The Royal Brightvalian Chamber Choir
Call time was 5:00, but you were expected to show up by 4:30, at the latest. Sure, you could count on it that absolutely no practicing took place during that half an hour, but it was mandatory you show up anyway. Before rehearsal chatting time was no joke.
Kuimba (Soprano II) and Shadi (Bass II) entered within a very few minutes of each other and went to sit on a corner of the risers. Both of them had joined the Choir knowing no one, so clung to the tiny bit they had in common and used it to form a sort of makeshift friendship. It wasn't quite working out, but they tried anyway.
Kuimba was from Tyrannia. It seemed rather odd of a musician to leave Tyrannia. It was the musician's haven after all, with the only major concert hall in all of Neopia. But the Concert Hall was only for performing. While she loved watching the Neopian Philharmonic, but as soon as the performance was done, they would leave Tyrannia and go back to their practice hall. The Philharmonic practiced in Neopia Central. She now lived in an apartment with others who someone ended up in Brightvale: travelling government officials, reserves for Brightvale yooyuball team, and a few other Choir members.
Shadi had left the Lost Desert because his own choral director told him he ought to audition. It seemed like a lame story next to Kuimba's epic of leaving home to achieve your dreams, but he was never one to lie, and that really was all there was to it.
Kuimba opened her standard issue black choir binder and leafed through her music. The three songs they were performing were so difficult Kuimba had been reduced to tears multiple times while practicing them. She gave one more attempt at memorizing the tricky lyrics and onerous runs. Shadi looked over her shoulder at his part. They both hummed through their parts with very different timing. This was hopeless. Kuimba closed her binder.
"How was your day?" Kuimba asked.
"Fine, fine," said Shadi. "Sales were very good today. Although my boss was less than happy about me taking this afternoon off."
Shadi was employed at the Wheel of Knowledge, a job that included "handing out moats and spouting out knowledge." The desert Wocky didn't mind is job, but his taxing choir schedule always put him at odds with his boss. He was growing increasingly afraid that he would have to chose between his job and the Choir. Kuimba felt bad for him, of course, but she couldn't relate. Her family had enough money invested in the giant omelette to send her to all-expenses-paid to Brightvale. The Tyrannian JubJub didn't need a job.
"How was your day?" he asked Kuimba.
"Uneventful at best," Kuimba responded. "I went to the woods to practice all day."
It was impossible for Kuimba to practice in her apartment. It was entirely too loud, and there were many pets who weren't too keen on her practicing during the only quiet hours there were (that would be roughly midnight to 3 AM).
"I don't know how you practice in the woods," said Shadi. "I can't stand the woods. Too many leaves and bugs."
Kuimba and Shadi really didn't have anything in common. They didn't know how they were going to make this whole friendship work. There was nothing they could talk about.
Chanson (Tenor II), Carmine (Tenor I) and Calandra (Soprano I) (3 Lupes who were most definitely related, although not too proud of the fact) entered like most siblings do. They quickly slipped through the door together and then going their separate ways, claiming to not know each other. Carmine's head was held significantly higher than those of his siblings. The blue Lupe was not modest, it was as if he had the word "Soloist" printed across his face. His brother and sister scoffed as they departed to their respective sections.
Carmine was met by his fellow soloist Mele. (Alto I) Mele disapproved of his arrogance. Until he pulled himself together, she would be having nothing to do with him. She turned away with a pout.
Mele was from Mystery Island. Did the island Ixi miss it? Sure she did. (It was certainly cold in Brightvale!) But she was sure that she loved the Choir even more.
But at least they had better manners back in Mystery Island, she was beginning to think. Chanson, Carmine and Calandra were native Brightvalians. Their parents had been in the Choir. Their grandparents had been in the Choir. Their great-grandparents had probably founded the stupid thing. And now she was sitting across from Carmine, that smug smile still on his face. The one that said I don't need to practice. But you can go ahead if you want to.
She sang extra loudly, just for him.
Calandra watched her brother in terror. He was so arrogant. Gave the family a bad name. The pink Lupe decided to stop paying attention to Carmine for a moment, and walked over to her friend Aoede (Alto II), tripping over her long, black concert dress, and gave her the customary greeting ("Wow, you sound horrible.") Aoede smiled.
Aoede was from Altador. The only Altadorian in the whole Choir. She had auditioned with eleven of her closest friends. They had all auditioned the same Thursday. Together they had refrained from eating sugar and dairy for the suggested twenty-four hours. (Dairy and sugar are bad for the vocal chords.) She didn't remember being particularly nervous for her audition. But after the fact when she was sure she had blown it. Afterwards, all twelve of them went out for gyros to discuss how all of them had blown it.
