On a cool, fall afternoon a young girl ran home from school. She pushed her straight, brown hair out of her eyes as she neared her house. She could not wait to tell her parents the exciting news.
“Mom! Mom!” The girl burst through the kitchen door. Her mother looked up from peeling potatoes for their dinner.
“What is it, Carmen?” she asked.
“Mom, I was accepted! I’m going to audition!”
“Audition for what?”
“There is going to be one student that is chosen to play a solo in front of the whole school and also the parents. All the other children will accompany the soloist in the orchestra. But we have to audition first. The audition will be held on Friday. Then our orchestra teacher, Mrs. Newton, will pick the child to play the solo. I don’t know who I am competing against, though.” Carmen’s eyes shone. She was so glad that she knew how to play the violin. Ever since she was very young, Carmen loved the music of the violin, so her parents encouraged her to play. They had signed her up with an exceptionally good professional violinist, who gave Carmen lessons. Working hard, Carmen established a good rapport with her private lesson teacher, as well as her school orchestra teacher. Carmen’s parents were able to help her practice because they both played the piano very well. So, in this way, at eleven years old, Carmen was considered a very accomplished musician for her age.
“What are you playing for the audition, Carmen?” Her mother’s voice broke through her daydreams.
“Oh!” Carmen came back to earth. “I am playing the Vivaldi Concerto in A minor.”
“The whole thing?” Carmen’s mother looked shocked. “That’s a very long piece you are taking on Carmen! Are you sure?”
“Mom, I’ve been practicing the concerto for four months. I have almost fully mastered the last movement. The concert is two weeks away from now! I’m sure if I practice, then I will be ready in time for the audition.”
Her mother sighed. “All right. If you say so,” she replied. “Good luck!”
That night, after supper, Carmen studied her reflection in the mirror in her room. She did not think much of her appearance. It had been the same since third grade. Carmen had short, straight, rather stringy brown hair. She was sort of skinny, and shorter than most of the kids in her class. Oh, how Carmen wished that she looked like Gabriella, the new girl in her class.
Gabriella had long, curly, golden hair. She had quickly become the most popular girl in the class. Gabriella chose her friends very carefully Carmen was not one of them. Sometimes Carmen saw Gabriella looking at her. It was almost as if she wanted to talk to Carmen. But every time Carmen had tried to smile, talk, or be friendly, Gabriella acted as if Carmen were not even there. Every time Carmen tried to start a conversation, Gabriella would turn away and start talking to her other friends, girls like her, who only thought about themselves and how they looked. So, Carmen had long since given up trying to be friends with Gabriella.
For the rest of the week, Carmen practiced and practiced. She thought that perfecting the piece would help her feel better about performing. Instead, the more she played the concerto, the more nervous Carmen got. Again and again she told herself that it would be OK if she was not chosen to be the soloist. It did not help her one little bit! She, Carmen, wanted to be the one on stage on the night of the concert.
* * *
At the end of the first week, Friday morning, Carmen woke up early. This was the morning that she had been waiting for: the morning of the school audition. Carmen would also learn who she was competing against and what they were playing. Her heart thudding nervously in her chest, and with butterflies fluttering wildly in her stomach, Carmen got in the car after breakfast and her mother drove her to school. Her father worked on weekdays.
As soon as her mother had kissed her goodbye and driven away, Carmen went straight into the big assembly room in the school building, where the concert and audition were going to take place. Carmen took her violin carefully out of its case. She tuned it to the baby grand piano. The piano had a wonderful, ringing tone to it, and Carmen could not help but set down her violin in its case, sit down on the piano bench, and play a sonatina. Her mother and father had also taught her to play the piano. Knowing that she was very early, Carmen kept playing.
Suddenly, the door behind Carmen opened. Startled, Carmen stopped playing and whirled around on the piano bench. Gabriella was standing there. To Carmen’s immense surprise, Gabriella gave Carmen a small smile. It was so small that Carmen could hardly see it, but it was still there, and it was still a small, but unmistakable smile.
“That sounded very nice,” Gabriella said. “I really liked it. Do you think you could play it again?” Carmen felt so surprised that the girl she had tried so hard to be friends with, the girl who had always acted as if she were not there, was finally being nice to her. She immediately sat back down on the piano bench to play it again, when two very popular and not very nice girls came in. They both rushed over to Gabriella.
“Gabby, we’ve been waiting and waiting for you,” one of the girls complained.
“Where’ve you been? And what are you doing with her?” the second girl said rudely, pointing at Carmen.
Without another glance at Carmen, Gabriella stalked out of the room. Carmen was almost in tears. Just when she had a perfect chance of becoming friends with Gabriella, two other girls had to come in to ruin it, completely ruin it! Carmen also felt mad at Gabriella for just walking off like that. Couldn’t Gabriella have stayed, even if the other girls left? Carmen thought that Gabriella and her friends had taken this as another opportunity just to be mean and to hurt her feelings. She knew from past experience that Gabriella’s friends would do that sort of thing. She had hoped that when Gabriella joined the class she could be her friend. Now she thought that Gabriella was that way too.
“Oh well,” Carmen sighed, “she will not fool me again!”
Carmen rosined her bow and decided to practice. She had gotten halfway through the first movement of the concerto when the door opened for the third time that morning. Carmen’s orchestra teacher, Mrs. Newton, walked into the room. Mrs. Newton, the teacher of the Advanced Orchestra, had arranged for the audition to be held, and had also set up the time for the concert. She greeted Carmen just as three more students came in. After a half-hour had passed, the advanced orchestra class was still waiting for one more person to arrive for the audition. Finally, the door opened and Gabriella walked into the room. Carmen’s heart sank when she saw Gabriella stalk into the room with her dazzling smile plastered to her face. She took her shining cello out of its case and took her place between the same two girls who had come into the room earlier.
