Come to think of it, my father Tetsurou used to give me stuff all the time, though I was rarely ever happy about the things I received. Tetsurou was a music critic, and that strange occupation of his meant he received endless amounts of CDs, books and magazines without needing to buy them—and any excess would always be passed on to me.
It would've been fine if he only gave me "things," but Tetsurou's laziness wasn't something to joke about.
It happened on the last day of the summer holidays. When I arrived home after band practice, Tetsurou flashed a really forced smile and said,
"Nao, I have something to give you. Something good."
"I don't want it!"
"At least ask me what it is!"
"Tell me then! I bet it's nothing good anyway!"
"What a poor attitude. What if it's something Nao really wants?"
"Something I want...... for example?"
"For example...... right, how about a new mother, who's young, beautiful and gentle?"
"That's something only you want."
Speaking of which...... not only was Tetsurou past the age of forty, he had even divorced once. Our neighbors had thought of him as the undergrad forever retaking his finals. It's impossible for someone like you to get remarried, yeah? How about you face the truth? It's about time you do that!
"I do think it's not good to make Nao do all the cooking, washing, cleaning, and etc...... so I've been actively participating in group dates at the hotels to find you a new mother!"
"It would all be solved if you did the housework instead!" All you do is to laze around at home. You don't even write your articles!
"That's mean, Nao. Why are you saying that? I've been working hard all day so I can provide for you."
"Let me ask you this then—what's with you playing the PS2 all day, and your hero being level 30 already?"
"Ah—Well, that's because I'm researching Sugiyama Koichi's music today. After all, he was one of the pioneers who popularized modern music in Japan!"
I immediately turned the PS2 off, and what came after was Tetsurou's shriek and horrified face.
"I just leveled him up this morning! Damn you for switching it off!"
"Get your ass to work!"
♮ ♪ ♬
I was preparing dinner when Tetsurou walked lazily into the kitchen. He was probably revived by the smell of the miso soup. He said,
"Well then...... back to the topic."
There's no need for us to go back to that topic! God damn it! Why's this person so stubborn!?
"Nao, take these."
The things swaying in front of me while I was cooking were...... some tickets. Just as I was about to brush the tickets aside, I caught a glimpse of the words "Conductor: Ebisawa Chisato." I then realized his motive, and my mood dropped in an instant.
"This is...... your job, right......?"
"Mmm, yeah. That's why I'm giving them to Nao."
The world famous conductor—Ebisawa Chisato. The person who gave him the rude nickname "Ebichiri" was none other than Tetsurou, who had also been Ebisawa Chisato's classmate in high school and at the College of Music. People frequently gave Tetsurou jobs critiquing Ebichiri's albums or concerts, probably because they thought the two of them had a really good relationship. However, it seemed Tetsurou wasn't too fond of criticizing his friend's music, so the course of action he took when he encountered such a situation—you might be stunned by what you hear—was push the job onto me. That was also the first time he had asked me to critique a concert.
"No, I can't do it! Do it yourself."
"I don't want to either. I took the job without asking who the conductor was. Please!"
Also...... why two tickets?
"I was thinking of attending the concert with some beauty, so I asked them to give me two. These are VIP seats, you know? They cost forty thousand yen each! Man, how lucky Nao is to be able to go on an extravagant date! So please! It's not nice to leave the VIP seats empty, so make sure you bring someone along with you. I'll fork out the cash for the night at the hotel as well!"
"Oi Tetsurou! Wait!"
But all Tetsurou did was mumble nerdy things like "Metal slime, metal slime" as he escaped back to the world of Dragon Quest.
God damn it! He won't be getting dinner tonight! But despite my anger, I still stuffed the tickets Tetsurou gave me into my pocket.
I couldn't help it, because I kind of liked Ebichiri's performances; and not only would I get to listen to one for free, I'd get some royalties for the article as well. Might as well.
♭ ♬ ♩
The next day was the school's opening ceremony. I thought it'd be better to get someone to join me for the concert, so I brought the tickets along with me.
When I entered the classroom on the first day of the September of my first year of high school, it felt like my classmates had undergone a complete change. For example, some had become tanned, while others had dyed their hair.
"Why is Nao not tanned at all?"
"Right, didn't you go to the beach for your training camp?"
The guys whose looks didn't change that much came to me and asked me that.
"The purpose of the training camp was to practice!"
That was the training camp for our Folk Music Research Club...... although we did swim a little.
"Rather than a change in looks, there must be changes in places we can't see."
"That's right. The summer holiday of the first year should be something that brings about a metamorphosis—in many different aspects!"
"And so...... who did Nao metamorphosize with?"
"We're talking about three girls and a guy going on a training camp together. Something must've happened, right?"
The guys in my class were more or less jealous of the fact that I was the only guy among the four members of our club; but I really wished they could've at least tried to understand what had actually happened before seething at me in jealousy...... Not only did I have to do all the cooking and laundry, but a lot of troublesome things occurred as well.
"That's unforgivable! Spit out the truth right now! Did you do it with Ebisawa?" "It should be Ebisawa, right?"
"Well...... Whatever you guys are imagining right now, it didn't happen."
"Move. Stop blocking the way."
A girl's voice suddenly came from behind the crowd, causing the guys to disperse like a flock of frightened birds.
Maroon-colored hair, fair skin, and large blue eyes...... Everything felt rather unreal. Even though it had already been four months since Mafuyu transferred into our school, I still found it rather unbelievable seeing her wear our school's uniform.
I let out a rather unnatural greeting. Mafuyu turned her head to stare at me angrily, then nodded her head slightly and said, with a voice as soft as bubbles, "...... Morning."
"W-Wow, Princess has graced him with a greeting!" "I can't believe this!"
Mafuyu shot a fierce glare at the guys making a ruckus, then sat down in her seat next to me.
"Here. I have roughly memorized them all."
Mafuyu took a few CDs out of her bag. They were The Smashing Pumpkins albums I had lent her yesterday. Since she was the guitarist of our band, she was researching various types of rock bands.
"How were they?" Wait, she took only a single day to memorize them all?
"I do not really like them, but I can use them as a reference."
Our conversation ended with that.
But even so, that could already be considered a huge improvement. Back when she had just transferred here, Mafuyu acted just like an injured cat afraid of coming out of the hole it was hiding in. After spring ended, we spent the summer together, and conquered our very first live performance—it took all that to shorten the distance between us by just a little.
But superficially, it might've only seemed like she was finally willing to greet me in the morning. The guys looking from afar were actively involved in discussion. "So how far have those two gone?" "Since they're exchanging morning greetings, they should be bidding each other good night as well......" Shut up, you guys are irritating!
And next...... I checked to see if the tickets were still in my pocket.
I didn't think it would work, but I tried asking anyway.
"Oh right. Mafuyu, what are your favorite pieces out of all the symphonies by Dvořák?"
The classmates around us knitted their eyebrows. Can't blame them...... it's not like you'd expect to hear a question like that in a high school classroom in the morning.
"Why are you asking that?" Mafuyu tilted her head and asked.
"Well...... urm, just think of it as a survey."
"The third and the fifth."
The waters were deep, but there seemed to be hope for me.
"How about Tchaikovsky?"
"You two are indeed father and daughter. Even your tastes are alike."
"What are you talking about?"
I gently took out the tickets and placed them in front of Mafuyu. The pieces to be performed were Tchaikovsky's <1812 Overture> and <Manfred Symphony>, and Dvořák's <Symphony No. 5>—and Ebichiri would be conducting. Mafuyu's expression froze when she saw that.
"...... What are you thinking?"
"Urm...... Tetsurou gave me these, and...... there's two of them, so I'm trying to get someone to go with me."
