It was Kitsuki's second year at the Sukimori School for War, Art, Science, and Philosophy. She had finished 2nd in the school's annual music competition and had caught the attention of the Performing Arts Department. The competition had sparked something within the timid and near friend-less girl. She had an oppurtunity to redefine herself using a skill she had never really known she had possessed. Her shock was obvious when the 2nd place award was announced and she was even more thunderstruck when the whole school actually clapped for her. She was so used to being ignored at best and teased at worse. Over the course of the summer, Kitsuki opted not to travel but to remain at the School to work on her music. She had learned to play the piano as a child and was fairly good at it, but over the course of her first year at the WASP she had mastered the flute, or at least she thought she did. As the 2nd place winner of the competition, Kitsuki had won a spot as the third chair flute player in Maestro Ko's WASP Orchestra. Even as a freshman, she knew what the honor meant and now that she had something to fight for, she was determined to make a good impression on him. She had spent the whole summer practicing the flute, studying music theory, and reading Maestro Ko's seemingly endless books. Kit felt that when the first day of practice arrived, she'd be ready to play alongside the best of the best.
She was dead wrong.
Kitsuki arrived at practice. It was scheduled very early in the morning but she was still early as usual. The girl took out her music sheets and placed it on the stand. She prepped her instrument and sat at the ready as more students began to gradually file in. The students that made up the WASP Orchestra were all primarily upperclassmen. They were rich girls from families who had long and illustrious careers in music. Most of them ignored her. It wasn't uncommon for a teacher to pass along a student to Maestro Ko. Those recommendations tended to last less than a day. The real lifeblood of the orchestra were those who had either came to the WASP specifically to study under him, those students he had selected personally via audition, and the elite few who placed well in the school's annual competition. Many felt that while Kitsuki was good, she had placed well based on either a fluke or pity. They didn't expect her to last long at all. A handful had noticed how talented she was and were rooting for her. For the first time since arriving at the WASP, she was greeted with more than a handful of friendly smiles and nods.
None of the students spoke though. Maestro Ko could arrive early and if there was anything he despised it was a lack of discipline in his musicians. Kitsuki gripped her instrument and waited as the minutes ticked on. Eventually, the classroom was filled and all waited for the man of the hour to arrive. At 6:00 AM on the dot, he entered.
Name: Maestro Ko
Title: Dean of the Performing Arts at the Sukimori School for War, Art, Science, and Philosophy
Former Occupation: 17th Conductor of the Harmonious 世人 Orchestra
Kitsuki held her breath as a short but regal looking old man entered the room. He kept his hair in a bun. It was spun upwards and had a long diamond pin in the center of it. The man sported a long Chinese-style beard with equally impressive eyebrows. All of his hair was snow white which contrasted wonderfully with his tanned skin. He wore a pure white robe with matching slippers. Maestro Ko was immaculately dressed and groomed as always. Kitsuki had occasionally seen him in the halls but had been too afraid to even speak to him. The man exuded an aura of power and control the moment he walked into the room. His eyes gazed around the room ensuring that everyone was in position and ready to go. If anyone appeared sloppy, unprepared, or not ready in any way, he'd chastise them. Fortunately, it was the first day. This meant people had not gotten comfortable. They knew that many cuts were possible at this stage and so not a soul wanted to give him an excuse.
"Frühlingsstimmen, Voices of Spring" his voice was quiet but piercing.
In unison, dozens of sheets flipped to the appropriate song. Maestro Ko was a wizard of classical music but his tastes varied widely in both era and region. He demanded that his students be proficient in at least two major instruments. This would allow him to compose an Orchestra that could play both Chinese classical music and Western classical music. Voices of Spring was fairly simple and straight-forward. His goal was to ascertain who had been practicing relentlessly over the summer and who had been slacking.
Maestro Ko conducted with a diamond baton when the Orchestra was playing in front of a live audience but for the first practice session his hand would do. The old man lifted his right hand and in perfect synergy everyone got into position. Kitsuki raised her flute to her lips while keeping her eyes locked on the conductor. Bows rested on violin strings, fingers moved to clarinet dials, and all the musicians held their breath. Like a squad ready to charge into the fray, the Orchestra was his to command.
He kept his hand in the air for a moment and with a slight downward twitch of his fingers, the band would begin playing. Kitsuki's eyes darted from the page to the conductor as she relied on the paper to tell her which notes to play and Maestro Ko to set the tempo and tell her went to come in at critical junctures. She tried to block out the nervousness as she played, keeping her mind focused on doing what she did best rather than trying to read the Dean for his reactions. The loud and beautiful music filled the practice hall. Kitsuki was lost in the beauty of the moment but it all came to a crashing heart when the conductor formed a fist. The music ceased in its entirety.
