I glanced in the tiny, cracked mirror that hung just inside the stage curtain. My straps weren’t showing. My plain brown hair lay reasonably compliant, and there was no food in my teeth. Examining myself in mirrors was unusual behavior for me. But then again, this wasn’t a usual night.
The voice onstage droned on and on. “…our own. She’s studied hard and achieved stellar grades in the music graduate program here at DePaul University. This piece is her first chance to conduct a full symphony playing her own original composition in front of a live audience.”
The announcer thundered the last phrase. “And so I ask you to welcome, Cressa Carraway!”
My introduction had ended. The polite, mildly-interested applause had died out. It was time.
I squared my shoulders and stepped into the footlights, squinting a bit at the harsh glare. This was my debut. The moment I’d waited years for. Just past the curtain, I paused and gave the audience a slight bow, then continued to the podium. Thank God I didn’t trip climbing onto it. I hoped they wouldn’t be able to see my heart thumping through my new black dress.
I gave another nod, this one to the concert mistress, who rose and cued the oboe to give the pure 440 concert A. After the orchestra was tuned and the first violin player was reseated, I opened the score to the first page and picked up the baton.
Fifty-four eyes bored into mine, waiting.
Deep breath. Another one.
The baton shook slightly in my hand, but not too bad.
I was about to conduct the symphony I’d written for my master’s thesis in music composition. I’d named it “Affirmation” and dedicated it to Gram—my grandmother—who had encouraged me to pursue the career I wanted in classical music. Gram was dead, but she would live through my music. I drew one more breath, let a nervous smile spread across my face, and started conducting.
Time receded and the music took over. There was nothing but the music, and it was happening. My music was happening!
Half an hour later, the three-movement piece was done.
I cut off the final chord with a flick of my wrist. My hands no longer shook. The baton was steady. I gave the orchestra a grin to show my appreciation and turned to face the audience.
In the split second after I turned, paralyzing fear spun my mind in whirls. What if they didn’t applaud? What if they hated it? Would anyone boo? That half-second took an eternity. My public face, I was sure, looked like a Halloween house mask—a stiff grimace below widened, frightened eyes.
Then the sound of clapping started. I relaxed my face muscles into something more human. Three people in the first row jumped to their feet and many followed suit. One person yelled, “Brava,” then another.
I bowed twice, then stretched my hand out to include the musicians in the ovation. What a great feeling!
It was over. I had premiered. I had debuted. I had done it. Cressa Carraway was a symphony orchestra conductor.
# # #
Maddy Streete studied the thin young woman who had been holding her wine glass for at least fifteen minutes without taking a sip. The woman hadn’t had a chance to get a plate of goodies either. The long table held chocolate-dipped strawberries, grapes, petit fours, and other delicacies Maddy hadn’t even explored yet.
Poor thing, thought Maddy.
Maddy watched Ms. Carraway, who wasn’t imposing, like some conductors. She was unremarkable looking, medium height, medium-brown hair. But she was as poised as she had been at the podium while she accepted congratulations on her success in the auditorium tonight. Maddy made her way across the reception room in the lower level of the concert hall. As she reached the conductor, two of the people around her left, leaving Maddy a clear field.
“Hi, I’m Maddy, Madison Streete.” Maddy stuck out her hand and they shook. Cressa’s hand was cold, but her grip was sure.
“I’m sorry for my cold hands. Madison Streete?” Cressa looked confused.
“I know.” Maddy laughed. “I’m not sure what possessed me to marry a man named Streete. I sound like I should be driven on in downtown Chicago when I use my full name. My name has an extra ‘e’ on the end, so I’m not exactly the street.”
Cressa laughed. “I think it’s a great name, Madison. I was just trying to place you. You’re the one I wrote to about the job in Minnesota.”
“Please call me Maddy. Yes, and I’d like to talk about the job. Can we go somewhere to talk after this?”
Cressa looked apprehensive. “Sure, I’d love to.”
She doesn’t know if she’s going to be accepted or turned down, Maddy thought. Maddy smiled to set her at ease. “I like your style. Can you come to Minnetonka to audition?”
Maddy was glad she’d made the trip to Chicago to hear the concert. She had a feeling Cressa was just the person she needed.