Author:Andrea Randall & Charles Sheehan-Miles

Nocturne by Andrea Randall & Charles Sheehan-Miles





for Maggi







Looking up at the next candidate to enter the room, I immediately found myself subtracting points. Her dirty blonde hair was long and flew all over the place in ungroomed waves. She wore a sleeveless blue sweater and a grey skirt that was inappropriately short, well above the knee, with high black leather boots. She looked as if she were going out on a date. A young woman so attractive my breath caught a little as she positioned her sheet music on a stand and stood facing us with a confident expression.


James slid a folder across the table to me and spoke quietly. “Savannah Marshall. She’s got a somewhat unconventional background.”


I raised my eyebrows. He had an unreadable expression on his face.


I opened the folder, pointedly ignoring the girl who stood in front of us. I glanced over her application. Like most of the students auditioning this morning, she was in her senior year of high school. She listed an impressive number of performance credits on the application, but some of them were ... odd. Venues I’d never heard of, and a wide variety of music, not all classical. That was unusual for prospective students at the conservatory. In particular, she listed a summer spent touring with a rock band, probably in barns and warehouses since she was under twenty-one and wouldn’t be able to play in the dive bars that such bands frequented. I snapped the folder closed. This one was an unlikely prospect. I had no intention of admitting students who were not serious about their music.


I’d been through auditions often enough, though it had been a number of years. I could see the yearning in her eyes, but her composure was impressive. Most of the auditions that morning had been nervous affairs. Sweaty palms, dropped instruments, feet shifting, heavy breathing, the typical nervous terror of teenagers facing a life-changing audition. So many young people came here every year dreaming of music. So many failed. This one was different. Her confidence implied that failure simply wasn’t an option. Or that she simply didn’t care, which seemed more likely given her dress. We’ll see, I thought.


I waved a hand, beckoning her toward us. “Please proceed.”


She raised her arms, bringing the flute to her mouth. Her sweater rode up slightly, exposing perhaps half an inch of skin above her skirt. Highly inappropriate. However, her form was precise. She nodded her upper body slightly toward the accompanist, who began playing.


The piece was a Paul Jeanjean etude, a fairly advanced and difficult piece. I leaned forward, my elbow on the table, chin cupped between my thumb and fingers, idly pulling at my beard. Her execution was meticulous. James, sitting next to me, also inclined forward in his seat, his eyes focused. He heard the same thing I did. This one was something. By far the best audition we’d heard, and she was only a few bars into her first piece.


James leaned toward me as if to say something. I didn’t shift position. “She’s good,” he murmured.


“Shhhhhh.” I wanted to hear the music, not his commentary.


It was rare to hear an audition this well-rounded. Her sound was technically flawless, and the timing and tone were nearly perfect. As she wrapped up her first piece, I waved my hand again and said, “Continue.”


She began the second piece, a Mozart Concerto in D Major. I wrote some notes in the margin of her application then scanned it again. Good grades in high school thus far, though we didn’t have her senior year transcript. I looked through her recommendations. They were glowing. One of them caught my eye. The recommendation was from a private music tutor in Philadelphia who I knew and respected.


I closed the folder again, and just listened. Savannah was beginning her final piece, the Dutilleux Sonatine. An ambitious piece, but one students often attempted. Beautiful when played correctly. A disaster when not.


As the piano accompaniment began, she took a slow breath, composing herself. Then she brought the flute to her lips. Her sound was exquisite, and she had a level of confidence that made it seem as if she wasn’t even aware we were in the room. Her upper body moved with the music, and as she reached the most difficult, demanding portion, she closed her eyes, ignored the sheet music and just played.


I found myself holding my breath. Savannah was an extremely gifted musician. I closed my eyes, listening, delighting in the rich tone, the speed and beauty of it. I would never tell a student this, but she was nearly good enough to audition for the symphony now. We had to have her at the conservatory. We had to watch over her career, preserve it.


I opened the folder again, made some notes, and then leaned close to James. “We must have this one. If she can’t afford it, get her a scholarship. Whatever it takes.”