"That feels so stupid. Why would I want to watch Papa's concert?"
Mafuyu turned her head towards the blackboard after saying that. She really disliked her father a lot, so I knew inviting her would turn out futile.
"He failed~" "He's been dumped~" "So there's really nothing going on between them!" "Nao, you've sure got guts asking her out on a date in class." These live commentators are really irritating!
"So that means Nao's partner is indeed Aihara?"
"Yeah, it's got to be Aihara. She's practically no different from your wife!"
"Who's talking about me?"
The door located behind us suddenly opened, and a voice flowed in. The classmates around me jumped in shock.
"Morning! Hey Nao, listen. I forgot today was the start of the second semester! We came to school at a later time during the summer holidays, so I ended up sleeping till nine today. Why didn't you wake me up!?"
Chiaki walked past me and Mafuyu, then sat down in the seat in front of me. As expected of the ex-Judo Club member, Chiaki had casually tied her short hair to the side using a rubber band. Her bag was stuffed with her drumsticks and some old magazines strengthened with sealing tape—she was probably practicing her drumming in an empty space on the rooftop or something.
"Oh? What's this?" The sharp-eyed Chiaki saw the tickets on my desk.
"A concert. Do you want to go? But it's a classical concert......"
"Will those around us forgive me if I sleep and talk in my dreams?"
Then don't sleep!
"Ah, so the conductor's Mafuyu's father? This is live, right? Will they be performing things like Ebichiri's cheers or Ebichiri's dance?"
I couldn't help but sigh. I really don't know what'll happen if I bring Chiaki with me......
♯ ♩ ♫
Because it was the day of the opening ceremony, we had a long homeroom in the afternoon. Our class's female prime minister, Class-rep Terada, walked up to the stand with brisk steps, then jumped straight to the issue.
"Next, we'll be discussing the topic for today."
Terada pushed her glasses up, and the male class representative (a.k.a. Terada's slave) began distributing the handouts.
"There'll be a chorus contest at the end of the month, so we have to decide on a conductor, the accompaniment and the rest of the staff."
Come to think of it, I do recall something like that. Music used to be offered as a major at our school, so it was tradition to hold an inter-class chorus contest every year. It was a pretty grand event too. At any ordinary school, the event would probably be held in a sports hall or something; but at our school, the chorus contest was held in a large music hall that could accommodate all the students and teachers.
I briefly glanced at the information about the chorus contest printed on the handout. The set piece was Mozart's <Ave verum corpus>. Pretty good choice. It's short and easy to memorize.
♪ ♫ ♬
"Since we've already decided Nao will be the conductor, all we need to do now is decide on who's going to be the accompaniment."
"She's right......" "Nao's the only who can do it!"
"Oi, hold on a second!"
When I raised my head, I realized everyone in the class was already looking at me.
"You're not willing to do it, Nao?" Terada spoke to me in an overbearing tone, as if she were the people's representative. "Isn't your father a music critic?"
"The two aren't related at all! Decide it in a more democratic manner!"
"Fine. Nao, please name three of your favorite conductors," said Terada.
"It's part of the democratic process."
What's with that? I didn't get it, but no one in the class dared oppose Terada.
"Hmm...... Eugene Ormandy, George Szell and Charles Munch."
"Well then—" Terada placed her hands on the stand and scanned the class once. "If anyone besides Nao can name two or more conductors, please raise your hand now."
A silence fell upon the class, as though it were twelve thousand years after a nuclear fallout disaster. Forget raising their hands—no one moved a single inch.
"—Then it's decided. Nao will be conducting."
I was rendered speechless by Terada's cruel declaration; it felt like I could hear the sounds of democracy crumbling down around me.
"So next, the candidate for the accompaniment."
As soon as she finished saying that, everyone in the class carefully turned their head around to look at the seat beside me. I was originally confused as to what was happening, but I soon caught on.
If we're considering who in our class knows how to play the piano, the very first person that comes to mind can only be...... Mafuyu. Because she had won the international piano competition held in Eastern Europe at the mere age of twelve—the youngest ever girl piano prodigy.
However, she no longer wished to play the piano because of a certain condition, a condition everyone there—and not just me—knew very well. The root of the cause was probably psychological, but the middle, ring, and pinky finger on Mafuyu's right hand couldn't move normally.
But Ebichiri did say before, that Mafuyu's condition had greatly improved since she met me; and I had even seen Mafuyu play the piano in secret during our training camp.
Then again...... the problems of her heart were much more serious than her physical problem. It happened at a concert in England—Mafuyu was just about to play the first note of Chopin's sonata, but her fingers became unable to move. She hasn't yet fully recovered from the damage caused by that incident, so even if this is just a school competition, she probably won't be able to play the piano on stage......
That was why no one dared suggest that Mafuyu play the piano.
All everyone did was quietly peek at Mafuyu's expressionless face. In the end, no one nominated a candidate for the accompaniment.
♪ ♬ ♬
"Oh? So you're the conductor for the Third Class of First Year?"
For some reason, Kagurazaka-senpai smiled really happily when she said that. She was actually the first of us to reach the practice room—which meant she had probably attended her classes in the morning. I mean, she was one of those bad students that typically skipped class all day, and that only came to school after school was over.
"Senpai's from the Second Class of Second Year, right? Has your class already chosen a conductor?"
"Mmm, I was made the conductor right away—it was the same last year. I'm already itching for the fight."
"Senpai's not singing? Why?" asked Chiaki.
I was curious as well. Senpai's the lead singer for our band, so wouldn't it be better if she was singing rather than conducting?
"The pleasure you feel when the audience behind you applauses for you is quite a unique experience! The only occupation in this world that allows you to experience that is the conductor. I remember...... Ebisawa Chisato said something like that in one of his interviews."
"That's because he is a narcissist."
Mafuyu mumbled, as she wiped her guitar with a piece of cloth. From the tone of her voice, it sounded like Mafuyu was just irritated with her father, rather than trying to hate on him.
"I feel like I can get along really well with your father. Can we invite him to watch the chorus contest? He should be more than willing to come if there's no conflict with his schedule, right?"
Mafuyu rejected Senpai's suggestion with a frightening expression on her face.
"Ah, speaking of which......" Our talk about Ebichiri reminded me of the matter of the concert, so I pulled the tickets out. "Are you interested in attending this, Senpai? Though it's a complimentary invitation ticket......"
The smile on Senpai's face disappeared as she grabbed the ticket from me. What's wrong? Is she busy the day of the concert? Or are the pieces too heavy for her tastes? Dvořák's <Symphony no. 5> isn't really a problem, but <Manfred> may not be for everyone......
"There are two tickets...... meaning you're coming along as well?"
"Eh? Ah, yeah, because Tetsurou pushed his job onto me yet again. Urm, well...... you don't have to force yourself if you don't want to go."
"No. I'll definitely make myself free that day! I can treat this as an invitation for a date, right?"
"Eh?" Huh? What?
"It hasn't even been a month since that passionate night—I never would've expected young man to take the initiative to invite me. I'm dying to turn my happiness into endless words to whisper into your ears, but since others are around right now, let's leave that for that night."
Please, don't go around saying such things, or those that are unaware of what's going on will misunderstand! What do you mean by passionate night......
"...... For that night?"
"Because the concert's in Tokyo, right? The performance will probably end at around eight in the evening, and Ebichiri will most likely answer the audience's call for an encore. And after the concert, we need to eat dinner; so rather than going back home after all that, it'd be better if we stayed the night."
"You can't!" Mafuyu stood up all of a sudden.
"Geez—Senpai! What are you going on about!"
Chiaki stood up as well. I took a step back on reflex.
"I do quite enjoy seeing the cute jealousies of you two!"
