.  He turned around, revealing a serious yet wizened countenance, along with a pair of darker grey eyes.

“Sir,” said the boy, “that is some of the most immaculate playing I have ever heard.  Why are you not on the faculty?  Why does no one know of your skill?”
“Don’t flatter me,” the man said sternly.  “Sit, boy.”

The boy scrambled to a chair facing the man, giving himself a perpetual view of the man’s piercing grey eyes.

“Sir,” the boy continued, “I am amazed at your skill.  If any of the other professors knew of you, maybe they would let you teach me instead.”
“The woman who supervises you is an excellent teacher.  Why are you not with her now?”
“I…” the boy mumbled.
“Because she thinks you’re perfect,” the man interrupted, “and withholds her tutelage despite what she has to offer.”

The boy nodded.

“Well I am here to tell you,” he continued, “that you are not perfect.”

The boy was shocked.  No one in his life had ever uttered such a thing to him.

“Why do you play?” asked the man, his eyes fixed on the intimidated boy.
The boy chose his words carefully.  “I play because I want to develop my talents and become the best violin player I can be.”

The man gave a disagreeable grunt.  “Fool,” he snorted, “you’re teacher’s assertion about your perfection is both correct and incorrect.  When it comes to the technicality of playing, you show no flaw, no weakness, and no mistake.”

The boy leaned in, preparing himself for the imminent earth-shattering disclaimer.

Instead, however, the man posed another question.

"Who do you play for?" he asked sternly.
"Ummm...," the boy muttered, "what... what do you mean by that, sir?"
"WHO do you play for?" the man repeated with an annoyed undertone.

The boy pondered for a moment.  The question was, who HADN'T he played for?  He had played for large audiences in massive, prestigious venues.  He had played private concerts by invitation of magistrates, world leaders, and very rich men.  He had played for people of all castes, faiths, backgrounds and circumstances.  All of this, and yet he still found himself completely dumbfounded with the question that was just asked of him.

Seeing the boy's struggle to answer, the man broke the silence.

"It doesn't matter what you play, but whom you play for," the man said.  "You commented on my playing when you first barged in here.  Did happen to catch what song I was playing?"
"Yes, it was... an old tune, something simple I learned in my childhood."
"And yet, how could the sound of it, the beauty of it, surpass even your most legendary and complex sonata?"

The young man finally got it.  "Because you play for a different audience.  It must be... it must be an audience that you are familiar with, one that you play for often.  One that you know personally."

The man stared, slightly taken aback by the young man's epiphany.  His eyes grew soft, and his countenance changed from one of stoic severity to one of a sad fondness.  He stood up from his chair, reaching for a small framed picture on his desk.  He handed it to the young man.

In it, there was a young woman and a small boy, sitting on a blanket, looking up into the camera.  Both countenances radiated happiness.  The young man could feel love emanating from this picture.  It touched him greatly.

"They died, many years ago, in a car accident on the way to one of my performances," the man said softly, a tear welling up in his eye.  "I spent so much time playing for large audiences that I forgot my most important one, the one closest to me, the one that lived with me, the one audience that truly loved me."

The young man sat quietly, all attention focused on the old janitor.

"When they died, all I could think of was all the private performances I gave to people, but never to them.  I soon left playing professionally, and ended up here, cleaning the halls that once celebrated my existence."

The young man looked at the picture again.

"I found that the only audience worth playing for was gone.  That picture is all I have left of my family.  So who do I play for?" said the old man, "I play for them... I play for them."

And in so doing, the young man realized, the old janitor became a perfect musician.

In a small house, a woman held her young son, no older than eight months perhaps, his eyes looking about with wonder and excitement.  A man walked through the door, wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase, exhausted from a long day at work.  He looked over and saw his beautiful wife holding their child, a sight that always made him so happy.  Going briefly into the bedroom, he returned with a violin and begin tuning.  The child looked over with interest, and the man began to play an old, simple tune.  The cherubic look on his son's face was the best he had ever gotten from any audience member.  With the sun shining through the window, the cool breeze flowing into the room, the world's most loving and attentive audience watched the man in awe.

And, unbeknownst to the world, the man became a perfect musician.

1 comment:

  1. I can't help but sense the eerie similarity between the protagonist in this story and myself...