Author:Andrea Randall & Charles Sheehan-Miles

“Not really,” he mumbled, his voice only as loud as I assumed his headache would let him speak.


We’d gone out the night before, intending to have dinner and a couple of drinks, and he’d had more than just a couple. That led to a strange moment late in the evening as we were walking back toward the school. He’d stopped, his feet skidding on the snow, and looked at me.


“Savannah?” He slurred his words.


I raised my eyebrows, turning back toward him. I met his eyes, and he met mine. He looked as lost as I’d ever seen him. I felt like I should say something—he looked angry, sad, and confused all at once. Before I could open my mouth, he shook his head.


“Never mind,” he finished.


I didn’t press. We had walked on, returning to the dorms.


This morning, he looked a little better, but just a little. His skin was washed out, pale looking beneath the freckles scattered across his nose and cheeks, and his eyes were red-rimmed. It was out of character for Nathan to drink that much.


The door to the classroom burst open, and in marched Fitzgerald. He carefully leaned his cello case against the wall, then shook off his jacket and ran a hand through his hair. A few snowflakes evaded his effort to brush them away.


Ignoring all of us, he walked to the white board and began writing on it. Contrary Motion. Mirror. Proportional. Spiral. Accompanied.


He turned around. His blue eyes slid right past me, fixing on Nathan for a few seconds, then to the other students in the class. His face was set in a rigid frown, and his posture highlighted tension, restrained motion, intensity.


“Mr. Connors. Please remind the class what are the three requirements for a musical composition to qualify as a strict canon?”


My eyes darted to Nathan. This morning he was lucky to remember his own name. He was so obviously hung over; I could only think Fitzgerald had singled him out deliberately.


Nathan shifted in his seat, and his face actually managed to go a little bit whiter. He coughed. “Um … the second voice … can’t vary from the first … or its um … contrapuntal variations ... um ... the second voice enters later ... except for …”


Nathan’s voice trailed off and he closed his eyes.


“Mr. Connors, I explained during the first week of class that I expect you to show up for class prepared. This is material we reviewed on Friday, and you had the entire weekend to review it. How are you supposed to understand today’s lesson?”


I raised my hand. Fitzgerald ignored it.


Nathan kept his eyes closed and took a deep breath. “Sir, my apologies, I am not feeling well this morning.”


Fitzgerald continued to glare at Nathan, and so I finally spoke up, hoping to distract his attention from the too obviously suffering Nathan. “The three requirements are: the second voice must be an exact repetition of the first, or a contrapuntal variation. The second voice enters later than the first, except in proportional or retrograde. The riposta is generated by the proposta.”


Gregory’s gaze shot to me, and for three long seconds he stared, causing my stomach to flip as I stared back. Swallowing once, he pursed his lips dismissively. “That’s very good, Miss Marshall. Or it would have been if I had called upon you, which I did not.”


I breathed a sigh of relief when he waved toward the board, then picked up a stack of paper and began handing the sheets out.


“This week we’re going to talk about some of the more unusual forms of the canon. Your assignment for the week is to compose your own brief form of canon. You’ll work in groups of two, choosing whichever instrument you wish. Each composition must be no longer than four minutes, it must strictly follow one of the forms of canon we have gone over, and you will perform it two weeks from today.”


He paused when he got to my desk, placing the assignment sheet on it, then his startling blue eyes met mine as his hand remained on my desk. “Miss Marshall, when I say I want strict adherence to the assigned structure, I mean it. If you wish to get away with breaking the rules, you must first understand them thoroughly. Am I clear?”


I nodded, but he hadn’t waited around for an answer, moving on to the rest of the class. I scanned the paper, which contained a detailed list of the criteria he intended to use to grade the assignment. It had been a challenge. Writing a canon, any canon, and making it sound good, was difficult, and beyond the scope of what most musicians could accomplish. I closed my eyes, the beginning of an idea forming in my head.