Where I Won
Grace Chen, Division 2, 8th grade

       It wasn’t even announced. We were simply expected to go up onto the stage and perform like the people before us. No, that’s not right. Not like them. Better than them. The best. We had prepared for this competition for the past 4 months, and and we weren’t going to screw it all up. We worked too hard. But as we stood and walked up that stage, derogatory thoughts broke through my mind wall and took the limelight.

        I climbed up the steps, bowed, and sat down on the bench like any regular person would. Except I wasn’t a “regular person”. I couldn’t smile after I bowed; even my facial muscles were failing. I wiped my sweaty hands on my floor-length dress, thinking that it would help, but the black satin did nothing for me. I took a couple of deep breaths trying to calm my heart, but nothing changed. My legs were shaking terribly, my fingers wouldn’t stay still, and it felt like I was about to faint right there on the stage. If only I could have practiced one more time, I thought, then maybe I wouldn’t be so nervous. It was too late though; my partners were counting off the beats to our rhapsody.

        The first tendrils of music rang out in the hall; a simple two notes waiting for a response. I didn’t know what the piano would be like; how weighted the keys would be, how loud and dominating the music would ring out. Yet, my fingers automatically played an answer. It was almost a natural reaction by then, and I couldn’t stop myself. I sighed in relief, surprised at getting past the first two notes in the twenty-page song. The feeling in my stomach died down. But as soon as the music continued on, it was immediately replaced by nervousness and shakiness. But just like before, my fingers rushed to keep going. I had no other choice, my hands, although shaking, had a mind of their own, and played the music as if I was completely comfortable on the stage. Slowly, I stopped shaking. My hands and fingers could work their magic on the piano at this competition just like they could at home. My legs ceased so much movement, and I could push the pedal down just like at home. But, it wasn’t until we reached Friska, a small break in the music, where I finally took a breath.

        I started piano at a young age, about when I was six years old. My parents had just bought an electric piano for me to practice on after my lessons. I improved quickly, moving past many of my friends who had started before I had, and continued at that pace. I wasn’t used to playing in public, though, and even less in competitions. Before I moved across the country, I only had one recital a year. Once I started piano again in San Diego, however, I quickly felt a shift on how things went. Paces went much quicker, and I had at least one public performance per month. I never got used to it, and the only somewhat consoling thing was how much time and effort I spent on each piece that was to be performed. Except, this wasn’t a regular performance. It was a competition. An international competition. And I was positive that I was going to mess up in front of the crowd as well as the judges. I could already see them tsking and shaking their heads, saying that I was the one bringing my partners down. It was a quartet, after all, and I could easily be the one who messed up.

        I continued through my piece with the others, relaxing greatly on the stage as I continued my piece with the others. As the dynamic range grew larger, and the speed got intentionally faster, I found myself smiling up there, surprised at what I could do. My fingers were easily able to play all the sixteenth and thirty-second notes, and, to me, it sounded great.

        Then came the very end. I dreaded it. I could easily play it; after all, I had the easiest part, but my partners had some trouble on those last three lines. We had tediously practiced the passage, almost every day of the week. I held my breath, unaware of what I was doing, hoping that we could leave the stage with an awesome performance that ended with something exhilarating. It’s supposed to be that way. The quartet is an amazing song, full of exciting melodies and surprises, and also pretty famous, that Hungarian Rhapsody. And we intended to leave the audience with a better version than they heard before. Or, I intended to.

        The first notes came in, light and quick. Without even thinking, I joined in right on time. All eight of our hands played at exactly the same time. We were hardly able to do that when we were practicing. The four of us threw our hands in the air with a flourish, officially ending the song, along with those toothy smiles that only come along when you do something perfectly. That’s the only word I can use to describe our performance; perfect.

        When I was on the stage, bowing to the audience before exiting, I thought that the applause was why it’s my favorite time of my life. But as I look back, I realized that it wasn’t people that made it the best; it was me. The hard work I put in, the constant ache in my back  from sitting on the piano bench, the result of everything was what made it special. The fact that I was able to give a great performance, regardless of the result of the competition, was the best part. Through this, I was able to learn that hard work is always rewarded, and to me, the result literally shocked me. Because of my experience, this is why this is my favorite experience ever. 
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