The Lounge: A Space for Music

by Ruoyu Lin

Through the glass windows at school, sunlight penetrates the gaps between the twigs and leaves of my favorite tree, finally resting upon the dark music stool. This stool was fairly short and could only fit one person. In this room boys walked by, taking a shortcut to the basketball courts. In this room, my friends stayed for board games of different sorts and gathered for a heated pool contest. In this room, people came and left, but my regular presence next to that Casio digital piano made me a still bastion in the lounge just as the small pool table and the dust-tangled bookshelf were.

Retrospectively, a peculiar perspective often occurred to me about the first floor lounge. If we were to consider time as a physical dimension, that is, pretending that everything in every past instant exists simultaneously, I see how my past selves behave differently. Although they behaved with diverse postures and emotions, all of them sit up straight next to that piano—some play vehemently, while others merely stared outside the window. All of them sat in that one most familiar spot, as the afternoon sunlight slowly crawls across the striped carpet and secretly climbs up the piano. The glare of sun reaches a white key, then a black key, then a white one again. The music remained and flew like an invisible force fabricating the whole space. Those two hands wavered on the black and white keys, like two spinning waltz dancers seeking to cooperate with each other. I’ve possessed a special bond connecting me to the piano, generating intriguing combinations of harmony and melody, no matter how many people were listening. However, this was not the case at the beginning. I used to be so awkward playing in such an open space haunted by many people. In fact, it seemed impossible for the past me to play in a place in which people could hear me, even when I felt extremely nervous to perform a fully developed piece in front of the audience.

I had been playing intense classical music since I was a child, and anyone who experienced the same training would know that an incompletely developed classical piece sounds disastrous. Disciplined under a rigorous mentor, I rarely played in front of an audience unless during a well-prepared competition or under the pressure of my mother. This particular attitude limited my piano playing to a private companion who supported  me when I was lonely. Though my style didn’t stay strictly loyal to classical music, this timidity to perform lingered still. Nonetheless, while the only piano I could play was located in a quasi-public space, I did not have much choice but to continue my musical venture with people around me. Little did I know, that lack of choice ultimately changed my style, my attitude towards my music, and even my understanding of it.

On  a gloomy Sunday afternoon drenched by rain, I tranquilly sat on my stool as usual, trying to finish a short composition I had started earlier that week. The sky was cloudy, rain drops incessantly fell on roofs, the dumpster lids were open, and asphalt was on the streets. The pitter-patter piercing through the walls became the background noise  of the room. Several friends of mine playing card games, their laughter added another stroke to my composing ambience. I experimented on the keys cautiously, afraid that my artistic attempts might startle them. To disturb or to be judged by others because of my music were after all, the last things I wanted in this world.“That sounded great,” my dorm mate suddenly chimed in. As he was laughing, he said “what you said sounded like rain.”  His words left me contemplative. In the temporary silence after the card game, the rain sounded clear and rhythmic. Sitting back at the piano stool, I turned off the keyboard and closed my eyes. At the moment, I realized something I did not pay attention to. For so many years I deemed music as black and white keys pushed down or the weird-looking spots and sticks drawn on piano sheets, for only part of the big picture I saw. Other than within, the music is out there. I heard rain hitting the steel top of the food-delivery truck; I heard droplets falling into the boscages right outside the windows, imagining those lively leaves flickering back and forth like just awakened elves; I caught wind whispering his flirtatious prattles to the rain, asking for a dance. Outside the room, there’s a world of infinite music; inside, there’s a world full of possibilities within my control; I, at that moment, became the only mediator connecting two worlds. All of a sudden, I became so eager to present that external endlessness under my bare hands.

“Hey, could you stay for a while?” I turned around and asked, “I want to play more music like that rain outside.” As he sat down, I started to simulate the sound of the rain outside on the keyboard, in different intensity and various rhythm, to reflect the vastness of grand nature only a wall apart. As scattered staccatos blossomed upon the keys just like rain drops, this room hence became a part of that pouring rain, a part of the grand nature. Or, in other words, the rain, the wind, everything that has ever existed outside of this room, had become a part of my music. And I was a part of it too. In this room, I synthesized everything without, to within the creations under my hands. I stopped, he looked at me, eyes wide open, and asked: “Dude did you just create that out of nowhere? It’s sick! It really resembled the rain!”  

Only retrospectively do I realize that that very first musical interaction connecting me and another human being in that room, was the beginning of my public performance and improvisation. Instead of embarrassing me, an actual conversation about my music liberated me from the fears I had in the past. That first floor lounge with the digital piano became my spot of comfort at my high school. Half a globe from home, I actually felt the presence of a place where I belong. As time elapsed, I became more active with people when it came to music. From the first touch of improvisation in that room, I later ended up improvising for the prelude and postlude of weekly school chapel service. Initially, I need to proactively contact the speaker to ask permission to play for him/her; besides, I also could not handle the performance without days of practice. However, such predicaments did not scare me away. The practice in that room had never been uncomfortable; instead, every time I touched that piano, it reminded me to open my enclosed world to the outside. Fortunately, my painstaking practices finally paid off. As more teachers and students got to know me, people started to ask me to play for their chapels, and through these opportunities to publicly improvise my music, I not only improved my skill, but also truly initiated more interaction with new friends through musical performance and cooperation. All of that traces to my time in that first floor lounge almost every afternoon. Notwithstanding, I was no longer alone. In that room, I played what people wanted to hear when they enjoyed their times; I merged the La La Land theme with the Harry Potter theme to celebrate a friend’s birthday; I accepted challenges from friends to play Croatian Rhapsody during chapel, just to win a dinner from him. The first floor lounge had truly eliminated the introvert in  my heart and exposed me to a grander world in which I could more generously share my music with others to spread happiness.

On the day of my graduation, I walked in the first floor lounge for the last time. I sat down at the most familiar, dark-colored music stool, and felt the presence of all my past selves lingering in this room like ghosts: the me who was too shy to play out loud and adjusted the volume to the lowest possible, the me who fell in love for the first time playing Clair de Lune for my ex-girlfriend while she quietly listened, the me who composed some truly fascinating popular songs after my first breakup, the me in senior year who finally dared to sing “City of Stars” in front of the whole school with my own accompany. These projections of my past selves across time completed this room for me. A timid piano player walked in 4 years ago, and a musician who’d love to share his creation to everyone sat her today, ready to expand his horizons outside of this room in the future.

I closed the Casio digital piano and cleaned all the dust off it. The afternoon sunlight still, the dusts shrouded within gently floated up and down like fairies. Just like every day before, the glare walked from a white key to a black one, and a white one again.