For Kitsuki, the Orchestra's performance seemed to be the shortest in musical history. The girl was excited to go next, but she didn't think the moment would arrive so suddenly. She had hoped that they'd play an encore just so she could put off her own performance for a few more seconds. Her mind filled with excuses.I'm not ready!
I have to go to the bathroom!
I need to tune the piano!
I have to flex my fingers!
The trumpet on the third row, played off-key during the third song, they have to re-do it!
Anything and everything went through her mind to justify her desire to not go on stage. But destiny simply wasn't having it. The Orchestra completed their performance with a solid crescendo and the audience clapped. Roses were tossed on stage and collected as the musicians rose and took a bow. The curtains fell and various attendants began taking away the instruments and chairs. The orchestra filed out of the stage area and went backstage. Their movements were orderly and precise. Many of the musicians that played as part of the Triumphant Aquatic Orchestra had been ninja themselves. Their dexterity and mental acuity were super-human, well beyond the capacity of even the finest civilian musician. Their movements were practiced and re-herased. The exuded discipline and determination with every step. Their leader was the conductor, a master strategist who would command them into the field of battle. At Tanamny Hall music wasn't just a form of art, it was a domain of war. A war for the hearts, minds, and souls of the audience. The Orchestra had arrived with a single purpose: to remove any doubt that they were in fact the greatest band in the world. As the musicians filed past Kitsuki they did not even look at her. She was beneath them. Someone whose job it was to clean up the battlefield after all of the major battles had already been won.
Kitsuki gazed at them in awe. Yet when she saw that most of them wouldn't even dignify her with a glance, she became angry. They think they're so much better than me...they think they're better than every musician.
The shyness, uncertainty, and stage fright that had plagued her moments ago had evaporated. She had something to prove now. Not just to herself and Maestro Ko, but to this orchestra. She was just as great a virtuoso as any of them and she was willing to bet that none of them were half the pianist that she was. Kitsuki sighed and waited for them all to pass before stepping behind the curtain. The host of the concert walked up to her and walked her through the basics one more time. There was a bit of worry in his voice. She'd be the final act. It was an important position and one that was often entrusted to someone with far more experience than her. He had taken a chance on this new girl and if her talent proved inadequate then he'd be the laughing stock of the concierto community. Kitsuki nodded and prepared for the curtains to rise.
When it did, she was blinded by the lights around her. However, she didn't look away. The virtuoso stepped forward and bowed in response to the round of applause she received. It was a bit of a confidence booster. She knew that they were only clapping to be polite at this point, but it still felt good that they at least expected great things from her. Kitsuki walked over to the piano that had been set up in the center of the stage. She sat down and moved her fingers into position. Kitsuki Kurahasa's posture was absolutely perfect with not a single slouch or idle movement. She waited for her cue to begin. The host gave the signal from off-stage and with a deep breath, Kitsuki began to play:
The song was slow and melancholy. She had selected the piece herself as many a closing musician did. The choice had been agonizing but ultimately she was proud of her selection. The Orchestra's grand finale would be a violent tempest that stirred up the emotions and passions of the crowd. She'd want to play something soft yet powerful to follow them. Her goal was to bring the audience back down from the high of the preceding act. It would ground them, mellow them, and stoke feelings of nostalgia and longing for places they had never been to and moments they had never experienced. Kitsuki's fingers flew across the piano with astonishing grace. She had struck the keys just right on every single note and once she got into the full score of the piece, she didn't even notice time was passing. It was as if she was in her own world. Lost in the notes, sounds, and pace of the music. Kitsuki was happy being a shinobi but music would always be her first love. When the piece was finally over, she reached out and turned the page to play the next song. By now she was thoroughly enjoying herself and the pressure of the moment seemed like some irrelevant and distant fantasy. She reset her fingers on the keyboard and began to play the next song.
