‘Palms are sweaty, knees weak’ – stop. I couldn’t focus on the right tune. Just on my nerves.
I stood outside the four-story Brooklyn building, waiting for my audience to arrive. One by one they trickled in like rainfall.
I took a deep breath as I greeted my friends, who met me with enthusiasm and excitement – all muted by the pulsating drumming in my ear.
“I’m so proud of you,” my friend smiled.
I quickly turned away and threw my head up at the open sky, hoping that the sight of stars would make me feel small…and this moment even smaller.
There’s no need to be nervous? You do this all the time…but alone.
I grabbed the early birds by both arms and took them for a stroll around the block, only faintly feeling the cool mid-October breeze on my moist skin.
“You could have a shot of whiskey to calm your nerves, you know” added my other friend.
Anxiously, I looked back at the school and sighed at the sight of an aggrandizing group.
Why did I choose to do this?
I ran up to the group to thank my friends for coming.
Smile and hug. Smile and hug.
“It means a lot to me guys!” I said, louder than I intended.
They all chuckled at my visible agitation.
“Classic Nayana” laughed one.
“You’ll be great!” added another.
I replied with an awkward smile.
My teacher was last to arrive. She gave me a tight hug and whispered, “Let’s do this.”
‘Knees weak, arms are heav’- shut up!
We climbed up the narrow staircase. Overlapping voices of my friends muffled the stomp of footsteps on creaky wood. I kept my head straight - avoiding small talk about the weather and the L train shutting down.
With each step forward, I recalled the ones I had already taken. I thought of my cautious walk up to the first lesson, my clumsy run up to rehearsals I was late for, and now the reluctant jog up to my final performance. This staircase felt different each time.
Upon reaching the third floor, my teacher turned to me and clapped her hands.
This is IT.
Stress ambushed me as we entered a dimly lit room with foldable chairs arranged in a circle. My friends eagerly dropped their bags, hung their coats and seated themselves, angling their bodies toward me.
Breathe. Don’t look at them.
My clammy fingers dove into my pocket. I retrieved my phone to open safari and typed, ‘lyrics to Skinny Love.’
“Stop making that face!” screamed my teacher as she placed her sheet music on the grand piano. “We’ve been practicing for months now. You got this.”
I got this.
“First let’s start with a few scales and exercises to open up that voice,” she muttered matter-of-factly.
I don’t have this.
“Scales?” A flashback of voice cracks and squeaks from the past month played before my eyes.
“We want to hear those big notes, warm that voice up!” clapped my friend from the corner. I chuckled uneasily at his readiness. Sensing my apprehension, my teacher approached me.
“Come on Nayana. You’ve been wanting to do this for months now.”
“But scales? In front of everyone? You know I always crack!” I tucked a tuff of hair behind my ear with jittery fingers.
“We’re doing them one way or another.” She turned to the room. “Okay guys, we’re starting.” She sat at the piano.
‘- arms are heavy, there’s vomit on his sweater, mom’s--‘ stop Eminem!
I shut my eyes and waited for her queue.
She steadily played a sequence of notes in the C major scale, singing along to each with ease. Her voice accurately matching the pitch on the piano.
“Now, everyone, repeat after me: la la la-“ she stopped abruptly and looked up to the room, puzzled by our silence. “That’s right, I said everyone.”
My friends looked at me and smiled. They excitedly stood up, all at once.
Then they sang. Louder than the piano: “la la la la la la la la!”
Stunned, I observed the group in front of me. All different tones, volumes - cracks, squeaks and all - possibly the most unharmonious melody ever echoed within the halls of Brooklyn Music School. I laughed uncontrollably as I heard their loud imperfections – comforted by their indiscretion, their courage. My teacher looked at me encouragingly and winked.
You got this.
I opened my mouth, and joined in. Losing myself in the music. The moment.