Senpai hugged Chiaki, who was walking towards her, and planted a kiss on her forehead.
"Don't think I'll forgive Senpai just like this!" Chiaki was still furious despite being hugged in Senpai's arms. I was already used to seeing scenes like these, so I wasn't too surprised. Senpai really enjoyed flirting around with girls, and Chiaki joined this band because of Senpai. She had a reason to be mad, even if Senpai had only said that as a joke. But...... urm, why is Mafuyu angry as well? She's even glancing at me angrily......
"Are you jealous of me, Comrade Ebisawa? Or perhaps...... you want to come along as well?"
Senpai hugged Mafuyu from behind, then dangled the ticket right in front of Mafuyu. Mafuyu quickly turned her head away as her face turned red.
"Then...... I'll be attending the concert together with young man, alright?"
"...... You can't."
"You heard what she said, young man."
Senpai threw the ticket back at me. It seemed like Senpai was happy about the strange turn of events.
"The ticket's yours, so you should be the one to decide whom to give it to. However...... it seems Comrade Ebisawa and Comrade Aihara are both unwilling to go?"
"Kyouko, that's just too sly of you."
Mafuyu protested, as she continued to struggle in Senpai's arms. Mafuyu was the only person in the entire school that addressed Senpai by her name, and because they always hugged each other like that, misunderstandings about the Folk Music Research Club grew deeper and deeper.
I then suddenly thought of something...... If I give the ticket to Mafuyu and use the concert as an excuse to try to convince her once more, it might turn out to be a good opportunity for her to get back on good terms with her father?
But...... with the way things are right now, it'd be a little strange for me to give the ticket to Mafuyu......
"How about this? The ticket will go to the victor of some contest we'll all be participating in."
A beastly smile emerged from the corners of Senpai's mouth.
"If that's the case, then Senpai will definitely win!"
Chiaki complained. I felt the same way she did. Senpai loved things like gambling and contests, and because of her ingenious schemes, she had never once lost before.
"I can handicap myself! Comrade Ebisawa and Comrade Aihara can team up together; and I'll be alone by myself. I also grant permission for young man to be on the same side as you two. One against three. How about that?"
It's a little strange for the terms to be that good, right? Senpai must be very confident of herself to offer a condition like that. Just as I was about to say something, Mafuyu suddenly raised her head and said,
"I'm really happy, Comrade Ebisawa."
Senpai kissed Mafuyu lightly on the forehead. Mafuyu's face turned red in an instant, and she quickly pushed Senpai's lips away.
"If Mafuyu agrees, then I'm in as well!"
Urm, you two, calm down! Don't accept the contest without even knowing what you'll be competing in!
"So what are we competing in?"
"How about...... a sauna endurance contest where we can touch each other?"
"You just want to touch the two girls!"
"Young man can join in as well, yeah?"
"I see, I can make sure you're not touching them...... No wait, that's not the problem! I'm a guy here!"
This person could definitely arrange for a unisex sauna, so that was a really scary suggestion.
"If you're against the sauna, then how about an eating contest where we can touch each other?"
"What's the reason behind touching other people in an eating contest? And stop being preoccupied with trying to touch others!"
"Then...... if we're talking about four people, then Mahjong would be a good choice."
"I do not know the rules of Mahjong," Mafuyu admitted immediately.
"It's simple. The one with the least points has to strip."
"Don't teach her the wrong things!"
"So your rule is that the winner has to strip? I don't really mind if you're that desperate about stripping."
"I am not stripping! And please don't forget the original purpose of the contest!"
After coming up with a huge list of indecent suggestions, Senpai finally said, in a serious manner,
"How about this then. Since we have four musicians here fighting it out, let's decide the winner with music!"
Senpai looked at my, Chiaki's and Mafuyu's faces...... In retrospect, all those crazy antics were probably part of Senpai's plan to force us to grudgingly accept her suggestion.
"The winner shall be decided through the chorus contest!"
♩ ♭ ♫
Rumors of the contest had already spread throughout the whole class by the very next day.
"I heard you guys will be competing against Kagurazaka-senpai, and that Nao has to strip if he loses?"
"What's the point of you stripping? The one stripping should obviously be Aihara or Ebisawa!"
It seems they've received some strange information...... As for Terada, she was looking at me with tears in her eyes, saying,
"I'm really happy to see Nao so motivated about conducting!"
No, you're wrong. I'm not the least bit motivated.
The rules of the contest were very simple. Senpai's class would be competing against our class, and the winner would be the class with the higher score. There was a total of twenty four classes in our school, but even though they only announced the results of the top five classes...... "It's impossible for both our classes to miss the rankings, because my class will definitely get in the top five"—that was what Senpai had confidently said.
"Meaning Kagurazaka-senpai will be stripping if we win?" One of the idiotic guys said that and stirred up those around him.
"Everyone, lend me your strength!"
All the guys raised their fists in the air in response to Chiaki's cry. Please! What are you guys so excited about? However, I was the most surprised when Mafuyu said, "I am willing to be the accompaniment during our practices".
"Princess...... is that really okay?"
Terada was on the stand when she asked that question worriedly. "Princess" was a nickname Terada had come up with for Mafuyu, after much difficulty, and now, the rest of the girls in the class were also addressing Mafuyu by that. It might've seemed like they were doing it out of respect for Mafuyu, but in reality, it was their way of teasing her.
"It's okay. I cannot sing well anyway."
Mafuyu glanced at me as she said that.
"It should be fine if it is only during the practices. I can do it if Naomi composes the accompaniment."
I nodded my head without even thinking. Mafuyu actually said she wanted to play the piano...... Is she that desperate to win?
It should be easy composing a piano accompaniment for the set piece; and Mafuyu should be able to play it, despite the limited number of mobile fingers she has, if I omit a few notes. She's still way better than those without any prior piano experience anyway.
"Let's go with that. We'll come up with the rest of the plan after we've selected our choice piece."
Mafuyu agreed with Chiaki's suggestion.
♩ ♩ ♫
After school that day, we sent two guys over to Kagurazaka-senpai's class to gather information on what our enemies had chosen for their choice piece, but...... only one of them had come back.
"In order to let me escape, he...... ugh......"
The survivor gagged and said no more. What's with the exaggerated acting!
"But...... it should be fine! He's a really loyal guy, so he'd never reveal his class no matter what sort of torture they'd put him through!"
"They'll figure it out from his badge......"
"Ahh, I see. We're done for!"
Our spy broke out into a frenzy after that tsukkomi of mine. Are you retarded!? Even without the badge, there's probably someone who recognizes his face!
"So did you two find out what their choice piece is?" Terada asked.
"Nope. We were arguing about the girls' uniform. That guy rejected my notion of cheerleader outfits, so I couldn't help but protest. And we were caught like that."
"You guys are absolutely useless."
"You two don't have to come back!"
After hearing about their stupid actions, my drive—which was already low to start with—sunk even lower.
The recording of last year's chorus contest dealt the critical blow. The winner was the First Class of First Year—in other words, it was Kagurazaka-senpai's class.
The person wearing a formal tuxedo with her hair coiled up, was none other than Kagurazaka-senpai. Their choice piece was Niimi Tokuhide's ensemble piece <Kikoeru>. The different tempos of the song were clearly distinguishable, and were coupled with a meticulous ensemble. We were enchanted by it, despite us watching the video while sitting on the hard and uncomfortable chairs of the classroom.1
"It's no wonder they got first......"
"It's said they were the first ever first years to win the contest."
My classmates discussed quietly in the dark. Looks like we have no chance at victory. Well, I had been okay with Senpai winning since the very beginning anyway.
