Summer Practicing (The Short Stories Series)

I hate practice rooms. And it’s not the strange stains that seem to abound on practice room rugs and walls, or the even stranger smells that linger in practice rooms that are the main sources of my dislike. It is simply that every time I’m in a practice room, I feel like an exhibit at the zoo. I’m locked in this little cage away from the world, left to do whatever it is I do, with a little window in the door so passers-by can stare in at me and remark to each other. I can just imagine their conversations as they wander around the music wing.

“So this is what musicians do all day? Ooh, look at that one! How do they play so high on the violin? Wow! This is neat. We should bring the rest of the family some day to see this!”

Due to this dislike of practice rooms, I was looking forward to practicing in the middle of our living room during the summer, where I hopefully wouldn’t feel like some exotic animal in a cage at the zoo. Summer finally rolled around: finals were over, and I had plenty of practicing to do and finally some time to do it in. 8 AM the next morning, I was perched on the coffee table in the living room, tuning my violin and inwardly telling myself how foolish it was to try to play a three octave E major scale that early in the morning. I had barely started the scale when from behind me I heard Luke bellowing up the stairs.

“NAOMI! You were supposed to be down here half an hour ago! Where’s breakfast?!”

A few seconds later Na comes clattering down the stairs, yelling right back at him –

“You’re not my boss! If you want breakfast earlier, make it yourself!”

She proceeds to start breakfast, exchanging more insults with Luke as she does so. Now Anna is standing in front of me.

“Naphi. Naphi. Naphi.”

I finally decide that she’s not going to shut up until I acknowledge her presence, so I stop playing and look at her.

“Do you want a bagel? Because there aren’t a lot left, so if you want one you should go get it.”

I sigh, and go grab one of the two plain bagels left. I sit back down on the coffee table, setting my bagel beside me.

“Dog!” The dog knows me well enough to leave the room, but even so…. I move my precious bagel to the top of the piano, wiping some of the dust off with my sleeve before I set it down.

I return to my three-octave E major scale.

This time it’s mom. She doesn’t say anything, just stands in front of me. She has done this enough that I know she has something she needs to tell me, but she doesn’t want to interrupt my practicing. I appreciate her trying not to interrupt me, but every time she does this I want to tell her that if she’s waiting for me to finish practicing, she’s got a long wait ahead of her. I finish the 8-notes to a bow version of the scale and look at her. By now, she’s talking to Na about something. I sigh and start the 12-notes to a bow version of the scale, but this time she stops me.

“I’m going downtown to get groceries. Can you make sure these guys finish breakfast and get the table and counters cleared up?”

“Yup.” I lift my violin to my shoulder.

“And Na needs to mix up bread. Make sure that happens.”

“Uh-huh.” I am already on the second octave of the 12-notes to a bow version of the scale.

I continue the different versions of the scale, then the arpeggios, ignoring the commotion going on in the kitchen as mom leaves.

Amazingly enough, I make it through both the double-stop exercises (thirds and sixths) before a major fight breaks out. I ignore it until Na bumps my music stand as she runs by in hot pursuit of Abe.

“Hey!” I grab the stand before it hits the floor. “If you guys are going to kill each other, do it outside! I’m trying to practice here!” I rescue my music from the floor and dump it back on the stand.

I can hear that they’re still fighting, but they keep it in the kitchen. I glance at the clock and decide a little too quickly to skip the octaves for today.

“I hate Kreutzer.” I sing to myself as I open the book to the etude I’m working on. “Na! Are the table and counters cleared?”

Ignoring her answer, I turn on my metronome. I already have the etude divided up into sections. I haven’t even finished practicing the first section when Luke starts.

“Well, why don’t you play it again! The last billion and a half times weren’t enough! Heck, try it once more. We’d all just love to hear it again!”

This only goes on for a few minutes before he realizes that I’m not going to stop practicing and walks out, slamming the door loudly as he leaves. But David always takes Luke’s side on things like that, and suddenly there is a heavy weight on my back and I am being choked from behind. How he managed to get both his arms around my neck while I had a violin under my chin, I do not know. But he managed it somehow.

“Grubby!” (one of David’s many nicknames) I gasp, lowering my violin and clawing at his arms. He leans even closer and whispers loudly and directly into my ear:

“Know what you should do instead of practice violin? You should go shoot. You should go shoot your violin. You should shoot it with a shotgun, ’cause a shotgun would do more damage than a 22.”

“Right.” I yank his arms away from my neck. “I’ll keep that in mind, Calvin. Do you know that you have way too many brothers? Now scram.” I go back to Kreutzer.

After Kreutzer comes Whistler – in this case second position studies.

“Na, you need to mix up bread.” I yell as I open the book. No answer. I turn around to find the house deserted. Great.

“Na!” I stick my head out of the front door. “Get in here and mix up bread!”

I am considering interrupting my practicing once more to go yell at her again when she finally comes bursting through the front door. Within a few minutes she’s yelling questions at me.

I wonder if I know the second position well enough when I can play the etude and shout bread-baking directions to Naomi at the same time. Nope. I miss a note and start seriously considering David’s suggestion about the shotgun. By the time Na has the bread mixed up, I am done with Whistler for the day, and move on to the Bach that I’m working on.

“Hey!” Luke yells before I can get started. “Shut up! I’ve got to make a phone call.”

“You could try asking nicely.” I mutter to myself, staring at my music while he is on the phone.

He hangs up, and I start on the Bach. I work uninterrupted for nearly five minutes before the phone rings. As everyone is back in the house, I don’t move. Until it rings a third time.

“Is someone going to get that?!” I yell, jumping up.

“Why don’t you?”

I race across the room and snatch it up just before it rings a fifth time. The person wants to talk to mom. I cautiously set my violin and bow on the kitchen table and start hunting for a piece of paper and pencil to take a note. I find the paper and am reaching for a pen when a noise from the table makes me turn. David is standing on the bench, holding my bow like a saw and hacking back and forth on the strings of the violin, which by some miracle is still sitting on the table. Still trying to carry on a conversation with the person on the phone, I dash over and try to pry the bow out of his hands without causing any damage to it or the violin. He finally releases his grasp, and I set the bow back on the table and then grab him around the waist, lift him off the bench, and dump him on the floor a safe distance from the table. When I can finally hang up the phone, I inform him in no uncertain terms that if he ever does something like that again it will undoubtedly be the last thing he ever does.

I manage to finish the Bach without any more major interruptions and I put my violin away. The clock reads 9:15 as I sit down at the table to eat my bagel. I think about everything I didn’t accomplish in the past hour. And how much of it I could have accomplished had that hour been spent in a practice room instead of the living room. Suddenly, those smelly, stuffy little cages in the music wing at school don’t seem so bad after all.

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