Sonata

The metronome is clicking before the music starts. Its insistent beat echoes off the spare walls, off the several cloth-covered instruments that clutter the tiny room. Wedged between the dusty harpsichord and the door, she sits, cradling her harp against her shoulder. She’s dressed not for performance, but for a typical Saturday morning, in a mustard-yellow t-shirt and fading navy sweats. Her face is intent on the pages on the music stand before her as she begins to play.

The sonata begins with a long sweeping chord. Her square trimmed nails pluck out the notes, letting them ripple out, one by one. Her fingers are drawn as taut as the strings, and moving just as quickly. As she turns her head quickly between the music and the strings, her messy ponytail swings back and forth like a conductor’s baton. But soon the long chords end and the complicated melodic section begins. And her fingers seem tangled in the strings, unable to keep up. The metronome is a hard taskmaster—sometimes pulling her back, more often urging her forward. She stops once, twice, three times, letting her fingers catch up with the metronome as it drives relentlessly on. Her mouth twists in an expression of displeasure. Finally she stops and does not start again. The metronome throbs alone in the silence.

The harpist shifts her weight on the bench, readjusts the harp on her shoulder. Then she takes the metronome, clicks it firmly to OFF. The strings rumble as she moves the harp back into position to begin again. Her left hand alone painstakingly plucks out the bass notes, one by one, in a slow succession. Her eyes are fixed on the score, as though trying to decipher a message in an unfamiliar language. As she slowly approaches the final note, a smile starts to play across her lips. She nods decisively at the last note, scribbles down a fingering, and snaps the metronome back on.

This time the chords are stronger still, and louder, the bass notes making the room vibrate. This time the melodies dance in and out of each other, her fingers almost intertwined among the strings. The metronome might still be ticking, but its sound is hidden beneath each confident note. Now the song has taken over. It becomes softer yet, the intricate chromatic patterns resolving to major.

String by string the last chord rings out. But not quite perfectly—she wrinkles her nose in disgust and plays it twice more. Each time it sounds more and more like a whisper, reverberating against the walls of the room. For a moment she lets the chord hang in the air, as the strings stop vibrating. Then she reaches for the music, turning again to the first page of the score.

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