The Tempo of Tempura-Chapter Three- Cameron auditions for the scholarship
“Welcome everyone, my name is Donald McVicking, chairman of the department of music. The afternoon session of today’s piano performance major scholarship auditions will begin in a moment. Please take your seats and wait for your assigned number to be called.”
Twenty nervous pianists scrambled like mice for seats. This included Cameron and Martin Klingler, AKA ‘ Marshmallow Marty.’
“How’s it going there, skinny?”
“Fine, Martin. Fine.”
“So, the not so great and passionless ‘Colossal Cameron’ speaks. That’s amazing.”
“Screw you, Martin. And, my name is Cameron. Cameron Rankin. Best you remember that.”
“Whoa! What’s this? ‘Colossal Cameron’ has grown a backbone. There is a God.”
The first piano student made his way to the stage as the pair traded insults. The rules were simple.
The piano department chair calls out four major or minor scales. After, a second piano professor selects a required piece for the applicant to play. And, finally, a third member of the music faculty chooses a sight-reading piece for the student to perform.
“Everyone before we begin, please allow me to introduce today’s faculty committee. First, we have Dr. Chaney. Dr. Edwin Chaney is world-renowned for his interpretations of J.S. Bach and chairman of the piano department. Second, Dr. Bruce Williams. Dr. Williams will be leaving our music department this year, but he has kindly offered to help us with the scholarship selection process one final time.”
A smattering of claps echoed in the room.
“Thank you. And last, but certainly not least, the newest member of our music faculty, Dr. Darlene Burris. She will be teaching non-major class piano, undergraduate music theory and ear training in addition to directing our wonderful marching band.”
Cameron’s mouth opened wide. The poor young man’s face was pale as he fumbled and dropped his number card. Martin once more saw a chance to sling a snide remark in Cameron’s direction.
“Hey, butter fingers. You okay there, big boy? You look like you lost a coupon for an all-you-can-eat buffet. We wouldn’t want you to starve to death.”
“Fine. I’m fine. Just leave me be Martin.”
“Okay. I get it. Boy, that Dr. Burris is a looker. Man, I would love to get a piece of that.”
Cameron’s face turned red as he grabbed an old, wooden folding chair in front of him. He yanked down hard on it. The back of the chair broke free, and it hit Martin in the knee.
“What the hell is the matter with you? Are you trying to injure me?”
“No, I’m sorry. I just need to go to the bathroom.”
Martin pushed several large pieces of the broken chair off his leg. Cameron slid out of his seat, and he lumbered up Dresser Hall auditorium steps. He threw open the exit doors.
“Hey, be careful with how you open those doors. Will you? A guy could get injured like that.”
“Don’t be sorry, freshman. Be careful. And, does this freshman have a name?”
“And, does ‘Freshman Cameron’ have a last name?”
“Rankin. Cameron Rankin.”
“Aren’t you even going to ask my name?”
Cameron shook his head. He wanted to keep right on walking to the nearest bathroom. But, there was no escape from the bespectacled, odd looking young man blocking the door. Cameron mustered up what little courage he had around strangers.
“What’s your name?”
“Ernie. Ernie Caldwell. I’m a junior music composition major. My works have been played in concert halls around this state. I’m going to be famous one day.”
“‘That’s nice’? That’s all you got freshman? Wow. It is going to be a long four years for you here. That is if you make it that long.”
“I have to pee.”
Ernie shifted to the left of the door. Cameron took a small step forward. Lauren was sitting among the other nervous parents in the large reception area.
“Cameron, is everything okay?”
Lauren was unsure why she asked the question. Since Cameron’s dad died, nothing had been okay with her son. Cameron was never the most outgoing boy, but after his father’s death, he was distant.
“No, it isn’t.”
Lauren put her hot cup of green tea down on the table beside her, and she walked with Cameron to the bathroom. The gentle nudge she gave to Cameron’s back was more of a shove.
“Go on in and take care of business. Be sure to wash your hands and face. You look rather pale. Pull yourself together. This is our moment. Don’t blow this for us.”
Cameron did as he was told. The ice cold water from the fancy gold-plated faucet gave him a jolt. He was startled from a terrible sound coming from one of the closed stalls.
