The Call Of The City – Episode 21

Kerry relaxing in a bath as Daniel makes a meal Illustration by Sailesh Thakrar

Grace peeked into the empty music room, her heart pounding.

Today was her first day of summer school, and she had a group tutorial in a few minutes, but right now the room was empty.

She’d left extra time to find her way from Juliet’s apartment to Juilliard’s campus, and she was clearly too early.

Taking a deep breath, she walked into the room and put her violin case down by the farthest chair.

It felt surreal to finally be starting her course, walking through the campus as a proper student.

Yesterday she’d gone to get her student ID, and she’d stared at the photograph of herself in wonder. It was all actually happening.

“Are you here for the tutorial?”

Grace looked up to see a man around her own age smiling at her in shy uncertainty.

He had brown hair and glasses, and he carried a battered violin case in one hand.

“Yes, I hope so.”


He came into the room, putting his case down by the chair next to Grace’s before sticking out his hand. “I’m Lewis.”


He smiled, his eyes crinkling at the corners.

“You’re not from around here?”

“No, I’m from England.” “First time in New York?”

“Second. I came for my audition.”

“Of course.” He nodded and sat down, opening his case to take out a lovely, well-worn violin.

Grace knew just from looking at it that it was of a far better quality than her own, which had been purchased second-hand from a local music shop.

“Where are you from?” she asked.

“Boston. Do you know it?”

“I’ve heard of it.”

“It’s a couple of hours north from here.”

He began to tune his violin, each note sounding crystal clear, and far better than the notes produced by Grace’s old instrument.

He gave her a quick smile as he played the opening notes of Paganini’s “Caprice No. 4 in C Minor”.

“My audition piece,” he said with a bashful smile and put the violin down.

Grace smiled back, but for the first time since arriving in New York, she felt her excitement flag.

She couldn’t play the Paganini piece, at least not well. Even if she could, it wouldn’t sound nearly as good on her old violin.

Was she going to be outperformed at every turn at Juilliard?

The fact that they’d required her to take several courses over the summer spoke volumes, but Grace hadn’t minded because it was so exciting to be where she was.

Now, having met another student, she wondered if she was up for the rigour Juilliard demanded of all its students.

She was going to find out sooner rather than later, for their instructor came into the room, followed by two other students.

After introducing herself as Elizabeth Chen, she started them all playing a quartet by Hoffman, handing out the sheet music rather imperiously.

Grace’s nerves jangled and the notes blurred before her eyes. She’d never played Hoffman before, and she felt incredibly gauche.

She’d concentrated on her favourite composers and pieces, but she realised she should have branched out more.

“Begin,” Miss Chen announced, and they all started off.

Grace faltered in the third stanza, earning a glare from her instructor.

“Please keep to the tempo, number four,” she said, and Grace’s cheeks burned as she felt everyone else’s glances.

It got worse.

She hit a wrong note in the fifth stanza, and completely lost the tempo a few minutes later. By the time she’d stumbled through the piece, her face felt as if it were on fire.

“Clearly that will need some work,” Miss Chen murmured. “Let’s move on.”

The rest of the tutorial went just as badly, except for a piece by Tchaikovsky that Grace had played for an exam and knew by heart.

Still, by the time everyone was packing up their instruments, she felt miserable, and was questioning whether she belonged at Juilliard at all.

To be continued . . .