This piece was more complicated and far longer. She'd need to up the ante in terms of speed if she were to perform it correctly and with enough grace so as to inflict a lasting impression on the audience. Kitsuki played the piece without making a single mistake. The only reason she was slightly more aware of her playing was because this was one of her teacher's favorite pieces. He was an absolute perfectionist when it came to playing this song and he had threatened to whip her fingertips bloody if she "massacred" it. Of course, what an average musician considered "massacring" a piece and what Mastero Ko considered "massacring" were two different universes. He had been known to tear pieces of his beard out in frustration if a note was struck with too much emphasis, if the tempo was not perfectly adhered to, or if the musician was sloppy in their posture or expression. Kitsuki recounted the severity of his instruction and thus when she played this piece she did so with none of the lightheartedness of the first. This was serious business and she knew his representatives would be in the crowd listening. He had put his name on the line vouching for her and she had no intention of letting him down. The piece's purpose was to raise the stakes a bit. To create a flurry of anticipation and excitement. It was the climax of her performance. A fairly challenging piece for her young newcomer to the classical scene. The halls echoed with the beautiful melody and when she was finished, she could feel the restraint in the crowd. They desperately wanted to clap for such talent and skill but the iron law of Tanamany Hall held them back: No clapping until the end of the performance.
Kitsuki wanted to smirk, but the visage of Maestro Ko's serious face bearing down at her stopped her. The battle wasn't over yet, but she had the crowd right where she wanted them. She turned the page and played her final piece.
The last piece was a bit more "modern" to say the least. It was by far the riskiest selection she had made when choosing the three songs that would make up her performance. Some might consider it an affront to the concert community to play such a modern jive using the most classical instrument of all time. However, Kitsuki (and to a lesser extent her teacher) were of the school of thought that no musician ever became great by playing it safe. They all took risks when playing their signature instrument. Newcomers had to be bold, inventive, and norm-shattering. They respected tradition and the contributions of those that came before them, but they were not shy about adding to custom. They carved out their own unique identities and in doing so they openly ran the risk of offending the more conservative-wing of the classical community. She could imagine the looks on the conductor's face when the final song of the Christmas Concert would be a hip melody composed within Kit's lifetime. They'd be indignant, angry, and hot under the collar. But if the audience loved it, and the critics enjoyed it, then Kit would be the winner in the end. Kitsuki's fingers flew across the piano as she allowed herself a bit more wiggle room in jamming out in tune to the song. The older songs were constricted. They required perfect focus and zero wasted movement. She could have fun with this one and if the audience could see how much she was enjoying herself, maybe they'd like it even more. Eventually, the song would draw to a close and with that final piece her performance had concluded.
Kitsuki rose from her seat and walked to face the audience. The applause was uproarious. A full-on standing ovation for the final performance of the Christmas Concert. Kitsuki bowed once more, a deep and satisfying motion. She soaked in all of the glory of the moment. She had practiced long and intense hours for this exact scenario. She had played wonderfully and had not made a single mistake. Not a note out of place nor a beat missed. She smiled at the audience and when she saw the first set of roses tossed before her feet, she nearly fainted. This is so awesome!
She thought to herself in glee as she turned around and walked away from the stage. More and more roses joined as the stage was soon littered with flowers. It wasn't as much as the Orchestra but it was a very impressive start to her career as a classical musician. The host, concert director, and owner of Tamany Hall greeted her backstage with hugs, kisses, handshakes, and slaps on the back. The host went back on stage to close out the show and thank the guests for coming. The concert director meanwhile led her aside.
"Stupendous! Absolutely stupendous Kitsuki! We were all skeptical about that final song you wanted to play but by God I swear I saw the Emperor's cousin tapping his foot. You are going to go very far my girl! Very far indeed! Now comes the easy part. I want to introduce you to some people. A few royals.....it won't be a big gathering. Just an exclusive get together so they can meet you in person."
Kitsuki's heart skipped a beat. This Imperial House invitation was shaping up to do wonders for her career. She was now about to meet other royals. She didn't know what to say so instead she just smiled and nodded. The director would lead her to a private and exclusive room where musicians could rub shoulders with the rich and powerful of the Misty Isles.