Wednesday, 3 December 2014

WIP Wednesday - An early look at Audition

Why, it's time for another WIP Wednesday! And this week, I'm sharing a small peek at my story The Audition. (I would love to have a blurb for this, but alas, I don't. There's a girl who wants to pass an audition, a former Russian pianist, and a dungeon, where he trains her to reach her fullest potential. (Sometime later this week, once the last few thousand words of Audition are written, I'll do a better job with that blurb.)

The Excerpt: Allie has caught a bus to Boston, to see Nikolai and ask him for help. But she hasn't seen him in six years, and has no idea what she's getting into... 

I follow him down a flight of stairs, and when we get to the bottom, he flicks the light on. My breath catches at the sight in front of me.

Nikolai’s basement is a dungeon. On the walls, I see whips and rope and paddles and canes and belts of leather. From the ceiling, metal chains dangle. Iron rings are embedded in the concrete floor. There’s a large metal cage in a corner. A massive wooden cross on one side. And, under a spotlight in the center of the room, the most incongruous sight of all. A piano.

“I’m not nice, Allie,” he says. “I’m not kind. This will be the hardest week of your life. I will hurt you. I will make you cry. I will make you beg me for mercy, and I will offer you none.”

“Will you make me pass my audition?” I ask.

He gestures to the piano. “Play the Ginastera piece,” he orders. “Let’s see what I have to work with.”

My hands are shaking as I walk to the piano. I haven’t eaten since the morning. I’m starving and my emotions are a confused jumble. But I make no excuses. Nine years ago, Nikolai Zhdanov moved from Norilsk to New York, where he didn’t know a single person apart from my mother. In three months, he learned to speak English and was hired by the New York Philharmonic. Two years later, he was appointed the principal pianist at the orchestra. I’ve heard him practise for hours upon end, focused completely on the goal in front of him.

Nikolai Zhdanov does not accept excuses.

The third piece of the Danzas Argentinas is a short bit of music, slightly over three minutes long. It’s a favourite of mine; one I can play from memory. The piece starts off as dissonant noise, and the pace is fast and furious. It takes skill to pull melody from the composition.

I play it for him. When I’m done, the silence grows. I break it first, nervously. “How bad is it?” I ask. I think I’ve been okay. Not great, but a solid B+.

“Move,” he orders, and I get up from the piano stool. His fingers caress the keys, and then he plays the same piece. Also from memory.

A competent pianist can play Ginastera and can draw out the melody from underneath the dissonance. But playing in front of me isn’t a competent pianist. Nikolai Zhdanov is a genius, and I hear the piece played as I’ve never heard it before.

“You can still play?” I ask finally, when he’s done. It’s takes effort to speak, to swallow past the lump in my throat.

“In a fashion,” he replies. “My fingers don’t have the strength to play professionally. I cannot be a concert pianist anymore. But music doesn’t live in your fingers, Allie. Music lives in your heart.”

I have nothing to say to that. My heart stopped the day the police knocked on my door and told me there had been an accident and that my mother was dead.

“If you are willing to endure,” he says finally, his voice dark as sin, “then yes. You will pass the audition.”

I push the words out past the trepidation. “Anything.” 


Curious enough to listen to the Danza Argentina after this? This is the piece Allie plays for Nikolai. My favorite bit comes in the transition around the 1.30 mark. 


And the other WIP'ers are here: 


  1. Wow! Thanks for including the music in this ... it really set the stage for us! I think my favorite part of the piece is around 2:30 and can't tell you why but I did love all the transitions. A piano in a dungeon - LOVE it! Good thing my piano teacher didn't think of that! HA! :)

  2. Just love how this sets the scene with the snippets of tragedy interspersed. Very skillful!

    1. Oh I posted even though i missed the sign up. Why not check it out.

  3. Very unique and interesting idea. The thought of him teaching her in his dungeon -- which also happens to have a piano-- is enthralling. I can already imagine him standing behind her with a cane or crop while she plays.
    Very yummy snippet, Tara, thanks for sharing ☺

  4. Nice piece of writing and teasing.

  5. Great scene. Love that you included the music. :)

  6. I find the concept of the piano in the dungeon delicious too. Maybe he'll play to her while she'd chained to his wall. Or punish her for any bum(?) notes...