Adagio – a slow tempo
The following morning, Taeyeon woke up at her usual time and ate a light breakfast. She saw herself smiling when she rinsed her mouth at the sink.
Time for a little test.
Slipping on a navy blue hoodie and an old baseball cap, Taeyeon grabbed her instrument case and left the house. She pulled the hood to cover her face and kept the cap low so that she wouldn’t be easily recognizable.
Taeyeon positioned against a wall, facing the doors where the crowd would be passing through. She squatted on the ground and opened her black case. She took out a recently used reed and placed it into her mouth to wet it while she assembled the clarinet. As a finishing touch, she took out the reed from her mouth and attached it via the leather ligature around her mouthpiece. She stood up, made some soft buzzing sounds with her lips as a warm up. Taking a few deep breaths, she blew gently into the woodwind instrument.
After playing a few short phases as a warm up, Taeyeon threw a few coins into the black and swiveled it towards the crowds. Glancing at her watch, it showed 7.55am. The timing was perfect as it was in the middle of the morning rush hour traffic. She started off by playing a short excerpt from the Midsummer Night’s Dream. When the music stopped, there wasn’t any applause. In fact, no one stopped to even listen to her play. It felt quite awkward but Taeyeon decided to carry on.
She followed up with a passage from Felix Mendelssohn’s Scherzo. These were quite complex passages that showed off a clarinetist’s skills. Her nervousness faded away as she was absorbed in the music she was making. Moreover, she was used to performing in front of large audiences. She pretended that she was playing in a concert hall and that the passing office crowd was her audience.
Many people walked through the gates at the train station, heading for the exits that would bring them to their schools or work place. They merely rushed past Taeyeon and most of them were in a hurry. Some of them were glued to their mobile phones. Hardly anyone stopped to take a second look at her, a famous clarinetist, who was performing at a train station for free.
Taeyeon calmly played song after song, right where the crowds were but no one seemed to give a hoot. Maybe the songs were too classical for the common man on the street. Yet the station she was at was right smack in the city centre where the likes of bankers, consultants, IT professionals work. These people were the one who would pay hundreds of dollars to see Taeyeon perform at the concert hall. Hence, was it true that some of them went to watch the concert just to show off their status when the truth was that they didn’t appreciate her music at all?
On and off, someone did stop to look but the person didn’t stop for long and merely continued on his or her way. Some of them had puzzled looks on their face, presumably wondering why there was a sudden performance at the train station and if there was a catch to it. Maybe it was just a marketing gimmick or perhaps a hidden camera stunt.
Well, at least a few people do notice my existence. Maybe some of them aren’t familiar with the clarinet, that’s why they didn’t bother to stop. I guess I would never know the reasons.
After playing for ten minutes, someone finally threw a note into the black case. Taeyeon nodded in appreciation as she continued playing. She played each piece of song with the same level of passion as she would in a concert hall. The melodic tunes of the clarinet floated in the train station as the crowds filed past her towards the door.
Taeyeon decided to end her performance after playing for forty minutes to nobody in particular. Grabbing her clarinet, she walked a few steps to the nearby vending machine and bought herself a can of iced coffee. She drained the can in a matter of minutes as she was thirsty after playing for a long time.
The crowd was thinning since it was almost nine am. Taeyeon decided to pack up and leave. She closed the instrument case, left the loose change and notes inside and walked out of the train station. Stepping into a nearby café, Taeyeon chose a corner seat so that she could remain inconspicuous. While waiting for her drink to arrive, she began to empty the notes and coins from the instrument case.
Nearly fifty dollars for an hour’s effort. Not too bad for a first time busker. Maybe I can consider a career switch. Taeyeon thought as she chuckled to herself.
She carefully separated the joints of her clarinet and packed them into the case. Her drink arrived shortly, served by a young waitress. The waitress paused for a moment as she found the hooded customer familiar. Taeyeon muttered a quick thank you and pretended to be busy looking at her phone. It was a hint for the waitress to leave so that she could enjoy her drink in peace.
Thinking back on the earlier episode at the train station, Taeyeon recalled the initial rush of adrenaline she felt when she played her first piece. It brought her memories of the first time she had to perform in front of her school during the year end concert. She was only nine years old and was so nervous that she made several mistakes while playing. Moreover, the clarinet wasn’t an easy instrument to handle for newbies. Her lips were trembling, causing her to lose her correct embouchure, therefore causing the clarinet to ‘squeak’ a few times during her performance.
After her first performance, Taeyeon vowed to practice until she could overcome her stage fright so that she could bring out the best of classical music on stage for people to enjoy. In the following year, Taeyeon managed to overcome her fear and went on to deliver a flawless performance on stage. That was also the time when her music teacher encouraged her to work hard and aim to be part of the Seoul Youth Orchestra where she would be able to hone her musical talent further.
Am I any good if no one bothers to stop and listen to me? Is this how a busker feels? Just performing their art and waiting for someone to drop some loose change? It feels kind of weird…to be ignored by so many people.
Taeyeon let out a bitter laugh as she emptied the last drop of drink into her mouth. She picked up her instrument case and headed for her home. She spotted a donation box outside a convenience store and decided to donate the full amount she received from busking. She was determined to repeat her performance again and hoped to make a difference in people’s day as they start off their brand new day at work. It was perhaps a subtle way of giving back to society.
For the next two mornings, Taeyeon went back to the same train station, stood at the same spot and performed a repertoire of classical songs. The music showcased the versatility of the clarinet, ranging from the mellow deep tones to the high pitched notes of the woodwind instrument. This time, more people stood around to listen to her play but none of them stayed long enough to even finish listening to a single piece. Only one young lady stayed from the start till the end.
The young lady stood out from the crowd. It wasn’t because of her hair colour or her pastel coloured dress. It was simply because of the look in her eyes. Taeyeon could tell that she was genuinely engrossed in her performance and she was the only person who bothered to stay throughout the performance.
After she finished her performance for the third day, Taeyeon wanted to approach the lady to thank her for being such a good audience. However, the lady disappeared among the crowd before she could finish packing up.
I’m glad I finally see someone appreciating my music. I want to tell her how thankful I am, seeing how she stayed throughout my performance at the train station. Looks like I’ll have to try my luck tomorrow.
Taeyeon was pouring the change she collected into a small bag she brought. Just as she was about to close her instrument case, she saw a shadow looming in front of her. She looked up and noticed it was the young lady with the blonde hair.
The lady handed Taeyeon a $20 note and a can of iced coffee. That was one of the biggest amount she received that day. Most people would throw their loose change or $2 notes into the case.
“I want to tell you that I really enjoyed your daily performance here. Your music brightens my day. You must be thirsty by now. This can of iced coffee is for you,” she said.
She has the sweetest smile and brightest eyes. A stranger actually cared about me.
“Thank you for appreciating my music and for this drink. You’ve made my day,” Taeyeon said with a smile. She was filled with gratitude for this stranger, especially for her thoughtfulness.
The lady smiled, turned around and exited the train station.
Taeyeon didn’t realised that she was still standing in the same spot, holding onto her clarinet and the can of iced coffee with her case still opened until someone threw some coins into her case. She couldn’t wipe the smile off her face for the rest of the day.