In order to handicap herself, Senpai had suggested a one-versus-three battle. It may have seemed like we had three times the advantage over her, but because the contest was a fight between the classes, we didn't manage to gain an actual advantage from that. Her admirable use of sophistry hadn't changed, and had placed her in a favorable position on the battlefield.
I let out a weak sigh. At the same time, I could feel a gaze piercing through my cheeks—Mafuyu was staring intently at me from the seat beside me.
From the moment the video ended, till the lights were switched back on in the classroom, Mafuyu stared at me.
"Do you really think we can't win?"
Mafuyu finally spoke, as our classmates began to leave the audiovisual room.
"But...... you did see the video just now, right?"
"That performance...... looked more impressive than it actually was."
♭ ♩ ♬
"What Comrade Ebisawa said is right~"
That was what Kagurazaka-senpai said during band practice that day.
"There are a few techniques that'll help increase the chances of winning the chorus contest. For example, you can deliberately emphasize the strength of the voices, choose a polyphonic piece, wave the baton in exaggeration...... and so on."
"Also, all the judges are inexperienced at music!" Chiaki added. So that's why Mafuyu said it looked more impressive than it actually was? Because it was a performance to bluff the laymen?
Mafuyu shook her head as she continued to tune her instrument.
"It was a performance to bluff 'the laymen who were forced to become judges, but who were unwilling to show their lack of expertise.'"
...... I see. Any amateur of the profession would be able to discern whether the performance was good or bad; however, the judges tried finding "reasons" to decide whether they should award high or low marks for the performance. And that's what our cunning Senpai aimed for with her tactics.
"I would've adopted a different strategy if the judging criteria had been based on polls of the student population. But since there were only four judges, it was much better to choose a piece that catered to their tastes."
"That reminds me—considering Senpai's class, your choice piece was really conservative."
I thought they would've chosen a rock piece as their choice piece, but the piece they selected sounded way more like the performance of an ensemble. It was kind of disappointing.
"One of the judges last year was the social studies teacher, who was a strong advocate of freedom."
I sighed. Senpai had actually considered even the tiniest details...... The song they sang, <Kikoeru>, was composed during the Gulf War; it was a song that advocated peace and the conservation of nature. It must've struck a chord with the social studies teacher.
"So...... what will your class be singing this year?" asked Chiaki.
"We've decided to do a rock piece."
"Eh? Which song?"
"It's a secret. My assisting the enemies ends right here."
Senpai grabbed her guitar and stood up.
"Let's begin our practice! We can't just focus on the chorus contest alone—the school festival is approaching as well."
♬ ♪ ♬
Senpai was the only one—out of the four members of the Folk Music Research Club—that cycled to school. That meant we could make use of our time walking to the train station after practice to discuss our battle plans.
"When's the latest we can decide on our choice piece? This weekend? Then we'll have to think harder~"
Chiaki swung her bag around as she walked down the middle of the shopping street. Her eyes were burning with a passion that only members of the sports clubs possessed, and that made me feel all worn out.
"Who are the judges this year?"
Mafuyu asked, from the other side of me.
"The principal and Miss Maki are fixed judges each year. Who else is there......"
Miss Maki was the music teacher, and also the supervisor of the Folk Music Research Club. That was why Chiaki asked, "That means we can bribe Miss Maki, right?"
"Problem is, Kyouko would be a step ahead of us if it could be done," replied Mafuyu. They ignored my presence as I walked in-between the two of them, and continued exchanging opinions enthusiastically.
Someone stomped my foot all of a sudden, nearly causing me to fall.
"You're always daydreaming! Can you please be more enthusiastic about this!? Is it okay for you to lose to Senpai?"
Chiaki moved her face close to mine. We were standing in the middle of a crowded street right in front of the station, and the stares of the passersby felt really uncomfortable.
"But I don't think we can win."
"So you want to go to the concert with Kyouko?"
Mafuyu moved in front of me and questioned me with a stinging glare in her eyes.
"No, it's not that I particularly want to......"
"Be clear about it!"
"Why's Mafuyu so concerned about all this? I can understand why Chiaki's angry, but......"
"Oh? So you know why I'm angry?"
Chiaki asked, in a really belittling tone. I nodded my head without confidence. It's because Chiaki likes Senpai, and having heard Senpai say she wants to go on a date with me—Chiaki wouldn't feel that great, even if Senpai had meant it as a joke, right? Chiaki knitted her forehead and sighed when she heard my explanation.
"Mafuyu, our enemy probably isn't Senpai, but the denseness of this idiot."
"I feel the same as well."
Mafuyu agreed without hesitation. For an instant, she looked at me as though she had something to say. However, she turned her head away immediately after, and walked quickly towards the station. Chiaki made a face at me before catching up with Mafuyu.
I remained rooted to the ground for quite a while, due to my confusion. When I finally realized I had to chase them, I ran down the stairs, but the doors to the train had already closed.
Exhausted, I sat on a bench on the platform. A voice suddenly came from behind me.
"Looks like it'll be an easy victory for me."
I nearly fell off the bench. I turned my head around and saw Kagurazaka-senpai standing behind me with a crafty smile on her face.
"...... Why are you here?"
Didn't she cycle back home on her bicycle already!?
"I was planning to gather information on your battle plans, but it seems like it was an unnecessary move."
Senpai sighed and sat down next to me.
"In any case, Senpai had already won the moment you suggested the idea of a contest, right? The one-versus-three handicap is pointless. We have no chance of winning!"
Right after I finished saying that, Senpai stared at me with a slightly shocked expression on her face.
"Young man, it seems like you have some misunderstandings about me~"
"What did I misunderstand?"
"You should know very well that I only fight battles I will win. But the other mantra of mine is...... I will never fight a battle that can't even be considered one."
Senpai placed her hand on my thigh.
"I joined this battle because I believed that young man, Comrade Ebisawa and Comrade Aihara, are worthy of being my opponents. This contest is not pointless, and I do not want an empty victory either."
The announcement of the incoming train was broadcasted throughout the station. Senpai gently moved her body away and stood up.
"However...... the current you is unable to compete against me. Forget about one versus three—the three of you added together isn't even on par with just half of me. What a shame."
I listened blankly to the sound of the incoming train, as well as Senpai's footsteps, as she climbed up the stairs, disappearing from my sight. However, I was unable to pry myself from the bench for a long time.
She believes we're worthy opponents.
But the current me is—
♫ ♮ ♩
The next day, it was our class's turn to use the music room after school. Since we hadn't yet chosen our choice piece, we started by practicing the set piece.
K618 <Ave verum corpus> was one of Mozart's masterpieces. It was a simple song that was easy for the different parts to practice on their own. But the task of gathering the separate soprano, alto, tenor, and bass lines, and blending them together to form a single song, wasn't so simple. It was already difficult enough for a layman like me to grasp the techniques of harmony; but add on the fact that the thirty-plus voices before me were all singing on their own...... Holding the baton in my hand, I was beginning to feel lost about what I needed to do.
Chiaki, who was standing in the front row with the other altos, had her eyebrows arched upwards.
"Hey! If all conducting is is just standing there and swinging your hands left and right like a metronome, then I know how to conduct too!"
"The only thing about you that's worth mentioning is your knowledge of music! So please do better than that!"
"That's right, you won't be able to become your father's successor like this!"
Oi! Don't lump me together with him! I placed the baton on the music stand. I was rather pissed off. Hey, I'd be really troubled if you blamed the disharmony on me as well!
An awkward silence filled the music room for a short while; and the person who eventually broke the silence was Chiaki.
"How about this—we'll head outside."
Eh? W-What? Our classmates started stirring up quite a commotion after hearing Chiaki's words, but Chiaki turned to face the piano and continued,
"Mafuyu, please teach that idiot properly. We'll move into the corridor to practice in our own sections."
