GITARISTA (Prelude)

A single note began its lonely wail and hushed the crowd to a reserved calm. In the darkness, it skirted down the stage, past the aisles, bouncing against the walls, touching the theater doors and back.

After its meek resonance dispersed in the air, a stroke of the hand introduced a haunting chord. It was a familiar melody that alienated only the naive and artless soul. It flirted with the emotions: a slow inflection, with occasional and surprising accents, eliciting tears and silent criticisms.

The glimmer of light shone first on his feet, his hands, then his face. They finally saw him. His eyes were closed and his reflexes had taken over. Oblivious to the sight of thousands of onlookers, he romanced his perfectly-carved instrument with maddening precision.

Earlier, a large raincloud hovered over the premises and threatened to drench the evening with a spring shower, but the last winds of the cold season had carried it far into the Valley of The Fallen. As the cloud’s tail dissipated in thin air, it revealed a crescent moon that squinted over the famed structure, an opera house built for the pleasure of kings and queens in the late 19th Century. For on this night, even the forces of nature paid homage to the masters of centuries old…and of present being.

They watched him play and felt mortal.

As he entered the final movement, he could no longer restrain it. That which had imprisoned him for 17 years had now set him free. Thump…thump…thump…He followed the beating of his heart and gave in to the pain and its grip on his life. He surrendered to the truth.

The guitar became an extension of his body and he played it as though it was the most natural thing to do. It was as instinctive as shielding one’s eyes from the glint of the noonday sun, scratching an itchy nose, or a newborn longing for its mother’s sustenance. Maestro, I am doing it!

Years of rote, months of mechanical learning, countless hours of discipline to retain muscle memory…even his priceless gift, that inborn brilliance, were now beyond his control. The madman he had never met now took over. And he let him.

At first, the bridge of his guitar creaked and warned him to take it slow. Gentle now, there is no rush, the voice reminded him. The pegs were turning loose and he could hear each string losing its proper timbre. He continued to play, skillfully gliding his hands through each measure, taking great effort in preserving the integrity of his guitar.

Mustering his remaining strength, he began the last page of Albéniz’s obra maestra. Chord after chord, his fingers ran and jumped across the frets. He executed arpeggios, a series of melodic patterns, across the fretboard with ease and vibrance. His audience, mouths agape, patiently held their applause.

In that fleeting moment, everything ceased to be his. The young virtuoso painstakingly caressed his most valuable possession—his only possession—an inheritance from a past he never knew…a past he never wanted…a past that had brought him here.

Oh the pain! How can one detach himself from the sorrow? To have shared a thing so precious yet now meaningless to me? He fought the madman within him. No, you can not tell me what I must be! Maestro, help me please…

The bottom string suddenly snapped and whiplashed against his face. It drew a thin red line on his cheek that was quickly washed away by drops of sweat. The remaining strings stayed dangerously taut, he had to improvise but…

The guitar’s neck cracked and slowly detached itself from the body. Sweating profusely, the silent metronome in his head faltered, his hands turned numb, the cadence in his heart had ceased.

With trembling hands, he stroke the last chord with all his might and split the guitar’s wooden core in two halves. The crack echoed in the chamber only to be overpowered by the sound of simultaneous gasps. His arms were spread out, the wingspan of a giant bird of prey. In his left hand he held the headstock, strings in total disarray, while in his right, he loosely gripped what was left of the sounding board dangling above his knee.

Silence.

Sweat ran across his forehead down to the tip of his nose. He could hear himself breathing, his chest beating rapidly as it rose and fell with each intake. Then he blacked out.

His chair flipped and sent his body sprawling to the floor. He lay there with lips twitching while the rest of his body was unable to move. He slowly opened his eyes and stared into a wash of faces filled with ghastly horror.

Who have I become?

***

The 1970s. The rise of cosmopolitan Manila.

Raised by a single mother in the province, guitar virtuoso Alejandro Sebastian is thrust into the classical music scene when he gets accepted into The Conservatory of Music at the country’s capital.

With the National Music Competitions for Young Artists (NAMCYA) a few months away, eccentric maestro Pablo Rocca trains his gifted protégé to become a guitar grandmaster while Dani, a free-spirited violinist, provides friendship and inspiration.

From Manila’s highbrow venues to its darkest corners, Alejandro’s musical journey leads him to unravel a hidden truth that will change all he has known and all he has ever wanted to become.

A bittersweet romance between truth and destiny, Gitarista is a young man’s search for the symphony of his life.

This historic novella takes place during the height of Manila’s urban progress in the 1970s. Buildings towered over paved roads, vehicles caused traffic jams, business districts were expanding and the music and arts scene was a burgeoning form of entertainment and a stark representation of the country’s national identity.

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