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Two Makes a Harmony

Posted on Wed Dec 20th, 2023 @ 22:29 by Liana Zhao & Alastair Temple
Edited on on Sun Feb 4th, 2024 @ 12:36

Chapter: Winter's Crest Festival
Location: Commons
Timeline: Sunday, 6th December (Evening)
4060 words - 8.1 OF Standard Post Measure

Though it had been quite a decent amount of time now since Liana had last set foot inside the castle, it had taken her less than half an hour to fall in love with the acoustics all over again. Even the simple act of walking between locations made a case for careful selection of heels in order to make the most of the resulting syncopation. It was a shame that her presence here now came with such a veritable overload of higher priorities, but mistakes had been made earlier in the day regarding the consumption of caffeine and there was something arguably far better about the seclusion of a dimly lit commons well away from the dormitories and several hours after curfew. During the day, the cozy little space at the end of one of the major hallways leading from the Humanities area to the Arts block would have been teeming with students; now, it was simply a few couches, a bookshelf and the melancholy introspection of Chopin.

Aspirations, the Bergonzi-inspired instrument suggested in its lament, were often fickle and fleeting things. In the very early days, before her mutation had manifested as something inarguable, Liana had been the epitome of a mother's vicarious hope. The former concert violinist had lost her career to bone cancer, having cost her a finger that rendered her incapable of the professionally-required rigor, and with it her entire purpose. Teaching had been a poor substitute and though it had paid the bills, it had not nourished the soul. This task was left to her daughter's development, and that might very well have been enough had there not been the small matter of spontaneous combustion. It was a complicated memory, the tangle of precious time spent with the lingering tinge of disappointment and defeat that were absolute champions at making one feel utterly guilty for simply existing. Liana's relationship with music, with her mother, had far too much in common with future connections and, for much the same reason, she had been forced to leave behind a marriage that had failed to appreciate her unique gifts. Pretending not to be a mutant hadn't been a very successful idea; her reason for trying owed its roots to intricacies of her first steps into musicianship.

It was no small miracle, therefore, that Liana had managed to maintain an absolute love of practice and performance. There wasn't a lot of time for it now, but music was meant to be shared and was such a powerful tool for communication when words alone weren't enough that her violin had become as much a colleague as her actual partner. Daily maintenance wasn't always possible but she certainly strove for it, even something as simple as this; a nocturnal nocturne.

At some point during the performance though, and unbeknownst to her, she'd picked up an audience. Avalon's music teacher stood there in silence, occupying the doorway to the commons. At first with a soft smile, watching her play. Her movements, swaying with the music, like a tree in a gale - but far more expressive. Swells and dips, expressions that to some might look pained but that Al recognized that simply meant the performer was as one with the music. As she played he closed his eyes, getting as lost in the melancholy melodies that she played, harmonizing with the tinny backing track of a piano played from tape.

True, classical wasn't his normal cup of tea, his wheelhouse so to say, but while they seemed so very different on the surface, metal - especially the melodic kind - and classical had a lot of common ground. Plus, the same music theories applied. Similar emotions. And if Al knew anything, it was emotion from music. The minor key, the melody full of introspection, the slow movements of the piece, the arpeggios, the tasteful vibrato, the near divine dynamic range - it touched something deep within him. He opened his eyes again and looked at her when she stirred two strings, harmonizing with herself. It seemed almost a mistake, dissonant, but then - again, it was part of the piece. Part of the music. Part of the emotion.

Eventually though, as all good things do, this performance too did end. He smiled warmly, entering further into the space. "Chopin, right? Nocturne in C sharp minor?" Truth be told, he was only moderately sure about it being Chopin, and the rest was a guess - Chopin seemed to call everything he wrote 'nocturne', and he could hear that it was in C sharp minor, owing to his own understanding of music theory. "Anyone ever told you you're pretty good at that?"

There was speed to the turn Liana made in the direction of the voice, but the reaction lacked panic, only surprise. It certainly wasn't unusual for her to drift into a state of semi-awareness whilst she played and she had opted for an open space even if it was at a relatively quiet part of the evening. Her expression shifted very quickly to a warm smile of appreciation for his recognition, tinged only slightly with the humility that lead to her completely side-stepping his final remark to address his guess. "You know your Chopin." She tucked the violin into position under her arm, unwilling yet to put it away entirely and certainly not against intentionally playing for someone if they were keen enough to spectate. "It lacks a little something without the proper accompaniment but I will never find a more suitable venue for expressing his intent." Shifting the bow to her other hand, and transferring the violin as well to free up her dominant, she reached out. "Liana Zhao. I hope I wasn't disturbing you."

