The 1970s: 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.
This historical novel 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.
* * *
A single note began its lonely wail and hushed the crowd to a reserved calm. In the darkness, it skirted the stage, floated past the aisles, touched the walls, rattled the theater doors and bounced back.
After its lingering resonance dispersed in the air, a stroke of the hand introduced a haunting chord. It was a 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 first shone on his feet, then up his hands and 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 rain cloud had 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 squinting over the famed structure, an opera house built for the pleasure of kings and queens in the late 19th Century. On this night, even the forces of nature paid homage to the masters of centuries old, and honored those in the present, being molded to the likeness of their predecessors.
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 years had now set him free. An unrestrained power flowed in his bloodstream. It carried a rhythmical pulse first heard in his mother’s womb.
Thump, thump, thump.
He followed the beating of his heart and gave in to the pain, its grip on his heart, his life. He surrendered to the truth.
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.
The guitar became an extension of his body and he played it as though it were 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!
At first, the bridge 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 to preserve 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.
The circumstances were beyond his comprehension and ability to endure. He was afraid to lose the one thing he had ever loved and ever known.
Oh such pain! How can one detach himself from 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 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 creaked and slowly detached itself from its body. He sweated profusely. The silent metronome in his head faltered. His hands turned numb. The cadence in his heart ceased.
With trembling hands, he struck the last chord with all his might and split the guitar’s wooden core in two halves. The crack echoed in the chamber and was overpowered by the sound of simultaneous gasps. His arms were spread out, the wingspan of a giant bird of prey. His left hand held the headstock; the strings were in total disarray. His right hand loosely gripped what was left of the sounding board dangling above his knee.
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 over 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?