But when the list was posted, she immediately caught her name under the heading Alto II. The celebration was short lived, as each of her friends scanned over the list, then scanned over it again, then again, and finally turned away, one by one, masking looks of disappointment, until she was the last one standing. Awkward. The rest was a mere social obligation.
"Congratulations," they said, one at a time
"Thank you," she repeated, so many times that it lost meaning. She stumbled away in a trance, still muttering the same compulsory phrase. She rushed home after that, and hurried to copy all the rehearsal dates onto her calendar. All this was done without feeling. Was she allowed to be happy? She didn't know.
But the yellow Ogrin wasn't going to let that ruin her time, and by the end of the first rehearsal she had already made acquaintances of her entire section, and had found a friend in Calandra. She was going to be okay, she thought. But she still missed her friends.
Zimri was a normally calm, tranquil Nimmo, from the outskirts of Neopia Central, where things were calm and tranquil most of the time. But today he was neither tranquil nor calm. At least until he got measure 72 right, he couldn't be.
Zimri was the accompanist.
The Choir Director had handpicked him as a guest accompanists after she had heard him play at the Neopian Philharmonic School of Music. He certainly wasn't the best pianist in his class, but the director liked how he "became" the music. Whatever that was supposed to mean. He was given a total of two weeks to practice with the Choir.
Instead of honoring the time honored tradition of before rehearsal chatting time, Zimri sat and practiced his part over, and over, and over again. And then over again some more. Some choristers waved hello to him. He didn't respond. He hoped they didn't think her was rude. Sitting at the base of the piano was an unfortunate fellow with his face in his binder who hadn't memorized his words yet.
Chatting time was concluded with the ceremonial passing of the water bottles. Everybody was thirsty, but only a few pets were counted on to actually bring water bottles. It was symbolic in one way or another.
The pets scattered to their places on the risers without words. It was slightly eventful for a moment, when two very unfortunate pets forgot where they were supposed to be standing. But things were sorted out well and soon enough, and everyone stood in their spot, all with perfect choir posture. Zimri sat tall at the piano.
High heels clicking, the Choir Director walked, dragging a music stand, to stand in front of them. The Choir was told to sit, for the time being.
They were reminded how important this performance was, and how hard it was to book a performance in Faerie City. This was one step closer to performing at the Concert Hall. The Choir was told to stand, and warm up. The warm ups were rushed, as much as they possibly could be. They were told then to sing the first piece, from the top. They ran through the whole piece without being stopped, although there was a growing look of panic on the Director's face was the song went on. When it was over, the ghost Eyrie melodramatically clutched at her heart.
"Someone in the bass section is very flat," said the director divisively. A blue Kau in the bass section was seen nervously edging behind Shadi, "And someone in the soprano section is messing up her lyrics." The director was met with nervous faces from every soprano who thought it was her.
Zimri let out a long awaited breath when nothing was directed at him.
More lecturing. This was an amazing opportunity. They were expected to know their parts by now. She would not stand for error. This piece was a classic; it deserved to be sang in key.
They went through that piece, and the other ones, multiple painful times. Each one made the Director even more unsettled. And very soon enough, it came time for the piece that featured Carmine and Mele's solos. Mele looked nervous, everyone noticed. Carmine did not. They both sang through the song wonderfully. The Director nodded. Her only comment was for Mele to please look less stiff, please.
Everything was ran through a few more times, until the director was sure that this was as good as it was going to get.
"Everybody on the stage by 6:50," were the director's final words as she skittered out the door, mumbling about hopeless they were.
"Should we run it again?" said a small voice from the tenor section.
Everyone pretended not to have heard. It was time for some after rehearsal chatting time.
"You nervous?" Shadi asked Kuimba
"A bit," said Kuimba. "You?"
"I hope no one faints this time," said someone far off. Everyone turned to look at the Shoyru in the alto section who had done the fainting last time. She offered an uneasy smile
"I'm okay," she said.
Not knowing what else to say, Kuimba reopened her binder and looked through her part. Shadi looked over her shoulder at his. They hummed along, this time in perfect time with one another.
They may not be from the same place, or like the same things, but singing was one thing they definitely had in common. Maybe this friendship could work after all.
"They hate me," said Aoede suddenly.
Everyone looked up.
"My friends," said Aoede, "They all pretended to be happy for me."
"Hmm?" said Calandra.
