Chapter 3:


Phantom Adagio

The music for chapter 3 (I'll post it in the comments too, so you can copy-paste it):


Now that I had promised to do the entrance exam, I needed to pick out 3 pieces to play. If Nastya was the standard level that would be applying to that school, I had my work cut out for me. Once I decided on doing something, I could not get myself to do it with a half-baked attitude and this goal should not interfere with my goal to play well enough to bring Lise back. It might even push me to the next level because I had been stuck at the same level for a while already.

Maybe going to that new school was not such a bad idea after all. But I loathed the idea of having to play with others. Lise was my partner, nobody else should ever get her place.

I had looked it up on my phone, and there should be a music store in Tienen, so after school, I set out to Gilain street to go and buy some sheet music. I hoped they could help me a little to inform me what pieces for the cello were played at contests these days. I had not been keeping up with the trends of the moment. Even if only old music was being played, there were always trends.

When I entered the small music store, I got a bad feeling. Except for guitars, there wasn’t a single sting instrument inside the store. They were clearly mostly focused on electric and brass instruments.

An unshaved oversized man with glasses walked up from the back of the store and looked at me with questioning eyes. My guess was that he was at least 45, so definitely old since he fell in the age category of my parents and Aunt Christina. I had the feeling he was measuring me up by my looks. He cleared his throat before saying “How can I help you, young lady?”

I sighed at what would most likely be the end of my hope to finally find someplace remotely useful in bloody Tienen but decided to ask my questions anyway and informed about scores for cello and which pieces would stand a chance in an international contest these days.

The man cleared his throat and measured me up again.

“You are in luck young lady. As fate would have it, I have the perfect guest to answer those questions for you.” He then turned his head to the little hallway from where he emerged and shouted in English “Aleksei, can you come to the front for a second, I have a cute girl here asking about cello pieces.” Then the man winked at me. What an old creep… But at least he was being helpful.

A skinny old man that looked vaguely familiar to me walked up to the front of the store at a really leisurely pace.

He took a look at me and sniveled, and looked at the store owner with a look that clearly said, “You call this cute?” My short black dyed hair and light make-up clearly weren’t to his liking, and I guess my figure wasn’t showing either underneath my t-shirt or jeans.

Why are all men, such perverts?

The store owner repeated my question to the man, and he looked at me intensely before saying with a strong eastern bloc accent “You want to take to the international stage? At your age? Don’t call me for such nonsense Frank. She is just another naive girl that thinks she can get famous.”

I was starting to lose my patience. I did not come here to get offended.

“I could not care less about getting famous. I just need to get better, and I promised my aunt and my teacher to take an entrance exam at that new music school in Brussels, but if you won’t help me, I will just go elsewhere.” I was starting to get ready to just leave this store full of rude people.

But my words seemed to have caught their attention and Frank nudged Aleksei with his elbow. Clearly reprimanding him.

“Forgive me, I was impolite. One should never forget one’s manners. At my age, I tend to forget that from time to time, I should not have judged a book by its covers.”

Did he just pack an insult into his apology?

He sized me up again, looking at my fingers, and when he noticed the cello case behind me, he said “Please play for me. That way I can measure your current level.”

I looked back at him. Who was this man? Was he really that knowledgeable? Or was he just this arrogant?

Frank, the store owner said: “It’s a real honor to have him do that for you. You really are lucky that he was just visiting me today. It has been years since I saw him last.”

Both men looked at me expectantly, so I unlocked my cello case and prepared a chair.

Then, I tuned my cello by using a tuning fork. The last thing I wanted, was for them to laugh at me because I did not know how to tune my instrument. Both men looked at me approvingly.

I took a deep breath and started to play Nocturne nr.3 by Franchomme. It was one of the pieces I had been working on for a long time. I could imagine the piano being played by Lise, and I put all my hurt into my music even though it wasn’t supposed to be a sad piece, my version was focused on the missing person at the piano. I missed her. I wanted Lise to be here with me, so I continued by pouring those feelings into my song.

When I finished, I felt the tears on my cheeks. Frank looked at me stupefied and Aleksei looked at me with a strict face before saying: “I am sorry for your loss, and I am sorry for mocking you earlier. I understand what you want to do, I recognize it immediately. It is commendable that you have understood music as a language at your age. But what you are trying to do… it does not work that way.”

Wait, did that mean he knew how to bring back Lise?

“C-can you tell me how to do it?”

He just ignored my question and said, “Will you bring a pianist to accompany you?”

I shook my head. That spot was for Lise. Just thinking of Lise brought me to the verge of tears. Seeing that he touched a sore spot with that question Aleksei quietly nodded and continued:

“No worries, there is plenty of cello music to play by yourself. This store does not have it, but I have a copy with me. It is the most essential piece of music ever written for the cello.

I knew what piece he was talking about. I did not understand why people called it such a masterwork though.

“Bach’s cello suites,” Aleksei said with a smile. “I have been playing them for more than 40 years now, and I still discover something new in them every day.”

“Isn’t Bach just dead mathematics? A babbling brook that goes nowhere?”

“Ah, to be young. Calling him a mathematician. That man had 20 children; how can he not be a romantic? Ever heard of a romantic mathematician?” 20?! Poor wife. That sounded more like an obsession than a romance to me…

“But at least you already discovered the flowing river movement. The river can be a babbling brook I suppose. The river can be big, and it can be small, it can travel through foreign countries, it can dry up, or it can become a wild river that ends up in a waterfall. Just like life, Bach can be anything you make of it.”

“Shouldn’t he just have written it better then? And be clear about what he meant?”

Aleksei started laughing. “I said the very same thing when I was your age. You intrigue me. You look like a perfect diamond in the rough.”

He then gave me his card with an address in Brussels. “Come and visit me once you practiced the first suite. We will have a conversation about it. I am always home on Fridays during the day.”

“Why would I come to you?”

He started laughing again. “That is up to you, but I think I can guide you to achieve what you want.”

Frank cleared his throat again. I noticed he really was suffering from a nervous tic. He then whispered to me rather nervously “He has never offered anyone to be taught by him. He is notorious for that. You should not let an opportunity like this go to waste.”

Was he really that much of a bigshot? It did seem like Aleksei had understood my music and knew very well what he was talking about.

“Won’t you give me a hint before I start practicing?”

Aleksei thought for a second before saying “You need to stop being selfish. Not everything is about you. I won’t say more. I want to hear what you make of the first suite.”

What did he mean by that?

I packed my cello and thanked them for their time. In the end, they had spent a lot of time on me, and I did not spend a dime since Aleksei had just given me his own sheet music.

When I was back at the door Aleksei said “If you decide to visit me, please lose the creepy makeup and preferably dress a little nicer. I do not want my neighbors to think some freak is coming to kill me. You do not need to be that much of a diamond in the rough.”

Just when I was starting to get a better image of him. I felt the grip in my hand grow tense around the handle of my satchel and just left.