It was a chilly autumn morning. I pushed my hands into my pockets as I walked out of our house to the car. “Don’t worry, Renee,” said my mom, “you’ll do great.” Still, though, I worried. Today I had an audition for a competition to play at Benaroya Hall. I had practiced and practiced and practiced and had even taken ten deep breaths, but still my nerves felt like someone was dancing the hula on them. And honestly, to tell the truth, it didn’t help that I thought I had forgotten my violin on the way out. Luckily for me, my mom was more on top of things and had brought it out to the car.
As soon as I fastened my seat belt, I was back to worrying. To try to stop worrying, I pulled out my music. It was the solo for Winter, by Vivaldi. I chose it because if I’m one of the winners, I’ll play at Benaroya Hall, the home of the Seattle Symphony, on the first day of winter.
I look at it, silently playing it in my head, poring over its pages, thinking things like, Play that part slowly and feelingly or, Remember, that part’s triple forte, play that loud. Soon, though, I’ve run out of things to say to myself about the piece, and I try to absorb myself by talking to my older brother, Jake. Sometimes he’s really annoying, but luckily for me, today he doesn’t try to get on my nerves. Instead, he’s really nice, talking and joking with me. And then suddenly we get there. It’s supposed to be a one-hour-thirteen-minute drive and ferry ride from our house on Bainbridge Island to the University of Washington (U-dub), where the audition is. But time sped up, and it feels like the ferry took less time than it was supposed to, and the car magically sped ahead.
I pick up my violin and the folder that has my music and slowly walk to the doors of the music building at U-dub. When I get inside, there’s a sign that points me to the waiting room. I turn left and walk into the room. It’s light and airy, and everyone’s got their instruments out and is tuning, playing, or just sitting there, holding their instrument. My spot is at 11:30. Right now, it’s 11:15. I unzip my violin case and tune my violin. Then, I take out and tighten my bow. I scan the room for people I know. No one. Those fifteen minutes speed by, and soon a woman with her hair in a neat bun and wearing a black dress is calling my name. “Katz, Renee?”
Violin in one hand, bow in the other, I grab my music and walk over to the door. The woman leads me down a couple of dark, silent hallways. Well, not exactly silent. But they would’ve been silent if not for the woman talking so much. She blathers on and on and on. I’m way too nervous to hear a word of what she’s saying. The walk is short, thankfully, and even better, there is someone finishing up their audition inside the room.
Then, suddenly, the door opens, and a girl a little older than I am steps out. She smiles at me. “Go on,” the woman in the bun says, with an encouraging smile. It’s the least amount of words I’ve heard her say at one time. My throat is dry as I step into the room and look around. The room is small and cozy, with four people sitting in chairs at the other end of the room. The judges. There are two men and two women. One man looks really tall, the other looks medium height. One woman is pretty short, the other is at least as tall as the tall man. They all smile at me. The normal-height man says, “Are you Renee Katz?”
“Yes,” I say nervously, clutching my violin tightly. I put my music on the stand. I say, “I’m going to play the solo for Winter, by Vivaldi.” The judges look thoughtful. I pick up my violin and begin to play. I play the first movement, the Allegro non molto. Sharp and icy, you’re out in the cold, miles from anywhere, it’s a snowstorm, and you’re freezing. Then I play the second movement, the Largo. While everyone else is outside, freezing, you’re cozy and warm in front of a fire, with a book, hearing the rain/hail come down. After that, I play the third and last movement, the Allegro. You’re ice-skating on a pond, building a snow person, just playing around in winter fun. You’re not great at ice-skating, but you love it. And then, I play the last note. I’m stunned. Today I’ve played it much better than I ever have.
When I look up, the judges are busy writing down notes on notepads. One by one, they all finish. The tall woman smiles at me and says, “Thank you.” I take the hint, grab my music, check to see that I have everything, and say bye to the judges as I walk out of the room, down the dark, now thankfully silent hallways and think about what just happened. I know I probably won’t be one of the lucky five winners that get to play at Benaroya Hall. But I’m glad I tried. I soon get back to the waiting room. I pack up my violin, put my music back in its folder, and walk out the door. There my mom and Jake are waiting for me. I give them a big smile to let them know I was great. They smile back, looking relieved. We go to a restaurant in Seattle for lunch and then ferry ourselves back on the 1:10 ferry for home.
* * *
Every day, for the next week, I went and got the mail. That was because the competition judge were supposed to send a letter within the week. Jake teased me about my sudden mail collecting, but he didn’t know why. You don’t get rejection letters. If you’ve won, they send you a letter. The day after the week was up, I just totally gave up on the mail. I figured that if they’d chosen me, I’d have gotten a letter by now. I wondered what I should play next year for the competition. Maybe a Bach concerto. Who knows? Three days after the week, at exactly twelve, my mom was out getting the mail. Jake was in his room, listening to some rock music. I was in my room, reading a book and petting our cat, Stripes, who we found on our lawn a couple of years ago. He’s now about four years old. Suddenly, the door opened. I knew who it was: Mom, back from getting the mail. “Renee! You have to see the mail!”
“OK! I’m coming,” I said, standing up and walking to where she was in the kitchen. She was smiling.
“Guess what came in the mail?” she said happily.
“Ummm… a letter from Grandma?” I guessed.
“No! You’re one of the winners of the competition!!!”
“You’re joking!” I gasped.
“Nope,” said Mom, handing me a letter that was addressed to me. The return address was to Benaroya! I hurriedly ripped it open, and a letter fell out. Here’s what it said:
Dear Ms. Katz,
We are pleased to inform you that you are one of our five contest winners! Congratulations! You played your piece, Winter, with true excellence. There are two rehearsals with all five winners, one in two weeks, and the other in three weeks. One week after the last rehearsal, there will be the concert on the first day of winter. See you on the stage!
I looked up from the letter and at my mom. All I could say was, “Wow!!!”
* * *
ONE MONTH LATER
One month later, on the first day of winter, I wake up, half proud, half freaked out. Today, the world will hear me play Winter. I get up and look for a nice dress to wear. After I’ve put it on, I brush my hair, brush my teeth, have breakfast, grab my violin and music, and head to the car. We drive and ferry down to Benaroya Hall, mostly in silence. When we get there, I pull on my jacket, grab my stuff, and together my mom, Jake, and I walk to Benaroya. Where I’m going to play is really beautiful. I’m the last on the program, since I’m the youngest, but the other winners are really nice. We practice until the first trickle of audience members come trickling in. First Crystal Smith goes, on her cello. Then Allie Jones, on her viola. James Patterson comes next, on his bass. Then John Chen, on the flute. Then me, Renee Katz, on the violin. The announcer says, “Here is our fifth winner: Renee Katz, playing Vivaldi’s Winter!” The audience claps as I come on stage. I smile at them, lift up my violin, and begin to play.