"That's ok, I'm disturbed enough as is," he joked, offering a warm smile and shaking her hand. "I'm afraid I don't know that much about Chopin, I guessed the Nocturne part and could hear that it was in C sharp minor key, so that was a shoe in," he explained, coming clean. "But your form is excellent. Your command of dynamic range superb, great sense of drama and narrative too. You must've had decades of training and practice," he recognized and appreciated talent and skill where he found it. "Oh, but where are my manners, my apologies. I'm Alastair Temple, Avalon's music teacher. And I agree, Chopin sounds better with live accompaniment. Next time I'll bring my keyboard here. Or you can bring your violin to my classroom," he flashed a rogueish smile.

Several startled blinks became a peel of gentle laughter. Though aspects of her professional life were very orderly and contained, bound by structure and process, Liana had grown up the daughter of a musician and knew well-enough how to navigate the sensibilities of those born with an abundance of creative flair. If she was honest, she often preferred their company, being not disinclined herself to favour freedom of expression over conservative restraint. "Three decades to be exact." The calculation gave her pause for thought. "Which is the first time I've ever considered it in those terms, so thank you for that." A smile deep enough to reveal a hint at a dimple was followed by an upwards sweep of the violin to tuck it into place for playing. "If not Chopin, then who is your poison?"

"Heh, funny you should put it that way," he snickered. Poison, huh. To some, definitely. "I like melodic Death metal. Crushing guitars, melancholy classically influenced melody lines, somber lyrical subjects, like sleep and dreams and death," the tall man explained, folding his arms over each other. As big as his own band had been - seven albums, selling millions, touring Europe and the US for the better part of thirteen years - it was still a niche genre of music. He doubted that any band in this genre, including his own, would still be remembered fifty years from now. Let alone centuries later, like Chopin, Beethoven, Vivaldi and the like. "I was lead guitar in a band for some time, we had some success, toured the world, though I don't think you'd have heard of us. We were Somnium Tenebris. But I have an appreciation for all good music, including the classics. I play Vivaldi a lot to keep my skills up."

There was a slight hesitation before Liana lowered the violin again. She was light-hearted enough to attempt anything for the sake of jest but even she wasn't sure she knew how to pull off 'melodic death metal' on a violin. The prospect alone was intriguing. "Heard of you, no. Suddenly very keen to become acquainted, absolutely." Kneeling, Liana stowed her instrument for safe-keeping and rose, resin and bow still in hand. "It sounds exactly like the kind of music that would have been banned in my house growing up, which means my father would adore it and my mother would disown me for even knowing about it."

"Well, my classroom is only a few rooms down. I've got some of our old records there, and all my instruments," he motioned towards the door when she'd stood back up. Part of him considered offering to carry her violin for her, that being the gentlemanly thing to do, but he quickly decided against it - the way she'd played it, it was clear the instrument was dear to her and if he knew musicians - and he did - she wouldn't hand her baby over to just anyone she'd just met. He was the same with his Ibanez PL1770 Alastair Temple signature model, with the custom paint and artwork. "You know, that winter festival they're throwing, have you considered playing something during? You know, putting on a little concert for the visitors?"

"I have been here a whole day, Alastair." The familiarity came easily, as did the humour nestled behind it. Snapping the case shut, Liana fell into step, though previous visits to the castle left her with a vague idea of where the Music department was. "Though, you have a point, Claire did mention she was opening up the grounds for celebration. That was partially why she requested some extra supports put in place for the students at the moment. And the staff," she angled her gaze sideways at him, "I daresay."

If he cottoned on to the fact that she was suggesting he needed counseling he didn't show it at all. Truth be told, he wouldn't think he did. Sure there had been trauma in his past, but that was all years ago and he'd already made the biggest step in healing by shedding old roots and coming to Avalon to begin with. Plus, he hadn't been involved in the recent attack that had left so many people reeling and needing to recover, so there was that too.

"I don't mean to rush you, and if you feel pressured I apologize," Al offered instead, even as they reached his classroom and motioned her further in, in that 'ladies first' gesture. "I just figured with the opportunity to play before an actual audience coming up you might consider. I'm organizing a student performance of a song from les mis and am planning to play something myself as well, though I'm not sure what yet," he explained, following her inside.

The classroom was as she'd expect; originally a room for a different purpose, though now coopted and redecorated. A collection of chairs and benches for the students, and towards the rear of the space, a collection of instruments - an old grand piano that had seen a hard and long life, flanked by a brand shiny new drum kit to one side, an electronic keyboards to the other, some acoustic guitars, flutes, a xylophone and other assorted small instruments. There was also his prized possession, the Ibanez PL1770, his own custom painted guitar, with pedals and amp.

