Contralto (A Band Geek Series): Part Two
“Do you think you could judge a play-off between me and Aaron?”
Dominique’s eyes widened. “Are you insane?”
“It wasn’t my idea. Will you judge?”
She shook her head with suppressed glee. “I’ll judge your death wish, no problem. Go Aaron!”
Kota was just as optimistic about the outcome of the contest, but he also agreed to judge. So those were my two. I could only hope that Dominique would be fair...
Day of the contest. Aaron had pulled some strings and secured the stage in the enormous auditorium for us.
Good things about this: It wasn’t a tiny practice room; it had awesome acoustics; it was one of my favorite places on campus.
Bad things about this: It wasn’t a private tiny practice room. Which meant anybody could come and hear our competition. After some word had gotten around, it was promising to be a highly-attended event: of course, the opposite of what I wanted.
Aaron had told me I could play anything I wanted, so I had decided on ‘Golden River,’ the third song of this year’s show. Maybe it was superstitious, but I figured that it had gotten me into Contralto, so maybe it would help me against Aaron.
I watched from behind the curtains as pets filed into the auditorium. Our panel of judges sat at a makeshift table at the front of the stage: Dominique, Kota, a Gelert who reminded me of Ellen, and the school’s band director. Surprisingly, Aaron seemed to have selected impartial judges. Unless the Gelert was a friend of his.
Aaron walked out on stage and waved to the crowd, then spoke into the microphone.
“Welcome, everyone. This is just a little entertainment for you—I know the endless hours of practicing must get pretty boring.”
Implying that he didn’t have to practice at all, and I was nothing more than entertainment.
“It’s me against the new girl. Who do you think will win?” He gave a roguish wink to the front row. “Well, we’ll see. Our judges—” He turned and pointed them out.
“Dominique. Kota.” Slight booing after Kota’s name. Aaron smiled and kept going. “Our own band director.” A bit of applause. “And Ellen, the new girl’s section leader during marching season.”
My mouth dropped open. The Gelert turned around and I squeaked—the only sound my terrified throat could make. It was Ellen! She probably still hated me!
Aaron was still talking. “Now, I’ll be going first. I’ve decided to play the trumpet adaptation of the newest hit by Twisted Roses...”
The audience set up a huge cheer even before he began the song’s name. “...‘What’s Left of Your Smiles’!”
I shuddered, picturing the silence when I would announce my piece. Should I have picked a different song? I quickly began a mental review of all the songs I knew by memory. It wasn’t very large, and the only one I felt totally comfortable with was ‘Golden River.’ I sighed and plugged my ears. I didn’t want to hear Aaron play.
I didn’t realize he was done until he tapped me on the shoulder offstage. “Hey, new girl, wake up. Your turn.”
I glared at him. “Learn my name, will you? It’s Juneau. J-U-N-E-A-U. Got it?”
I picked up my trumpet and walked out on stage. The auditorium quieted.
“Hey,” I said softly into the microphone.
“Hi!” someone shouted from the audience. People snickered.
“My name is Juneau, and despite what he says, I’m not called ‘new girl.’” I pointedly sent a glare backstage. “I’m going to play ‘Golden River’ for you. You may not know it, and no, it’s not a popular rock song, but I hope you will like it.”
I turned away from the microphone and got set up in the middle of the stage. I took a deep breath and clicked my valves a few times. Then... I played.
I didn’t realize I had closed my eyes until I was done and opened them. There was a stunned silence, and then a few scattered pets started to applaud. It picked up in fervor and volume as the audience slowly processed my performance. I took a bow, hiding my broad smile, and walked offstage.
Aaron showed his teeth at me in a grimace. “Good luck, new girl.” He walked out on stage, spreading his arms wide for applause. “Now!” he cried into the microphone. “Let’s hear from our judges.”
He pointed to Dominique. “Aaron,” she said clearly. I wasn’t surprised. It had been a foregone conclusion.
“Juneau.” Kota’s response was flat. My mouth dropped open. Aaron frowned and moved on.
She inclined her head towards the backstage, where I waited. “Juneau.”
Aaron’s shock was obvious, but he didn’t miss a beat. “Ellen?” he asked, a pleading note in his voice. “Who did you think was better? The wimp who quit your section... or me?”
A section of the audience shouted him down. “I didn’t quit her section!” I yelled, striding onto the stage. “I waited until marching season was over before coming to Contralto.”
Ellen stared at me, face blank, eyes hard and unemotional. She drew breath and opened her mouth to speak.
There was total silence in the auditorium. Everyone leaned forward to hear Ellen’s soft answer.