"My friends that didn't make the Choir," said Aoede.
She would have cried, but crying was bad for the vocal chords.
She had told Calandra the story before, so Calandra knew to respond with a "No, they don't hate you." She smiled even though she knew Aoede didn't believe her.
Mele wasn't nervous. She didn't get stage fright, she thought Especially when Carmine was beside her looking so self-assured.
Zimri was nervous as well. Now that the performance was nearly underway, Zimri was trembling so much he could barely read his music. He noticed Mele looking over his shoulder at what he was playing.
This time, he said, "Hello."
Mele said, "Hello," back.
They both said nothing else, for quite a while, until Mele said, "Nervous too?"
"Incredibly nervous," said Zimri with a bleak smile.
"You," said Mele, "have nothing to worry about. You're an amazing accompanist!"
Zimri said, "Thank you," but he wasn't quite sure that was true.
"You have nothing to worry about," he said. "You're an amazing singer!"
Mele said, "Thank you," but didn't agree.
"There must have been a reason that the Director picked you for the solo!" said Zimri.
Mele said, "I guess," and then, "There must have been a reason she picked you to be the accompanist! She would have picked you if you weren't good!"
Zimri said, "I guess," but neither were convinced.
Every time it got a minute closer to 6:50, the two got even more anxious.
"I can't do it," said Zimri, once the clock said 6:40, "I just can't." He collapsed his head onto the piano keys. The resulting chord was unpleasant.
"Sure you can," said Mele weakly.
Mele noticed Carmine walking by.
She said a begrudging, "Hello."
Carmine said, "Hello," back. But, notably, it wasn't his normal, haughty voice he said hello in. It was slightly quieter, and a bit more shaky. Wait! Could it be? Was Carmine... nervous? Carmine pulled up a chair and said next to Mele and Zimri.
"Do you mind," said Carmine, "if we could practice our solo one more time?"
Breaking her vow to have nothing to do with him, Mele said, "Sure!"
Zimri counted them in.
The run through was done without error, but Mele, and Carmine, still looked unsettled. Carmine looked over to see Zimri and Mele staring at him oddly.
"What?" he said.
"Are you by any chance... nervous?" said Mele, unable to hide a slight smile.
"Me, nervous?" stammered Carmine. "Never! Of course not!"
Just them, his brother, Chanson, walked into earshot. He laughed.
"That's not what he said this morning," said Chanson, leaning against the piano.
Carmine hid his face in his paws.
"How could you be nervous?" said Mele. "You've done solos so many times!"
"Yeah," said Carmine, lifting his head and grinning meekly, "But I still get nervous."
"How do you do it?" asked Zimri.
"Well," said Carmine, "I practice a lot. And then, instead of envisioning myself failing, I envision myself doing great!"
Zimri and Mele nodded.
"And," said Carmine, "The most important thing is that, besides yourself and the director, no one really cares if you mess up! Most of the audience won't even know you sang anything wrong! They don't even know how the song is supposed to go! Well, as long as you don't make it look like you messed up."
Mele and Zimri considered that. It made them feel slightly better.
"So how about we rehearse one more time?" said Carmine, smiling. "Chanson, sing your part, too. And Zimri, play yours. This is measure 26."
About halfway through their run through, they were told by a frantic Kacheek that it was, "6:48! Everybody RUN!"
The four followed the rest of the frenzied, late choristers in their dash for the stage. With them sprinted Kuimba and Shadi, who had just made plans for sundaes after the performance. They made it to their spots on the risers and behind the piano just as the clock clicked to 6:50. The director gave them looks that showed how very near to dead they would have been, had they arrived 30 seconds later.
After making sure everyone was accounted for, the director walked out into the wings for her entrance. Ten minutes later, the curtain opened.
The Choir gazed around at the crowd. It wasn't a packed house, only about half the seats were filled. Everyone in the audience was either a fairy or a fairy-looking Neopet. Except for one balcony. That balcony was filled with pets that all looked very distinctly Altadorian. Aoede recognize them at once. They all waved at her. Of course, she wasn't able to wave back (It breaks the professionalism!) but she gave a very big smile in their direction.
The director walked out and bowed to the audience. She raised her baton and the Royal Brightvalian Chamber Choir did what they all did best: they sang. The concert was not without error. Wrong noted were sung. Wrong lyrics were improvised on the spot (by a soloist, nonetheless). And unfortunate soul was to trip over her concert dress on the way off the risers and topple down everyone standing by her. But that, that was all part of Choir life.
But somehow, they couldn't see the Concert Hall in their future.