With only a day under her belt, Liana hadn't quite ticked everything off her list of reacclimatising to life at the castle. Her first exposure had been back at the Institute's inception, a favour to Claire in providing the necessary support and advice from a chaplaincy perspective in establishing policies and interviewing for a permanent, on-site guidance counsellor. Returning to fill the position herself fulfilled a quiet longing but there hadn't been time yet to get herself up to speed with all the changes that had occurred in the interim. It hadn't been her intent to cast aspersions about Alastair's ability to cope; she was just currently operating under the assumption that she was dealing with an entire castle full of trauma survivors until she determined otherwise.

It filled her with a great deal of hope, however, to step into a classroom dedicated to what she believed to be a key and critical component of therapeutic recovery. Any of the Fine Arts had their place, but her particular affinity for music formed part of her approach and she felt immediately at home in knowing that the students had a place, and a knowledgeable mentor, to foster their own connection. Much as Alastair had determined the relevance of her own instrument, Liana was instantly drawn to the guitar because it, more than any other instrument in the room, radiated an unspoken narrative that was instantly compelling. She approached it, stood at a decently reverential distance, and admired it as only one with enough musical grounding to appreciate its uniqueness could.

"That must have been some band you were in, Mr. Temple." Glittering eyes scoured the details. "You're brave to leave it so close to the mercy of young inquiring fingers."

The guitar's body was a shimmering, shiny black, with a matte black pick guard. The maple neck also painted black, with gold colored frets rather than plain stainless steel ones. The knobs and whammy bar were equally golden in color. Between some of the frets were shadowy ravens painted with iridescent colors, with a larger one on the body. Being black birds (represented here by very dark blue) on a black body made them subtle, and only close inspection showed them to be art rather than blemishes upon the paint. The guitar was starting to show signs of wear, but that only added patina, Al would claim.

"Oh it's only here temporarily. I was going to practice a bit. You know, keep my fingers in shape," he mused. "But normally it lives in my own room. For safe keeping. I should get another amp so I can play it there too," the baritone explained, even as he gathered a CD from one of the drawers in his desk and placed it in the player, selecting a particular track. "This is from our latest - ... well, last album. My favorite track. It's called On Black Wings Of Dreams."

The song started with the sound of wind, the rustling of trees. Followed soon by the cawing of a raven - Al smiled at that, knowing that was him actually had recorded that sound in the studio. Then the song exploded - thunderous drums, roaring and chugging guitars, over a layer of synths in a minor key. But there was rhythm to it, the pace of the drums and guitars belying a deep, slow groove. A melodic ostinato from the lead guitar laid over top of the chugging rhythm guitar, the music was violent - but only at first glance. At a deeper listen it yielded sorrow. Melancholy. Yet, peace in acceptance. A fate of a dream, bestowed, unchallenged. Accepted.

Vocals joined in. Monstrous, snarled, growled. But rhythmic. Only the most trained ears would be able to understand the words - which spoke of the flight of dreams. But even in these harsh, extreme vocals layering atop thunderous music, there was emotion. The crying out of agony, the expressing of desire to wake from this dream. The song was in Phrygian scale, Liana would be able to tell. Dark. Moody. Somber.

As much as she would have been just as satisfied by a live performance, which obviously would have been missing several of the key elements, Liana was instantly grateful for the opportunity to sample the entire buffet. The intricacies of the guitar's customisation had threatened to draw her in for a much closer scrutiny but the music had planted her feet and, eventually, coaxed her eyes closed. First experience was impossible to imitate, and despite an instant desire to repeat the track over countless times to draw out its complexities, there would never be another opportunity to engage with it from a place of total, unabashed ignorance. She'd been right; this was exactly the kind of music her mother had a habit of discrediting, which had never made sense even to a much younger Liana because good music was determined at its foundation and had very little to do with genre. It was hardly a matter for debate that the musicianship on display in this piece alone was indicative of just the right mix of talent and passion, with an artist's ear for nuance. Her father would enjoy it though and, as a brief and idle thought amidst her enjoyment, she wondered if he was already a fan. A question for the next time they spoke.

Very early in the piece, she had lifted the violin case to settle the instrument atop one of the student desks. Doing so had liberated both her hands, whose fingertips now thrummed against her thighs, not so much as a reflection of the beat but as a subtle tracking of the melodic through-lines that were exposed just enough to allow the imagining of an additional accompaniment. One thing she could credit her father for was opening her mind to the possibilities of her chosen instrument beyond the traditional, and whilst the concert-grade version in its case to her side was still arguably her favourite option, there was an alternative nestled amongst the belongings yet to be completely unpacked that had been a gift from father to daughter, somewhat at his ex-wife's expense. Liana didn't get nearly enough excuse to experiment with the electronic violin, being somewhat less oriented to the compositions it best suited, but the fact she had dragged it all the way to Scotland was evidence enough that she was open to suggestions on the matter. Her brow puckered, a lyric slightly lost. She would definitely have to seek a copy for herself.