“Ugh! Oh God. Not again.”
A second even more horrible caterwaul came from the same area, and this time it was followed by the unmistakable sound of someone’s vomit plunging into the toilet. A minute later as the toilet flushed. The fuchsia-colored stall door opened and a young man with a pencil-thin mustache stumbled out. Cameron reached for a paper towel to dry his hands.
“I suppose you heard that.”
“Hard to miss it.”
“I know. It happens every time. The pressure. You know?”
Cameron tossed the paper towel in a small trash can, and he opened the bathroom door. The young man pushed the glass door closed.
“Look. I need this scholarship. It’s the only way I can afford this school, Cameron.”
“Do I know you?”
“No, you don’t. But I know you, and I know Martin Klingler. You guys are amazing.”
“Thank you…I think.”
There was no doubt over the years of the many pianists in the area Cameron and Martin made a name for themselves. The fact Cameron’s biggest fan cornered him in a marble-floored bathroom was disconcerting.
“Kevin. Kevin Archer.”
“Kevin. I’ve got to go. I’m up soon.”
“Hey, I’m just asking you to take it easy on stage today. Please.”
“Look, I’m sorry. But — ”
The door opened as another boy came in with his hand covering his face. Cameron had seen that exasperated look a million times over the years at various piano competitions. It always made him tense. But he was glad it was not him.
“It’s over. My life. My whole life is over. Down the drain. I might as well just find a bridge to jump from.”
“I’m sure it’s okay, old buddy. Calm down and tell old Ernie what happened. We will figure something out.”
Cameron seized upon the momentary intrusion to escape from the bathroom and his new found ‘friend.’ He was at the auditorium door in time to hear his name called.
“Number 14. Please take the stage.”
Cameron, as he had done countless times in his life, waddled across the stage. He took his perfunctory bow. The spotlight blinded Cameron as he looked upon the empty chairs. He adjusted the piano bench as he held his breath.
“Please play the A major and C# major scales as well as their relative minors. Four octaves with arpeggios. You may begin when ready.”
Cameron finished those scales flawlessly. Sweat from his face splashed on the stage floor. He wiped his hand on his charcoal grey dress pants, and he once again peered into the mostly dark abyss of the audience.
“Etudes number one, four, and the Mozart piece from the required list.”
Cameron played the selections flawlessly. As the final note from the grand piano rang out, gasps for air from Cameron’s mouth were audible throughout the hall. Several students giggled at the sound. Cameron’s hands tensed up when a voice from the dark bellowed.
“Don’t choke, now, ‘Colossal Cameron’ at least give me some challenge today.”
“That’s enough out of you, number 15. Come on, number 14 you can do it.”
“My apologies, Dr. Burris. I got caught up in the moment.”
“Number 14 please play the selected sight-reading piece on the piano.”
Cameron’s mind wandered. He played the opening section on auto-pilot. The second part was fine save for a slight bobble. Cameron was in the final cadenza of the composition when stopped. He sat motionless for several seconds as his hands hovered above the piano keys.
“Number 14, are you okay? Please continue with the sight-reading piece.”
Cameron tried to pick up the song from the previous break, but he stopped a second time. The third time Cameron’s playing stumbled Dr. Burris ended the debacle.
“Thank you, number 14. Please step down. Next, number 15 please take the stage.”
Martin made his way to the stage. Cameron plodded down to the aisle. The two rivals once more stood face to face.
“Boy, that’s going to be a tough act for me to follow. I can always count on good old ‘Colossal Cameron’ to make me look good. Thanks a million.”
Martin was right. The performance Martin gave got a standing ovation from everyone in the room. Cameron knew his rival had won. He later sobbed into his lucky tie when Martin and Kevin, the vomiting boy from the bathroom, were announced as the full scholarship winners for the new academic year.
Tara snuck in the back in time to see the end of Cameron’s train wreck of a performance. She offered an encouraging word to the distraught young man.
“Hey, how about we go to a Japanese bar I know? They have great tempura. You’ll love it.”
“Leave me be. Tempura can’t fix everything in life. You know?”
“Fine. But, a good, hard tempura always makes me feel better. At least, I tried. But, what are you going to tell your mother?”