“Charlie...Charlie...are you daydreaming again? It’s work time now, please get your pencil,” asks Ms. Amy sweetly.
Charlie Madison is in the 3rd grade, at KB Woodward Elementary school ... [+]
He closes his eyes as he plays the little fugue he composed while puttering in his garden last week. He always did mean to spend more time on his own compositions. But between auditions, lessons, course planning, performances, etc., there's never been time.
Maybe now he'll finally be able to create something worthwhile . . .
The ending comes off as more of a question than he'd planned. That irritates him. Obsequious. He hates that word. He rereads the definition every now and again to build character. Is he still hoping for a pat on the head?
He looks up to see if anyone noticed, but no one is really paying attention. He relaxes. They don't want to be here any more than he does. Well, except Chaz. Chaz Susi. Chaz E—though he's never found out what the "E" stands for—Susi. He feels a pang, like heartburn, when he looks at the young man. What is it? What is it about Chaz Susi?
An entire career's worth of ambitions and disappointments crash in on him without warning. He has definitely drunk a little too much. He meets the young man's eyes. Tilts his head. Starts a Rondo. Sotto Voce. A dare. Chaz Susi is not one to resist.
Chaz dashes over like a colt. His hands rest lightly on the keyboard, taking the upper register. Taking it forcefully, wresting control of the piece from the Maestro without even meaning to. Then he's away, galloping up the scale in a dizzying improvisation of point and counterpoint that takes the Maestro's breath away.
Chaz's hands move with joy, and genius, and pure virile energy. None of it calculated. That's what makes him so hard to resist.
They are watching now.
Glasses leave lips. Conversations extinguish themselves all over the room. The world distills itself to the piano and Chaz and the Maestro. But the Maestro's not even in it—he's an afterthought. He feels himself go red as he's shunted aside at his own celebration.
He reasserts the theme in the bass. Heavily. Even ploddingly. Not for his ego, but because, despite all Chaz's virtuosity, he must learn this. The Maestro acknowledges his talent. Has always acknowledged it. Was the first to acknowledge it, really. My God, has he ever had another pupil with such range, sensitivity, technical ability, and sheer inventiveness in all his career? And yet, even the most breathtaking playing is not music unless it returns to where it started. There must be some internal cohesion. Some humility. Melody. Even in the improvised, the modern, the experimental. And even Chaz Susi will be a flash in the pan if he does not learn this.
So the Maestro reasserts the theme again. Until Chaz gets it. The stallion stops racing. Steals a glance at his mentor, as though chastised. The Maestro nods. Go on . . . He lets the bass fall back now. What will Chaz do? The boy's body shifts. Reorients to the fundamental rhythm. He's listening now.
The Maestro holds the tempo, the key, the theme, and the mood, but he releases the rest. Take this. What will you make of it?
Chaz beams, taking it, experimenting in the parameters, just a little.
Checks the Maestro.
The Maestro smiles.
Chaz goes further. He pushes. He feels the edges of what they're creating. Testing its boundaries, he speeds up. That's ok. The Maestro goes with him. For a moment, they balance together on a knife's edge. They dance.
But the boy is holding too much in, is not designed for holding in.
The Maestro feels him tremble. He tries to hold the reigns steady, but the boy breaks free. He charges ahead again.
This time, the Maestro follows him. All four hands race across the keys. The shifts come faster than the old man can process. He's modulating, augmenting, doubling back, trying to find ground. Trying to connect.
The boy brings in a theme from Rachmaninoff—it almost makes the Maestro cry—from their very first lesson together four years ago when he had no idea what Chaz would become. Now, it's so changed that he hardly recognizes it. How did Chaz even think to connect it here? And yet, it works. It works! The old man laughs. He's about to have a heart attack. He's never played so far or so fast. He's never thought so quickly. He's never loved so much.
The young man plays. And plays and plays. He looks at his mentor.
The Maestro smiles and rejoins, but humbly now.
Chaz Susi returns to the key he was given. He falls back to Sotto Voce. He reaches around his mentor and plays the original theme. They end the piece together.
The Maestro wipes sweat off with his napkin. He barely notices the more-than-polite applause. But he knows, suddenly, that his dream of composing something enduring won't amount to more than a dream. Not ever.
He looks at Chaz, bursting with life, raises his champagne glass, and drinks.