The Things That Crushed Him

Michael Nasaruk

His right leg was shaking, out of control. The golden sustain pedal beneath his foot gained momentum and kept pressing back against the low and unstable pressure of his leg. He had always loved this mechanical tool, since it helped him to keep control over color and modulation, like a manual gear shift on his road of sound creation. But that night, the golden gear shift pedal was working against him. It even went into nasty collaboration with the black and white ivory keys, increasing their own weight many times over, not allowing him to do what he wanted to do. The things that he loved so much, his greatest enemies now.

The stage spotlights were pointing at him, pushing down a desert heat and dazzling brightness from above. At his left, a high, concrete wall without solid foundation, slowly but steadily leaning against him, almost ready to collapse. From the right, all eyes in the dark hall were focused on him, observing his every movement. Mysterious, sparkling eyes out of the darkness, surrounded by unrecognizable and blurry silhouettes, all together shooting one thousand arrows of critical glances, made him feel weak and wounded.

For a moment, he wanted to jump up and disappear backstage. But, there was that gear shift pedal, the bright spotlights, the leaning wall, and, the mysterious eyes. They all continued pushing from below, from above, from the left and from the right. He was trapped.

One Year

Almost one year ago he started planning this night. He made a great project plan, listing all the things he had to take care of, from the stage setting to the seating configuration, from the dimmed, colored lighting to the room temperature. He placed three video cameras in the hall, one on stage, pointing at the keys of his Grand Piano, one attached to the ceiling in the back of the hall, showing the whole stage, and another one on stage, pointing towards the hall, ready to capture the audience´s face expressions. He adjusted the four high-end microphones at the piano, he arranged the compilation of pictures that will be displayed by the overhead projector while he was playing. He chose the overhead projector, a model with extra high resolution, perfect color and sharpness, and extreme light-power. He designed noble-looking admission tickets and printed them on 250g strong high-gloss paper.

He organized a box office to collect the entrance fees and ordered coin rolls to make sure that change is available. He supplied a refreshment stand with a selection of drinks and champagne. He hired an organizing team and gave them precise, handwritten instructions, he advertised on websites and in the local newspapers, he compared the sound of a dozen grand pianos before he decided which one is most suitable for his concert and his style of playing. He made insurance arrangements to cover any potential damage to the concert hall, the equipment, the grand piano, and, even the guests. He sent out hundreds of invitations, all personally adressed, he set up a concert timetable, broken down into minutes and seconds. He wrote speeches to introduce his compositions and practiced them in front of his hallway mirror. He carefully arranged the sequence of his fifteen pieces to make sure there is enough variety in mood, tempo, rhythm and key signature. He went to designer boutiques to get professional advice for choosing his appropriate outfit, a single-breasted dark blue blazer with two silver buttons, one size larger than usual, just for the sake of comfort, dark blue skinny cotton pants, a snow-white dress shirt with a button down collar, a simple black leather belt, classical, black patent-leather shoes and a pair of dark red cotton socks, matching the color of the stage carpet.

For the concert date he chose a saturday, to maximize the chance for people to have time, but he decided not to start before 8.00pm, to increase the inhibition threshold for families to bring their small children. He bought two half-liter water bottles with extended bottlenecks so he could drink more in less time during the concert. He gave free tickets to his family and closest friends, and reserved all their seats in the front row. Everything was planned and prepared. There was no room left for coincidences.

A Different World
The battle was almost finished. He hit the last combination of ivory keys, some black ones, some white ones, and then, the final one, a black one. The closing sound of his ending piece. It was supposed to be played in mezzopiano, but he did it pianissimo instead, partly because the spotlights had burned out his strength, partly because the resonance of a quieter tone will end sooner. The decay of sound shifted to slow-motion. Together with his trembling right leg, the oscillating strings of the last key created a vibration in perfect unison.

It was one of those situations where the protagonist is the only one who is not aware of what is happening right now, like the random person who walks into a casino to sit down at the very last gambling machine in the corner of the room, rather bored than excited, only to feed it with a few leftover coins, and then passively spread vibrant excitement all over the place as the machine yells the anouncement of a jackpot win and the whole crowd comes over to freak out and celebrate the man of fortune, while he remains in a state of shock and apathy.

He didn´t realize the audience was already on their feet. Thunderous applause, paired with shrill whistling, flooded the hall with waves of noisy enthusiasm. Loud and massive, like the crashing sound of breaking waves at a cliff, like the roar of the most destructive hurricane, that spins everything on its way to nowhere, like a lava-spewing volcano that burns hotter and hotter, the closer you get.

His leg was still pressing down the golden gear shift pedal, but he didn´t even notice. There was no more counterpressure. His hands were still on the keys, but he didn´t realize until the continuous roaring applause and the lava-spewing volcano finally made him look right and he needed his hands to cover his eyes from the blinding spotlights.

Dragged by the soaking power of acknowledgment he stood up, turned, and stepped forward towards the dark hall, towards the land of the enemy, who was now waving white flags as a proposal of peace, towards the ocean of breaking waves, crashing at the elevated edges of his stage, creating a cooling drizzle for his burned face, towards the tremendous winds of destruction, that spun around and blew out his tenseness, his weakness, his uncertainty and fear. He stepped forward towards the burning volcano, to let the healing lava cauterize his wounds and torned soul, and, to let the fire reignite a flame of passion in his tired heart. Strength and power filled his body again. No more trembling, no more shaking, no more lack of self-control. He enjoyed his moment of recovery, feeling the flow of fresh fuel through his veins and arteries. The battle was over, the reward was by far more than he had expected. All the pain, all the suffering, all the pressure, they disappeared perfectly, leaving him with the overwhelming joy of victory.

The crowd was still applauding, celebrating the great side job that he had apparently done while fighting the war against his enemies. For a moment, he wondered whether they had noticed his struggle at all, but instead, he let the roaring winds blow that thought out of his mind. They wouldn´t understand, they were not there. They couldn´t feel the aggressive keys or the killing heat, or the leaning wall. They wouldn´t know about the arrows that they were shooting. They were in a different world. He was the only one who had been on the battlefield-stage. Only he would know. So he just stood there, still getting lost in the storm of acknowledgment, captivated by the gravity of adrenaline. He was trapped again, but he was free.

Michael Nasaruk is a Berklee student from Germany. He wrote this piece in the first-semester Writing & Communication class.