There is an art to falling.
Sacrificing soul, limb and touch to the whim of this tempest. To cross that distance, to breach that space is not the effect of passion, but of passivity. It is the ultimate paradox.
To shut off all senses but one, to enfeeble the power of the ever-wandering mind, until there is only this. Here. Now. The more you think, the more you flounder. These moments are fleeting, grasped at but never contained. Invariably you are brought back to the oppressive heat of the room.
The cloying smell of old paper is intoxicating in its familiarity.
You become aware of your hands in front of you – their gentle dance across the notes – the way your own fingers flurry like the sprawling legs of a spider caught suddenly on its back. These are the rapid movements of one caught in a web. The silent pangs of a creature who has lost the feeling in the rest of its body and so, it must perform this dance.
My legs do not merely rest on the floor, they are beached in it. Back straight, arms stretched outwards, fingers glued to the notes they squeeze in a tight embrace. Fingertips press down, down, down. They lift reluctantly, hands splayed to cover impossible distances.
I am grown, now.
Examiners change. Rooms change. I change. Tempos have quickened and time no longer stands still but carries me reluctantly forward. I am uncomfortable in my own skin, almost a teenager, almost enough. But I am more anxious with the feeling that persists just beneath the skin. An itch that cannot be reached. Pressure builds trapped inside. I am never satisfied with mediocrity.
You can do better. Good isn’t good enough.
I experience music in fragments. There are pieces along the way which transport me backwards. Notes that escape from my fingers release the tension in my body, like pressure caught inside a balloon. A tight coil unravelling, only to coil in on itself once more. I can feel it twisting inside of me when I’m back in that chair. A feeling that sits in the pit of my stomach and rests there.
Dormant, but living.
I remember the first time, walking into that room. Tiny, waif-like, but assured.
When to play was to dance, to feel the rhythm. The melody ran from my hands, through my arms, and slid gracefully down my spine. I was seven or eight when I first sat on that big chair and my legs couldn’t reach the floor. Instead, they were free to move along with my hands, to operate of their own accord.
Staccato feet to accompany a staccato beat.
The examiner asked me questions and I dutifully played the memorised scales. My hands could make sense of this instrument, whose heavy keys begged resistance to my tentative touch. I was waiting all that time, waiting to play my piece. The final one: my favourite. A body pent up with energy willing its release into the world. It was a rush – one which built silently – thumping its frantic beat, an imperfect cadence which pleads its own relief. It is not a case of hearing but feeling. The kind of high that doesn’t require payment.
My hands are poised. Ready.
They know their place and will seek their notes without direction. Fingers do not as much breathe their touch upon the keys as they are brought sharply back. This is a song called ‘Five Little Speckled Frogs’, its lyrics as buoyant as the confident little hop of the muse. Press, release. Hop, breathe. I am smiling now, aware of the examiner’s presence in the room. Aware of her as an animal is aware of any human presence. She is there but not really. She is unable to dive into these shallow waters, soar high overhead, light as a feather fit to burst.
Behind me, she is smiling now too; I just know. It’s as if I can hear her joy bouncing off my own, building its crescendo as our focus is taken up only by music. The rest of the room seems to lose its texture, blurring at the edges.
A dream of such clarity you can be sure it is real.
Years later, notes are theories to be learned and not music to be played.
Grades follow grades. Number determines difficulty and sets expectations. Frog song are of the past. There are Mozart Sonatas, notes trickling down the keyboard, tripping up one another in their clumsy haste.
I am reminded of the London Underground, of escalators stretching up, up, up. A compression of air, of humans shrunk. No step is left bare. There is space enough to exist, if existence is all you seek. Beethoven’s Preludes and Fugues become my nemesis. They are layers upon layers of difficulty, time signatures wrapped up in time signatures.
This is not a piece to lose yourself to, but a piece that consumes you.
Giving up never felt like an option to me. I finished my grades, did my teaching diploma, got out the other side. My skin feels light again. My body has regained its fluidity.
This is my chair.
I do not consult my sheet music. I already know what I am going to play. Schuman’s ‘Of Strange Lands and Places’ requires not thought, but sensation. There is emotion in movement, in the elegant stream of notes. Never encroaching upon one another, they breathe in unison.
A perfect cadence at last.
A frog leaps through the air, just for a moment: a second or two suspended in time. Legs akimbo, eyes to the sky. It knows it cannot fly; its descent is decreed from the moment it began its leap.
I know it too. But in that instant – in that space created which exists out of time – I am no longer afraid to fall.
Sinéad Price is from Ireland and is a 22-year-old graduate in English and Publishing. Her work has previously been published in Gossamer Lit Magazine, The Literary Platform and INK magazine, the University of Plymouth’s student-run anthology.