There were some who objected, saying they didn't want to leave the air-conditioned comfort of the music room, but Class-rep Terada agreed to Chiaki's suggestion. So my classmates began walking out of the room and into the corridor, leaving behind a surprised me, and Mafuyu, who was still sitting at the piano.
What the heck is going on here? Just what is Chiaki planning?
I tried my hardest not to make eye contact with Mafuyu, and sat down in front of the music stand.
I could hear my classmates singing on the other side of the heavy metal door of the music room. But it wasn't just us—all the other classes were practicing as well. The voices of hundreds of people were all mixed together, resulting in a muddied and unclear sound.
"...... Do you still want to be the conductor?"
Mafuyu asked me softly.
"I'm not against it......"
It was just that everyone seemed to have some sort of weird expectation of me—it was the same yesterday, with Kagurazaka-senpai as well. I hate it. They think we can beat last year's winners just because I critique music? A conductor is not a magician!
"I can understand your feelings......"
My view of Mafuyu was blocked by the cover of the piano, so I couldn't see what expression Mafuyu was wearing when she mumbled those words.
"I feel..... that a conductor is unnecessary for an ensemble made up of laymen."
"...... Mmm, you're right."
"Well, no one has any concentration to spare to pay attention to my baton, as their hands are already full trying to focus on the scores in front of them. So they depend on the piano accompaniment to guide them, but even the accompaniment isn't—"
I stopped my sentence halfway.
Everything I had said until then was correct. Those without a background in music wouldn't be able to follow the conductor while singing, and an inexperienced accompaniment player would just play the piano at his own pace; so there would be absolutely no need for a conductor. However—
I stepped onto the conductor's stand once more, and made eye contact with Mafuyu. It was as though her eyes were asking me "Why did you think I volunteered to be the accompaniment?"
That's right. Our accompaniment wasn't chosen just because she "happened to have learned piano before," which seemed to be the rationale for choosing the accompaniment in nearly all the other classes.
The accompaniment was none other than Mafuyu.
There was Mafuyu and me—a weapon Kagurazaka-senpai's class did not possess.
I gently lifted the baton off the music stand. Mafuyu's shoulders delicately responded to my action.
I waved the first note slowly, as though I were trying to thread a needle in the air. The song was only forty-six bars long, but each and every bar and beat remained lithe, despite the solemn mood of the tune—
The melody of the piano began making its way forward. I was in total control of the tempo, and it almost felt like I could scoop each individual note up with my hand...... Since the tune was something I had composed specifically for Mafuyu, it was made up of only the most basic triad. The delicate sounds would perfectly coordinate themselves to the slightest movement of my fingertips. I even thought I could feel Mafuyu's breaths. The song began to play in my ears—the main melody shifted keys to A Major, turning the mood of the tune slightly darker; then, to F Major.
The crystal clear voices of the prayers echoed off the tall ceiling of the cathedral, and became absorbed by the baton in my hand, that pointed at a faraway place. The area around us finally returned to silence.
When the piece was over, I stared at the blackboard at the back of the music room for a long while. I could feel my strength flowing out of my body.
I slowly stepped down from the stand, and made my way towards the piano. Mafuyu's face was dyed a faint red. She shifted her gaze away when she realized I was looking at her.
"I'm sorry, Mafuyu...... and thank you."
"All I did...... was to play to your conducting."
I focused my attention on Mafuyu's right hand, which rested on the keys of the piano...... the hand of hers that was different from everyone else's.
Mafuyu used that hand for my sake—
"Ah! I did not do it for you!"
"Ah...... no, you obviously didn't do it for me, so...... why? Because you want that ticket?"
"No! Y-You and Kyouko......"
Me and Kagurazaka-senpai? Is there something wrong with us attending the concert together? But Mafuyu's face turned red halfway through her sentence, and she didn't say anything else for a while.
"Geez! You idiot!"
In the end, she said only that, and began to repeatedly slap my arms vigorously. Just as I was about to grab her wrist to stop her, Mafuyu slapped my hand away with her face flushed red. Mafuyu was looking past me, in the direction my back was facing—
I turned around in shock. The door of the music room had opened, unknown to us, and created a tiny slit, and all our classmates were peeking at us through that sliver.
"Darn! It's over already?"
"The squabble between you two was really short!"
"That was so boring!"
It's not like we exist for your viewing pleasure!
Chiaki gave me a hard stomp on my ass. By the time we resumed practice, there wasn't much time left for our class to use the music room, but the practice that day made me feel as though I had finally managed to catch hold of the edge of Kagurazaka-senpai's tuxedo.
After practice was over, Mafuyu and I found ourselves alone again, headed to the music library to return the baton and the scores.
"Mafuyu, can you play the accompaniment for the actual performance as well?"
I quietly asked Mafuyu that question as I was putting the scores back on the racks of the dark storeroom. Mafuyu stared at my face, then lowered her head.
She can't? Mafuyu's inerasable scars were inflicted on her when she was on the stage, so even though she could play the piano during our practices, if we were talking about her playing under the spotlight—
But...... the sound of her piano played an important role in guiding our class through the whole song. We definitely depended on Mafuyu's accompaniment to help coordinate the chorus to my conducting.
It was then that I suddenly thought of something......
"Then...... how about this. At the very least......"
Mafuyu listened to my request with a helpless expression on her face. After much deliberation, she finally said to me, hoarsely,
"...... Do I have to?"
"Mmm, yes!" I nodded my head calmly.
"So that means you do not want to attend the concert with Kyouko?"
"No, that's not it." For some unknown reason, Mafuyu was particularly fixated on that. To me, it didn't matter who got the ticket. It's just—
"I want to beat Senpai. I want to show Senpai the things you and I can do together, so I'll definitely need your help."
Mafuyu bit her lip; and her gaze fell to the floor.
So it still won't do huh...... Just as I was about to apologize to Mafuyu, she suddenly lifted her head and said,
"...... I understand....... I will give it a try."
I grabbed her hands and swung them around excitedly.
With this, we might finally be on par with Senpai—for the set piece anyway. So what's left...... is the choice piece.
Senpai said we were worthy of being her opponents. Senpai believed in me. Chiaki believed in me. And Mafuyu believed in me as well.
I won't let her call us "an easy victory" again.
♬ ♩ ♩
Prior to band practice that day, I decided to make a trip to the music preparatory room, to ask Miss Maki some questions...... meaning I'd be investigating the judges.
"There's no point in bribing me."
Miss Maki said that to me right as I stepped into the room. Her hair was rolled up, and she was wearing a pure white blouse and a tight skirt. This music teacher of ours looked like the perfect teacher, straight out of a guy's fantasy, but in actual fact, she was a violent lady who acted on her whims.
"Because I have to go along with the preferences of the head! And I'll even have to say things like, 'Ara, Mrs. Hayase has such an incredible sense of music! Ohohohoho~'. What a pain......"
What appeared in my mind was the face of another judge—Mrs. Hayase, the head teacher of the second years. She looked like an idle and rich lady, but was actually a really strict middle-aged woman.
"Please don't reveal complicated inside stories like that to your students without any reservations!"
"But you're here for those complicated inside stories, right? You're trying to bribe me so you can beat Kagurazaka."
When did I ever say anything about a bribe? Also, that means the details of our contest with Senpai have reached the ears of the teachers already?
"No, I'm just here to check on the judges' preferences in music."
"How much are you paying me?"
Oi! Damn you! You just said you wouldn't accept my bribes, and now you're asking me to bribe you!? I gripped my knees hard to suppress my anger, and squeezed out the following words,
"In exchange, I'll bring you the cream puffs sold at the pastry shop next to the station."