I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. Why had Ellen listened to Aaron’s stupid loaded words?
“Me!” Aaron looked overjoyed.
“That makes it two and two,” I reminded him. “Should’ve had an odd-numbered judge table.”
“Sure, you tell me now,” he muttered. “So?” Aaron asked the audience. “How should we decide this?”
“Juneau!” someone yelled.
Other pets took up the call until the auditorium rang with the sound of my name. Aaron was looking more and more murderous by the second.
“Enough!” he screamed at last. “Shut up! If you really want the new girl, fine! Have her! I played better than her, and I consistently play better than her every time I pick up my trumpet. That’s all I care about.” He wheeled around and stomped offstage.
The audience began to clap and cheer. I picked up the microphone and spoke into it.
“Well, thank you.” I smiled shyly. “What I really want to know, though?” I paused, deciding whether to ask my question or not. It might reveal something I didn’t want to know. “Did you pick me because I played better, or because you didn’t want Aaron to win?”
“Because you played better!” a pet shouted.
“Aaron’s an idiot... didn’t want him to win,” someone else spoke up. I sighed. I wasn’t going to get a straight answer from this audience.
“Well, thank you again. How about a hand for our judges?” After they started clapping, I left the stage.
Kota caught up to me outside the auditorium.
“You won by default, anyway.”
“Doesn’t matter,” I said, and I knew it really didn’t. I had proved to everyone that I could hold my own against Aaron, yes, but I had also proved to myself that I could play under pressure. And that meant more than winning over the “best trumpet-player in the entire school.”
“Juneau!” I heard my name from somewhere behind me, followed by the sound of trotting feet. I half-turned and saw pink—Ellen.
I sighed. “Hey, I’ll catch up with you later. Got something I need to deal with right now.” Kota looked back and whistled.
“I do not wanna be here when she starts on you...” He hustled off and Ellen caught my shoulder.
“Juneau,” she said.
“What, Ellen?” I sighed, gritting my teeth. “Just get the lecture over with, all right?”
“It’s not a lecture,” she snapped. She closed her eyes and seemed to forcibly remind herself to be nice. “I’m here to tell you why I chose Aaron.”
“To be honest, I don’t really care.”
“How are you going to get better if you can’t take criticism?” she retorted. “He didn’t close his eyes, he chose a more accessible piece, and he hit the high notes more accurately. But you had better tone. Really, Juneau, you’re one of the best freshmen I’ve ever seen. Including Aiwa.”
I smirked. “Better than Aiwa. Well, that certainly makes me feel better.” I turned to go.
“Wait—Juneau.” Ellen put a hand on my shoulder again. “I... want you to come back to our school.”
I gaped. “What?”
“I know it would be hard to leave here... I mean, this place is amazing. But the trumpet section really needs you and Kota. Aiwa and Gia seem to have lost their steam without you to fight with, and now they’re both a bit lackluster at trumpet—and everything else. And we’re losing a whole bunch of seniors next year. We need our freshmen to build up the section.”
“You... want... me... back?” I repeated slowly.
“I’ll—I’ll think about it,” I replied, still in shock. “See you—see you around, Ellen.”
As she walked away, I saw in my mind’s eye Aiwa and Gia laughing at me. Trying to make me mess up.
I shook my head at Ellen’s retreating form. No. no, I wouldn’t go back. I would never go back.
I was top of this school now.
Dominique was strangely subdued when I got back to our room. She barely said a word to me. I was okay with that, though. The less Aaron and his friends spoke to me, the better.
For the next rehearsal, I sat on the other side of Kota, closer to the trumpet-gods-and-goddesses area. The one after that, I left Kota and skipped two seats over. The director noticed, I’m sure, but she didn’t say anything. Since she was usually pretty strict about order within the sections, I took that to mean she thought I was good enough to move up. So I did.
Some nights, I hung out with Kota. Those times reminded me of our time at our last school, in marching band. It was nice. But it couldn’t last. When I wasn’t hanging out with Kota—which I started to do less and less—I shut myself up in a practice room and played for hours. I squeaked out “range-enhancers,” I played the marching show through multiple times, I challenged myself with sight-reading new music. I wanted to be better.
Correction: I wanted to be as good as Aaron.
My one consolation, as I worked until my lips were numb from playing, was that someday I would be better than Aaron. Someday, people would notice me because I was amazing. The kind of notice Aaron got now.
Kota eventually stopped asking me to go places. He knew I’d make an excuse, and I’m sure he knew what I was really doing: practicing. I was always practicing. But it paid off in the end, as shown by our end-of-the-year concert. It paid off—even at the cost of alienating the one friend I had left.
To be continued...