Al smiled softly, watching her getting lost in the music, and he knew that it had grabbed her by the heart. The thrumming of her fingers drew him in in return, recognizing that she was already imagining additional melodies to the music, accompaniment. Though that would have gone against Robert's vision when he'd written the song, Al silently mused to himself that he wouldn't mind hearing some time what Liana could come up with. But that was for later.

Now the song neared its end. But before it did the melodic ostinato motif that had been a through-line throughout the song fell away and the intricate groove settled down into 'just' a driving groove. But as it did, the lead guitar cried out in a high note, the start of a solo to close out the song. And now it was Al's turn to close his eyes and subconsciously move his fingers, playing along with the solo on an imaginary guitar, as the instrument on CD sang its heart out. A sense of longing as it wailed, as it rang out a desire, with just the right amount of pitch bend and vibrato to bring out the emotion. And then .... the song ended, and Al opened his eyes again, hoping that Liana wouldn't notice the subtle teary shimmer in his eyes.

To an outsider, what followed might have resembled silence. To anyone of a musical persuasion, particularly two with experience of performance and the pursuit of perfection, it was merely an absence of sound. It was a ridiculous play on words, the kind of philosophical nonsense that Liana liked to toy with whenever she finally carved herself out some time to read, but the point she would have made was that music didn't always stop just because it ended. Creating space was important, spending time inside it added to the experience. Amidst what her mother would have labelled a cacophonous saturation, there had been only very thin spaces, which created a delicacy seemingly juxtaposed with the music around it. What existed when it all suddenly ended was a vast, cavernous void that couldn't be labelled as empty because it invited such an compelling opportunity to spill oneself over into it. When the sound ceased, emotion took over, and Liana was not immediately aware of Alastair's because she was far too preoccupied with dealing with her own.

Her eyes fluttered open.

She smiled.

"Chopin would be proud."

It was then, as she turned her attention towards the teacher, that Liana took a moment to consider him. By that stage, there was likely nothing too revealing about his disposition, she'd given him a chance to seek composure, but there was nevertheless fresh impetus to take into consideration his own intricacies. Liana didn't get to spend time around true musicians nearly as much as she would have liked; the prospect of working alongside one was a rare treat. Slowly, a glimmer of mischief toyed at her lips.

"Has anyone ever told you that you're not bad yourself?"

By the time Liana had recovered from the song Al had indeed wiped his eyes and recovered as well. It was strange, normally 'just' listening to one of his own songs - well, one of his band's songs - wouldn't have moved him to this extent, but maybe it was the fact that he shared it with someone who had an equal love for and understanding of emotion in music - especially the more somber, melancholy moods - that had brought it out in him. At her compliment about Chopin he smiled, though at her next comment he laughed.

"Some might have implied something of the sort, yes. From time to time," he chuckled, reaching for his guitar and clicking on his amp. "Can you get your violin out? I've got an idea."

The request was unexpected and, intrigued, Liana saw no good reason to refuse and several far more convincing ones that made it very easy to oblige. The sound of the outer case's zip was followed by the snap of both metal fastenings and then the violin, a gorgeous shade of russet, was swung immediately into place for fine tuning before Liana took out the bow. Several plucked strings, then adjusted, became a fixation until she was satisfied. The bow emerged then, and she tapped the case closed with the back of her hand before turning to regard the music teacher with an air of quizzical anticipation. "You have an air of the cunning about you, Mr. Temple. What depravity are you about to drag me into?" She winked. "My mother's not going to be pleased."

"I assure you that air of cunning is all a practiced illusion," Al joked. "As for depravity - I just figured that if you could play Nocturne in C Sharp Minor from memory, this particular piece would be child's play for you~" and with a nod he started playing. An aggressive piece with sharp, brief, staccato notes. Presto in G minor, from Vivaldi's 'Summer'. A famous piece, normally played by lead violin and second violin over a backing orchestra, but one that would work equally well with a guitar and a violin, alternatively taking lead and doing the backing for the other.

It was difficult to know whether to laugh or be impressed and so Liana settled on both. If her mother could find cause to complain about the man's original music, there was no guessing at her reaction to the sacrilege of commandeering a classic in such a way. Turning at an angle that allowed her to face him whilst also maintaining posture, the brunette lead into her moment to interject, eyes locked on his whilst the pair of them sought the synergy required to perform in tandem.

It was surprisingly easy, as it turned out.


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Comments (1)

By Claire Cavendish on Thu Dec 21st, 2023 @ 11:27

I wonder at what point this post stopped being about music :P ;)