"I'll take four!"
Damn her for taking the opportunity to ask for a bribe......
"You should know our principal's a Christian, right? He was the one who chose the set piece, so you can't go wrong if you choose a gospel or something like that. In past years, the judge chosen by the students tended to award high scores for rock and pop music. And as for Mrs. Hayase, her preferences are harder to grasp. She likes movies and TV series, so you guys can try investigating along those lines?"
"But how do we go about investigating that? By asking her directly? I've never attended any of her lessons before, and haven't even spoken to her once."
"Who knows? Come up with something yourself. Kagurazaka has already asked her."
Ah! So Miss Maki told Senpai the same things as well? Seems like we're a step behind her.
"Mmm, I'm craving some pastries already! It's all up to you now, Nao!"
Because I was angry at Miss Maki for demanding a bribe, I ended up buying only a single cream puff and cut it into quarters before giving it to her. It's obvious I was severely beaten up by her.
♭ ♫ ♬
It wasn't like Miss Maki's information was totally useless though. We at least knew we had to focus our attention on Mrs. Hayase.
I wandered to the staff room in an attempt to look for Mrs. Hayase. However, Kagurazaka-senpai was already in the office, at the table of the head of the second years.
I hid myself behind a compartment wall and peeked at them. Mrs. Hayase was holding on to Kagurazaka-senpai and lecturing her. No surprises there. Kagurazaka-senpai was a bad student that hardly attended lessons. So she probably gets summoned to the staff room occasionally to get lectured by the teachers, right? But upon listening closer, I realized their conversation had somehow turned into something like "Right, right! That's the song! I don't know the name of the song, but I've heard it in a movie soundtrack before......" "Ah..... then it is probably......" Senpai's ability to get others to talk is really scary......
I then thought of something—
All I need to do is to stay close to Senpai, and slowly piece together the information she has gathered, right?
No, but...... that would mean we'd be progressing at the same pace as Senpai. If we wanted to defeat her, we'd have to overtake her by a long distance.
The conversation between Kagurazaka-senpai and Mrs. Hayase had already finished by the time I was done considering all these things. How can this be!? I actually missed the important details at the most crucial moment!
♪ ♫ ♩
"It seems the First Class of Second Year has chosen their choice piece."
The news came to us the next day after school. It seemed the First Class of Second Year was really enthusiastic about the contest as well. Not only did they put defenses up against our spy, they even rallied together to berate him when he went to the music room to gather intelligence. Regardless of all that though...... he still managed to bring us precious information.
"I heard them clapping to the beats. They were clapping and singing at the same time, so it shouldn't be the set piece, right?"
"What type of song was it?"
Chiaki strangled the spy's neck in an attempt to squeeze all the information out of him.
"I-I have nothing else. That was all I heard."
"If they've decided on their choice piece, they should've submitted it to the student council already. We'll be able to find out if we check there?"
A gleam shone from Terada's glasses right after she heard that suggestion from one of the guys in our class.
Terada's really scary! Our spy flew out of the classroom immediately after her instruction, and came back within five minutes.
"It's crazy! The student council room has turned into a battlefield! The killing auras of the students are getting stronger as the contest draws nearer."
"That's not important. Did you manage to get your hands on any intel?"
Terada's voice was incredibly harsh. It felt as though she was pressing him for answers by stepping on his head with her shoes.
"Yes Boss! There was a stack of papers piled on the table that looked like the registration forms. I did my best and snapped a picture of them with my handphone.
They're already working so hard (in the wrong manner) for this chorus contest, so what sort of crazy stunts will our class pull when sports day rolls around? I shuddered at the thought. But I still looked at the screen of my classmate's handphone.
The first thing I saw was a messy table with papers and stationery scattered all over it. A familiar piece of paper was clipped beneath the cover of the contest brochures...... It was the paper for writing down the selected choice pieces. I could make out the characters "2-1" in the space for entering the class, but—
"We can't see the name of the song because it's covered up! You are really useless!"
The spy could only tremble under the cold and harsh words of Terada. The cover of the brochure overlapped with the area where the names of the choice pieces were filled in.
"Wait. We can still see the edge."
Said Mafuyu, who was looking at the screen together with me. Our foreheads almost came into contact.
"What's written on it? The image quality is bad."
"It's probably written in shorthand."
Mafuyu turned the screen horizontally and squinted at the screen. She then said in a soft voice,
"What is written on it is...... Queen."
A strange voice escaped from my throat.
Sparks of fire bursted all over the place. The various thoughts in my mind lined themselves up together in an instant.
"Do you know what it is?"
I nodded my head in response to Mafuyu's question.
The band, Queen.
They're a legendary rock band from England, famous for their beautiful and catchy melodies, as well as their rich choruses—if we wanted to choose a rock piece for our choice piece, a song by Queen would definitely be the best choice.
I recalled Miss Maki's words again—
The principal likes gospels. And the students' representative usually awards high marks for rock or pop songs. Kagurazaka-senpai should've obtained information similar to mine, and should've also gathered some additional information from her conversation with Mrs. Hayase. And Senpai did say before, that they'd be going down the path of rock this year.
Combining all these points...... and assuming they chose a song by Queen—
"I heard them clapping to the beats."
"...... I got it."
"I know the piece Senpai chose."
Chiaki stared at me as well.
"A song by Queen, clapping to the beats, and that has a gospel feel to it...... Only one song fulfills all those criteria and is usable for the chorus contest."
Chiaki realized what the song was as well, and we said the name of the song together at the very same time.
♯ ♪ ♪
"Is it okay to choose the same song they did?"
Mafuyu asked that question when we were sitting on the bench on the platform, waiting for the train home.
Right after deducing the song chosen by Kagurazaka-senpai's class, the Third Class of First Year immediately submitted the name of our choice piece to the student council. It was none other than <Somebody to Love>. After much consideration, I decided that the only way we could truly win, was by choosing the same choice piece as Senpai's class.
"They'll directly compare us to Senpai's class if we sing the same song as them."
Chiaki obviously felt uneasy about it as well. I deliberately ignored their expressions and replied,
"Senpai's class is indeed stronger than ours when it comes to singing. We won't be able to compete against them in that. However......"
I wasn't very confident either, so I couldn't look straight at their faces. I only stared at my opened palms.
"If that's the case, it'll be the same regardless of the song we choose. Therefore, we must use the weapons that only we possess."
In <Somebody to Love>, the main vocals are sung by a six-part chorus. Despite sounding like a gospel, it's still a classic rock song.
"We have a bassist, a guitarist and a drummer in our class."
Chiaki stared at me with her eyes open wide.
Senpai said she had a one-against-three disadvantage, so we should make full use of our advantage without hesitation. Chiaki, Mafuyu, and I were all we needed to form a rock band. That was our unique weapon that Senpai's class didn't have.
"But...... putting the guitars aside, the organizers definitely won't allow us to place a drum set on the stage! What are we going to do about that?"
"I have two sets of mini electronic drums at my house, so let's use those. The volume should be just right as long as we have a set of speakers. You play the drums the same as you normally would, so it should be easy."
The train arrived before we knew it. The noise it produced as it approached the station sounded as though it were attempting to crush the surging emotions inside me. I shoved that oppressive feeling aside and stood up between the two girls. I stood by the safety line and turned my head around to look at the surprised Chiaki, as well as Mafuyu, who had a vexed expression in her eyes.
♪ ♩ ♪
As expected of a school that used to offer music as a major, the atmosphere at school was really heated the day of the chorus contest. The school broadcasted Haydn's oratorios in the morning, and the canopy of the music hall was modified specifically for the chorus contest, with the event's name printed across it...... If only they'd direct some of the chorus contest funds towards supporting the various clubs instead.