That was her section. As a flute player it was her job to help carry this piece. They had barely gotten a quarter of the way into it before he had stopped them and singled out her section. He lifted his hand and began conducting. They played for about a solid minute before stopping again.
The piece would be replayed with the clarinets being the only ones playing. He'd make a fist and then they'd stop. He'd walk towards the next group.
Kit could have fainted right then and there. She raised her flute to her lips and began playing. She barely got 5 notes in before he stopped them again. She was now looking at the floor. A pair of white slippers came into her vision and when she looked up she was staring face to face with the man himself.
"What is your name?"
"Kitsuki Kurahasa, Sir
"Kitsuki Kurahasa, show me your fundamentals. All 8 Gregorian modes"
Kitsuki hesitated for a moment as she struggled to recall precisely what he was asking for.Modes....Musical scale...specific melodic behaviors....Gregorian modes...the foundational modes. The final is the lowest note on the scale, gotta emphasize those. there's uh Dorian, Hypodorian, ah, Phrygian...damn I should just start playing!
Kitsuki didn't have time to do a full rundown of the music theory behind what he was asking. She would just need to start playing and hope that muscle memory would do the rest. Fortunately, her intense practice sessions had paid off. She had played the rudiments perfectly. She hit each final with precision and confidence. The sound was impeccable. At least to her ears.
Maestro Ko's standards were on a different level.
When she finished, he asked her a question.
"Ms. Kurahasa...is the flute your primary instrument?"
"No sir, its piano
"I didn't ask you if the piano was your primary instrument. I asked you if it was the flute."
"Yes sir, sorry sir, no the flute is not
"Are you deaf?"
"Ah good, because you would agree that it would be impossible to play an instrument while deaf?"
"Wrong! Chihan of Xi'an was the greatest classical conductor in China during his time period and he was stone deaf! He could outplay every single musician in this room....and do you know why Kitsuki Kurahasa?"
"Because he understood music was more than sounds and notes. It was vibrations. It was emphasis. It was harmony. Your rudiments are mediocre at best. I can tell that even as you played you struggled to remember all eight scales. You played them but you did not play them with the confidence and vigor of someone who has made music their everything. This Orchestra knows nothing of mediocrity and uncertainty. And if you beleive that I will let you near a piano at your current skill level then you must take me for a fool. If I cannot trust you to play the most basic of musical scales, how can I entrust you with carrying the Voices of Spring? If you intend to continue to play this way I suggest you quit my orchestra now and go back to impressing simpletons with your milquetoast talent."
"I'm sorry Sir I-
"Kitsuki get up. You are no longer third chair. Miyahara, congratulations you are the third chair now. Kitsuki take your place at the end. In case you did not realize, there is no fifth chair...Start practicing harder."
The Dean stroked his beard as he spoke and his tone was angry yet strangely calm. Kitsuki was on the verge of tears throughout the whole exchange. When he told her to get up, a single tear ran down her cheek. She wiped it away and rose from her seat. Kitsuki shuffled past Miyahara who was doing her best to suppress a grin. Kit sat on the fourth chair and kept her eyes glued to the floor. The humiliation, the embarressment, the burning sense of failure ate at her. She had always thought she was a splendid musician. Even before coming to the WASP she had been confident in her skills, but after winning the music competition her confidence had soared. She had thrown herself into music over this past summer and it still wasn't good enough. She was on the verge of being kicked off of Maestro Ko's Orchestra. If that happened, then there'd be no coming back from it. She'd be a loser for the rest of her life. Kitsuki gripped her flute and looked back up at her conductor. He had taken his place at the front of the class and was preparing to lead the class back into the piece. No.
She resolved to master this song. She resolved to master her rudiments and fundamentals. Music was all she had at this school. She would not let anyone take that from her, not even the famed conductor of one of the greatest orchestras in the world. Kit's stuborness and iron clad determination blossomed on that day. Despite the emotional turmoil of the moment, Kitsuki made it through the practice session without making any grievous errors. From that day on, Kitsuki lived and breathed music. Every spare moment that semester was spent playing, studying, or listening to music. After hours upon hours of research and practice, Kitsuki's natural talent blossomed to heights that even Maestro Ko could not downplay. The Gregorian Modes were second nature to her, she could do them in her sleep. The more complicated pieces were mastered faster and faster. She began composing her own classical music. Kitsuki gradually won back her position as third chair flute player, then second, then first. Then finally, Maestro Ko permitted her to play her primary instrument. In the next few years at the WASP School, she would exceed his expectations and go on to claim his title as Favored Student. On that first practice session, he had done what he had set out to do. He had sparked a raging fire in a young girl he believed to be extremely talented. A fire that could never be extinguished no matter how difficult the circumstances. A fire that raged even now....