We used to think differently. That was beaten out of us.
The notes played, flowing along the aural pathways. Twenty-nine Beats headphones plugged in, the varying colors echoing the twenty-nine varying mindsets. Eyes closed, some feet tapping along, some adding percussive finger drumsticks, some rocking, some swaying, others sitting still. One had to remind herself to breathe a couple of times.
When the last of the notes trailed off, with a slight reverb, heavy on the base line, the twenty-nine opened their eyes. There was a quiet expectation amongst them, knowing what was expected. They picked up their stylus’s and turned their attention to their tablet screens,
Some began immediately, taking apart the score in their heads as they listened to it. Others had to sit and ruminate over the chord structure, the rests, the tempo, and decide what would be acceptable to change.
Only one put the stylus down and flipped the music on again: the one who had to remind herself to breathe. She closed her eyes and let her hands drift up and down, tracing the patterns, the highs, the lows, the fervor. Most ignored her; those closest to her gritted their teeth, forcing themselves to focus, used to her behavior.
The day passed. Some of the twenty-nine gave up, tears streaming or fists clashing on the door frame as the exited the room. Others, sweat drenched, struggled along, searching for the key to breaking down the music into symbols, and creating something different from the foundation. They, too, gave up, one by one.
The one who had to remind herself to breathe, the one who listened again and again, conducting the empty space in front of her, was not one of those who left. By the time evening fell she had worked non-stop, erasing whole passages, coming at her composition from one angle, only to pick up a phrase that would cause her to rethink all she had done. She did this into the early hours of the next day.
The moderator, who had left at midnight, came into the room at eight a.m., noticing that only five of the twenty-nine were left. He plugged in at each station and listened to what they had done. He neither smiled nor frowned at any piece, just closed his eyes, taking in what was accomplished, and then dismissed each .with a sharp wave of his left hand.
The four stood by the door, silent, watching as the moderator plug in, all waiting with their own bated breath. He listened as he had with the others, yet there was something different in his manner. His composure changed, head starting to tilt up, his right hand rising to the headphones, taking them off, as his left hand pulled out the plug.
Her arrangement enveloped the room, the speakers deftly picking up the nuances, the changes in tempo, the soaring heights and depths re-imagined. All in the room listened, the others enraptured, the moderator still as stone, and the arranger lost in her crafting.
The moderator opened his eyes, fixed them on her, and with a nod of his head towards the door, he left with her following.
She was expelled later that morning. Nothing officially was said about the why, or where she went. We were discouraged to talk about her, but the four who had stayed behind quietly passed around what they heard in the hall, the sublime composition, the emotional contact and harmonics. In one fell swoop, these four were also expelled unexpectedly.
We were not allowed to discuss what had happened; fear of harsh reprisal prevented this. The music program was overhauled, and the next time we came together, we twenty-four, we listened to the music played for us again.
We didn’t change a thing.