As the first three people played, Carmen began to feel more and more nervous. Then Gabriella’s turn came. Gabriella played beautifully. Her cello seemed to sing as her bow flew across the strings of the shining instrument. In spite of the way she felt, Carmen could not help but admire Gabriella. Then a twinge of doubt crept into her heart. Gabriella was good. Very good. And it would be very, very hard to do better. Again Carmen told herself that life was not all about winning, that it would not matter if she got to play the solo or not. But in her heart, Carmen knew that it did matter to her. It mattered a lot!
The next five people played, and then it was Carmen’s turn. Nervously, Carmen walked onto the stage. She got her violin into the right position under her chin and got her bow on the starting string, placing her finger on the starting note. The teacher motioned for Carmen to begin. Almost at once, Carmen’s nervousness vanished and she floated away on the lovely music that poured from her violin. It was as if the violin were singing for joy. Each note vibrated for a moment on the string before it floated away into the air. As Carmen started the third movement, the notes grew faster. Coming up in the piece was a series of notes that Carmen almost always had trouble playing. As the series of notes drew nearer, Carmen became nervous once again. When she practiced, she normally slowed down at this point so she would not play it the wrong way Now, Carmen could not slow down. She had to keep on playing the same fast pace as before. So when the hard part came, Carmen just played it as well as she knew how. To Carmen’s surprise, she played it perfectly! She felt much happier now. Besides, the piece was almost over. Finally, after what seemed years to Carmen, her bow played the last, sweet vibrating notes. The piece was over. Carmen took her place, hardly aware that Mrs. Newton had said, “Carmen, that was absolutely beautiful!”
Five more children played their pieces. Then Mrs. Newton walked out of the room. A few minutes later she came back. Mr. Springley, Carmen’s class teacher, was with her. The advanced orchestra realized the audition was over. The time had come for Mrs. Newton to decide who the soloist would be. Everyone waited anxiously Carmen saw Gabriella standing up in her row, straining her ears to see what Mr. Springley and Mrs. Newton were saying to each other, and Carmen realized that Gabriella wanted the solo part as much as she did.
Mrs. Newton stepped forward. “Our soloist is . . .” she paused dramatically, “Carmen Valeford!” Carmen’s heart leapt inside of her. She just could not believe it! That was why Mr. Springley was here. As if in a dream, Carmen slowly walked off the stage and over to Mrs. Newton, who shook Carmen’s hand. So did Mr. Springley Carmen was so happy that she hardly noticed any of this. Then she walked back onto the stage and took her seat. The stage was very big, so the whole advanced orchestra could sit on it. Then Mrs. Newton announced that Gabriella would be the lead cellist, a boy named Mike Gettling would be the lead violinist, and a boy named Christopher Stransburg would be the lead violist when the orchestra accompanied Carmen on the night of the concert. Mrs. Newton then spoke to Carmen.
“The concerto is very beautiful, Carmen, but I am afraid that on the night of the concert you will not be able to play all three movements. It is a little too long.”
“Alright,” Carmen said. She did not mind at all. She told Mrs. Newton that she would play the first movement. Then she put her violin away and went to class. She did not notice Gabriella burst into tears and run from the room.
That day at recess, Carmen heard a noise from behind the school building. Curious, Carmen went to look. What she saw was Gabriella, sitting on the dirt ground behind the school, crying. Carmen wondered why Surely it could not be because she had not been chosen to play the solo in the concert. Or was it? Then Carmen remembered the look on Gabriella’s face, right before Mrs. Newton had called her own name, that eager, excited, and somewhat nervous look that Carmen knew had been on her own face as well. Carmen also remembered thinking that Gabriella wanted to play the solo just as much as she did.
Gabriella looked up and saw Carmen standing there. “Go away!” she said fiercely.
“What’s wrong?” Carmen asked, ignoring what Gabriella had said. In spite of the way she felt about Gabriella, Carmen could not help but feel sorry for her.
Then Gabriella spoke. “I wanted the solo part so badly, but you got it instead! Also, I have always wanted to be friends with you, but I just was not able to tell the other girls that. To impress them, I acted the way I did towards you. I’m really sorry.”
Carmen felt shocked. “That’s OK,” she said to Gabriella. “I thought that the piece you played was absolutely beautiful! I have always wanted to be friends with you anyway.”
“Really?” Gabriella smiled at Carmen, a warm, full, real smile. Then she got up. “Let’s be friends!” she said. Carmen smiled at her and readily agreed.
* * *
One week later, Carmen and her parents drove to school on Friday night. It was the night of the concert and Carmen was both excited and nervous at the same time. Once inside the school, Carmen saw Gabriella running towards her. She looked unhappy Gabriella told Carmen that she still badly wanted to play the solo. Carmen tried to make her friend feel better, but it was of no use. By now, Gabriella was almost in tears. Then Carmen noticed something. Leading Gabriella to the notice board, she pointed to the announcement that showed that two of the five cellists were sick and not coming to the performance. “I’m really depending upon you,” she told Gabriella. At that, Gabriella smiled, and the two girls walked over to the assembly room to get out their instruments.
The concert was a huge success. That night Carmen went home feeling very happy. The concert had given her the chance to do what she loved to do most, and also the chance to make a new friend.