It had been an hour since the contest had begun. Our classmates squeezed together like a pack of sardines at the right side of the stage and pried the curtains open slightly, to peek at the audience through the gap. The teaching staff seated in the first row already had irritated expressions on their faces. They must've been tired of listening to <Ave verum corpus>, as they had heard it almost ten times already.
"Miss Maki has already fallen asleep......"
Right after I finished saying that, Mafuyu whispered in my ears.
"Then wake her up with your baton."
I was going to do that even if you didn't tell me to. I wiped my palms on my trousers to wipe off the sweat.
The order of the performances had been decided randomly, and Senpai's class had been assigned to perform three spots after us. This is great for us—their morale might lower after hearing our performance.
"Hey Nao, did you see the program guide?"
Chiaki asked, after returning from backstage.
"The one they distributed in the morning? Nope."
I had no time to look at it, due to my nervousness.
"I see...... Nevermind, it's nothing much. It's too late to do anything anyway."
"They're about to end soon."
I was quite concerned about what Chiaki meant, but the sparse applause, and the sound of the class before us walking off the steps, shattered the uneasiness inside me.
One by one, under the rays of the spotlights, the students of Third Class of First Year began making their way onto the stage. I'll be the last one to walk onstage.
Holding the baton in my hands, I suddenly thought—Ebichiri must have tasted this solitary feeling a few thousand times already, right? Being a conductor is really tough; I never want to conduct ever again.
But...... this time's an exception.
The emcee introduced our class and our choice piece, then announced the names of the conductor and the accompaniment. I turned my head to look at one of the event committee members. The thing he held in his hands was...... my bass.
"We're really sorry for making such requests."
We had gone through great pains to obtain permission from the organizers to incorporate guitars and drums into our performance. Some of the nice people on the event committee knew about our contest with Kagurazaka-senpai and helped us in secret.
"I'll be depending on you when the set piece is over."
"Do your best!"
After nodding to each other, I began walking towards the stage doused in the lights.
Cheers and loud applause rang from my side. Wait, the performance hasn't even started yet, so why are they already so excited? The other classes didn't receive the same treatment we did. I even heard someone shouting "Defeat Kagurazaka!" Just how far did news of the contest spread? Standing at the front of the stage, I opened my hands to quell the noise of the audience.
I looked in the direction of the piano, and saw Mafuyu's pale face behind the raised cover of the black piano. She hadn't taken her seat yet—she was just staring at the keys. This doesn't look good.
The gaze and the cheers of the audience caused Mafuyu's fingers to become unable to move.
Just then, as the noise of the audience gradually receded, I heard Chiaki's voice from the highest level of the terraced stage. She shot a gaze of reproach and plea in Mafuyu's direction, as though she was saying to me "Come up with something!"
She's right. I was the one that asked Mafuyu to play the accompaniment, so I have to do something.
I walked over to the piano. Mafuyu's shoulders flinched. Then, she sat down.
"I am...... okay."
Mafuyu mumbled. However, her hands were placed stiffly on the piano.
I repositioned myself next to the piano to block Mafuyu's view of the audience.
There was no need for her to pay attention to the audience. The only one she had to look at was me.
"Mmm. It'll be alright." I had considered my words carefully before speaking them out loud. At the same time, I was careful to not let Mafuyu see how tightly I was holding the baton. "This is just practice. It's the same as Mozart warming up before his actual performance. It's not a big deal."
After a while, Mafuyu raised her head to stare at me. She then looked beyond the curtains to the side of the stage. The Stratocaster was sitting on its stand, waiting for the crazy atmosphere that would come later.
Mafuyu looked at me once more, then nodded her head. Her eyes had regained their liveliness—and in them, was my reflection alone.
The instant I gently lifted my baton, it felt like everyone in the music hall had their breaths sucked away.
It felt as though someone was descending from the sky, walking on transparent stairs with light steps—how did she manage to play that sort of sound on the piano? I had no idea. I began making my way to the stand, walking backwards; Mafuyu was getting further and further away from me. The ensemble gradually came into view, and all I did was pinch the baton to guide them gently—their voices began to flow, gushing out of the overflowing fountain.
There should've been some who noticed, right? Mafuyu's piano ended on the weakest of tones, and gradually faded away—as though it were sending off the exalted voices. Who else noticed that aside from Mafuyu and me? That was the agreement we had made back when Mafuyu and I were alone. <Ave verum corpus> was originally composed for the ensemble, the strings and the organ, so a piano would've destroyed the penetrative melody of the piece. Therefore, Mafuyu and I decided to have the piano fade away during the actual contest, without anyone noticing. All Mafuyu had to do was play the opening for us—that was what I had asked Mafuyu to do. There was no longer any sound coming from the piano. Other than the singing voices, all that remained were the sounds of the illusory string instruments. Can everyone else hear those sounds as well?
Right after my fingertips sucked away the harmony that had dragged on till the very last moment, a loud roar of applause erupted behind me. The imaginary sounds of the strings had disappeared, and what replaced them was the heated sweat coming from my back. I scanned the flushed faces of my classmates—everyone had an expression of disbelief on their face. I counted the steps of the event committee member running towards us, while enjoying the applause of the audience behind me.
Senpai had said before—the pleasure of experiencing the applause coming from behind you is a privilege exclusive only to conductors. I recall she was borrowing the words of Ebichiri? I see, it may be just as he said. Right now...... I'm experiencing the pleasure myself, but—
Tossing away the baton, I took my bass from the hands of the committee member, then turned myself to face the audience. In the direction of the spotlights, I could see the applause slowly turning into an uproar. Seems like everyone's surprised—I am indeed a rocker at heart.
I still preferred to face the audience.
In the corner of my eye was Mafuyu, who had left her seat without making a sound. She picked up her guitar and began strumming it with her pick. Next, were the cheap and blaring sounds of Chiaki's electronic drums, rolling along with the melody—<Somebody to Love>.
Right after I strummed my bass, I felt a vibration travel throughout my body. The nostalgic bass assaulted my stomach, and my singing voice began to naturally flow out of my throat. The rich chorus of over thirty people came rushing from behind my back. It was an incredibly indulgent piece of rock music. My thoughts of winning the contest had already been thrown way out of my head. But it was a shame...... that we were lacking the sound of Senpai's guitar.
There was a brief moment of silence in the middle of the song. The strange-sounding chants beneath the clapping tempo began to gush their way up, stacking themselves in layers, one after another. In the end, after a violent explosion, the performance cascaded into the finale. The only thing I could see were the glittering lights reflected by the drops of sweat flying around me. I had no idea where Senpai was. Did we manage to carve our performance into her heart?
♫ ♮ ♬
Even after holing myself up in the restroom for fifteen minutes, I still wasn't able to return my heated body back to normal. When we finished our song, aside from the vigorous applause, I also heard what sounded like cursing and cheers mixed together. It felt like those sounds were still reverberating in my ears. The throbbing of my heart persisted for a long time.
The performance of the First Class of Second Year was about to start, but my legs were void of any strength to stand up. I asked myself, "Am I scared of listening to their performance?" How can I not be? I did think we performed really well, and I wanted be optimistic about our chances of winning—but for some strange reason, I was unconvinced. It's Kagurazaka-senpai we're talking about here...... Even though they're performing the exact same piece as ours after us, and even though they lack the accompaniment of the bass and the drums...... Do they really not possess any sort of secret weapon?
It's pointless for me to hide in here any longer! I hammered my knees with my fists, and finally stood up. What I wanted to hear was the chorus of Senpai's class. How is Senpai going to go about presenting it?
I walked down the corridor and pushed open the heavy double doors of the music hall. The performance had reached the final chorus of <Ave verum corpus> and was fading into the dark. I looked at the stage and was surprised at what I saw. The long hair tied into two braids—I recognized the back of Kagurazaka-senpai in an instant. She was standing right in the middle of the stage, and facing her, was the ensemble of her class, whose grey silhouettes were arranged neatly on the terraced stage.
Looking at the clothes the girls were wearing, even without the veil, one could easily recognize their attire as that of a nun. So the school actually allowed them to dress up like that. Well, I guess the school's pretty lax about the restrictions.
When I returned to my seat, my classmates around me whispered, "Where have you been, conductor?"
"It'd be bad if we got calls for an encore!" "I really wish I could sing once more!" "Yeah—"
After I settled down in my seat, a hand reached out to me from behind, and something appeared before my eyes. Oh, the program guide for the chorus contest. I turned my head around—it was Chiaki who passed me that.
"The song Senpai's class chose wasn't <Somebody to Love>."
For a brief moment, I couldn't understand what Chiaki had said. Just as I took the guide from her in shock, the sound of a piano began to ring on stage.
I turned my head back to the stage and listened to their singing.
It began with an almost silent singing that praised Virgin Mary—no accompaniment, just a simple harmony. I finally realized my mistake—
The elegant hymn was interrupted by the abrupt sounds of a piano. What came next was a passionate rhythm, formed from the sounds of hands clapping and feet stomping. The same melody from before coordinated itself to this tempo—there were times when they resonated with each other, and times when they screamed in contrast—
That's...... one of the songs that appeared in the movie <Sister Act>—
The tempo of the hymn was increased for that song, and the hymn itself, rearranged, to form the final product. In the movie, the song served to reignite the burning passion of the sisters, and brought the younger generation into the church once more. And now, back in reality, it glued our sights to the stage. I couldn't breathe. Why didn't I notice it then? The "Queen" Mafuyu had seen in the picture wasn't the name of the band, but the last word of the name of the song. Why didn't I realize it was a hymn and a rock piece at the same time? Why? After all, it's possible to create rock with only singing, the hands and the feet......
Senpai's hair swung wildly, like the tail feathers of a bird, as she turned her body around. When she started to bring her hands up to her head to lead the audience into a clap, the whole music hall was swallowed up by the atmosphere. Her class's chorus and claps were overshadowed by Senpai's powerful solo performance. The song ended with an amazing round of applause, and cheers that were comparable to an avalanche. Despite my chagrin, I still applauded as hard as I could.
There was no need for the official results to come out to know who had won. I pitied the classes that had to perform after Senpai's class (and actually, quite a few people had gone home right after Senpai's performance). In the end, our class came in second. Chiaki had gone up the stage to receive the prize in my place, as I was completely drained. But my strength didn't return even after Chiaki had hit me hard using the rolled-up certificate.
♮ ♪ ♫
Two days after the contest ended—
It was a Sunday night. We had agreed to meet next to the ticketing gates of a busy train station in Tokyo. I was worried I wouldn't be able to spot her, but those worries were all for nothing. Kagurazaka-senpai appeared near the stairs wearing a glamorous purple gown. Despite being roughly two hundred meters away from me, she still stood out from the crowd. Beneath the lace shawl, I could clearly see that the back of her revealing gown cut deep down; and that made my heart skip a beat. Her hair was tied elegantly into a bun, which made her look like a celebrity invited to some grand party. In contrast, I was wearing a mediocre suit, so it was a little embarrassing.
And that wasn't the end of the surprises. "Sorry I'm late. Let's go." Just as Senpai finished saying that, she wrapped her arm around mine, nearly causing me to fall.
"You seem nervous. This shouldn't be your first time attending a classical music concert, right?"
"You're not wrong......" But this is my first time attending one together with a girl.
"Then again, I was way more surprised than you were!"
Senpai began talking about the contest as we made our way to the concert hall. But since the event had ended on what I felt was an embarrassing note, I was hoping no one would talk about it.
"Are you that dissatisfied with the results? Your choice of song and your performance were both pretty good. I never thought you guys would pull out a Queen's song for the chorus contest."
"No, you see...... there was a lot behind it."
I never told Senpai why we chose to perform <Somebody to Love>, because it was a really embarrassing misunderstanding.
According to one of the committee members, there was a huge gap between the scores of the winner and the scores of the runner-up. And it wasn't just because the principal had awarded really high marks for the hymn—it was obvious, from the reactions and the atmosphere of the audience, that the victory belonged to Senpai's class. We thoroughly lost to them.
"Ah, you see—"
Senpai tightened her grip on my arm and said,
"I think there was a much simpler reason for our win, that has nothing to do with how good or bad the performances were. The time signature of <Somebody to Love> is 6/8, right? It's a pretty dynamic song, but the time signature makes it hard for the audience to sway their bodies left and right to the beat while sitting in their chairs! I had actually considered using that song for the contest as well."
I glanced at Senpai's face and sighed.
"Hmm? What's wrong?"
So my train of thought wasn't comprehensive enough...... How long will it take for me to finally catch up to this person here?
When the roof of the concert hall barely came into view among the buildings, Senpai suddenly said,
"But you guys were really strong opponents! I was proud to be able to compete against you."
Senpai stopped in her tracks for a moment and stared at my face, with a suspicious smile on her own.
"And also, I'm in an excellent mood tonight because of my victory over you guys. You can do whatever you like, so have you booked a room at the hotel?"
"No no no no......"
When is she serious and when is she not?
♯ ♬ ♫
All the seats in the concert hall were occupied. As expected of the world-renowned Ebichiri, the audience was mostly made up of slightly older fans that were all well-dressed. I couldn't see any young people around. While breathing in the smell of the summer night and the scent of perfume, I remembered I was there to critique the concert, so I pulled out my notebook. I then led the search for the numbers of our VIP front-row seats, pulling Senpai along by her arms.
I finally found the two empty seats, but was surprised by what I saw next.
To the left of the empty seats, was Mafuyu in a pale pink one-piece dress; and to the right, was Chiaki, who was actually wearing her school uniform; she probably didn't even consider the event she was attending.
...... W-Why? Why are both of them here?
"Oh my, what a coincidence!" said Senpai. Coincidence my ass! This is way beyond coincidence!
"Hurry up and take a seat. The concert is about to begin."
Mafuyu said softly, with a hint of unhappiness in her voice. After forcing me into the seat next to Mafuyu, Senpai sat down elegantly beside Chiaki.
"Mafuyu was the one who demanded the tickets! She actually managed to get them!"
I could feel my head aching. I see...... She must have means to do so, since she's Ebichiri's daughter. But to deliberately get the tickets for the seats flanking ours...... Just how unreasonable is she!? Did you really have to do that?
"She probably didn't want us to be by ourselves."
Senpai looked past me, at Mafuyu's face, with a huge smile on her own. The silent Mafuyu nodded her head with a flushed face. Just what's going on here? I don't get it at all! Considering all the trouble we had gone through for the contest and stuff, wouldn't it have been much easier if she had done this right at the very beginning?
"Isn't this perfect, young man?" Senpai nudged me with her shoulders. "Everyone ended up a winner. How nice it would be if all wars ended like this!"
Though my feeling is that Senpai's the only real winner here, but—ahhh, whatever!
"Speaking of which, is it too late for us to call the hotel and request to change to a four-person suite?"
"Did Nao really book a room at the hotel!?" Chiaki jumped up.
"W-Wait, don't lie, Senpai! Ah, oww oww oww, stop that Mafuyu! It hurts! You can't bend the human fingers like that!"
While we were stirring up a ruckus, the orchestra had finished tuning. Ebisawa Chisato finally appeared on the stage, amid a thunderous applause.