Despite the confidence she had summoned in the practice room, Liv was once again a bag of nerves by the following afternoon. Maddy had watched her pacing the corridor outside the auditorium, her clarinet case slapping into the backs of her legs every time she turned on her heel. Now they were inside and sitting down, and she was no better. Her foot was tapping restlessly on the carpeted floor and she looked as though she might be sick.
I can't do this, she muttered under her breath. There's no way.
You'll be fine, Maddy whispered back. Just remember what I said sing to me, not to them.
If her words were of any comfort, it did not show on Liv's face. She looked just as pale and frightened as Mr Gibson entered from the back of the room, bounding down the centre aisle to join them.
Welcome back, boys and girls, he smiled, his enthusiasm apparent in his bouncy steps and accentuated hand movements. I hope you've all been thinking hard over the weekend. I want lots of ideas from you as to how we're to go about winning this competition.
He paused to beam encouragingly at them all and Maddy took the opportunity to look past Liv at Felix. He gave her a small smile. During Latin that morning, they had both agreed, unbeknownst to Liv, to try and be the ones to go first. They thought that getting it out of the way as soon as possible would be kinder than waiting, and letting Liv stew in her own nervousness.
So, Mr Gibson went on. Your deathly silence ensures me you've all got contributions to make. Would anybody like to start us off?
Maddy and Felix's hands shot up into the air simultaneously, quite to the conductor's surprise. Liv stared at them, wide-eyed in horror, doing her best to shake her head without the dozens of pairs of eyes now tuned to them noticing. Her silent protests, however, were in vain, as their conductor simply smiled and nodded.
Madeleine, you and Mr. Crompton seem very eager, he noted, pleasantly. I didn't expect such enthusiasm. What ideas do you have, then?
It's only one idea, Maddy corrected him. But we Liv, Felix and I we think it would be interesting for us to do a piece with a vocal accompaniment.
There came a collection of murmurs from the other players, mostly expression intrigue and curiosity. One voice, however, stood out clearly from the others, and its tone was of blatant disdain.
Oh, that's just stupid, Felicity Read scoffed. She didn't falter or even blush when all eyes turned to look at her; in fact, the attention only seemed to bolster her, for a smug smirk appeared on her lips. This is a the National Junior Orchestral Competition, not The X Factor. Singing probably isn't even allowed!
Now, now, Felicity, chided Mr Gibson gently, quelling Maddy's retaliation even as it formed on her tongue. Let's not be so quick to dismiss the ideas of others. I for one am intrigued to know what Miss Richards and her friends have in mind.
He gave another smile, his eyes glinting shrewdly. It took Maddy a moment to realise why. Then she remembered; he had heard Liv singing in the music room the day before and, apparently, he'd put two and two together. What was more, he seemed intrigued by the idea, so Maddy pressed on, a little more confidently.
We know it's different, Maddy explained, But that doesn't have to be a bad thing. It would certainly get us noticed. And, with the right piece, I think it could showcase us in an original and interesting way.
I see, the conductor said, thoughtfully. Well, once again Madeleine, you have surprised me. I take it that you already have a piece in mind?
We do, nodded Maddy. It's Think of Me' from the Phantom of the Opera score. I'm sure some of you know it.
The outbreak of noise from other students confirmed that, indeed, they did know of it. Mr Gibson shushed them absently. There was a smile on his face that Maddy could not decipher was it approval?
Interesting. And, if we were to go with this piece, who would be singing it? he asked.
Well, Maddy said, feeling awkward at having to reveal the flaw in her plan. Liv's a great singer, she's been classically trained, so she'd be happy to do it. The look on Liv's face suggested quite the opposite. There's a male part in it too, but he only has a few lines. So we could either get one of our own to do it or, if not, draft in one of the choir boys. They'd never pass up the chance to perform on a London stage.
Several students chuckled at this statement. Mr Gibson continued to smile.
And why do you think this song will win us the competition? he queried. Maddy found herself wishing he'd stop asking questions. However, she had anticipated this and she reached into her bag to pull out a CD, which she had picked out of her desk drawer that morning.
This is a recording of my favourite version of the song so far, she said, handing him the CD. Listen to how the music and the vocals come together. Then listen to them separately, how good they are on their own. I think we could do it that well. We could put our own spin on it, of course, but it's a good place to start.
Mr Gibson took the CD with a shrewd little smile and disappeared into the wing with it. There was a crackle of electricity as the sound system was switched on and few moments' silence before the song came into play. Maddy sat with her fingers tightly crossed as the students listened. Beside her, Liv, for all her nerves, seemed as hopeful and expectant as she. Her darting eyes told Maddy that she was watching the faces of her peers, looking for a reaction. So far, every countenance seemed thoughtful. Every countenance, that is, besides Felicity's, which was screwed up with deliberate scorn.
When the song came to a close, a soft babble of conversation broke out amongst the students once again. Mr Gibson shut off the sound system and emerged from behind the curtains, descending the stage steps. He glanced around expectantly at his players as he rejoined them, apparently expecting some sort of feedback.
Anyone like to offer an opinion? he suggested, hopefully. Maddy glanced around, hoping someone would have the courage to speak up honestly.
I think it's a decent idea, a male voice piped up. Maddy's eyes scanned the room and settled quickly on the source: it was fellow violinist, Harry Brooks. He gave the faintest of smiles as he caught her eye, before directing his gaze once more to Mr Gibson. It's different. I'm not sure how it fits in with the rules and such, but I think it would do us well for our modern piece. I mean, it's popular enough, right?
There were murmurs of assent from several different directions that made Maddy's stomach twist with excitement.
Popularity isn't the issue, Felicity cut in, waspishly. It's whether or not it's appropriate. I for one don't think a song from a musical is right for an orchestral competition, Mr Gibson.
Felicity flashed a sour look in Maddy's direction. Maddy caught a glimpse of a yellowish bruise just below her left eye and she smirked in spite of her annoyance.
It's not just any musical though, a second year cellist named Daniel spoke up, rather bravely Maddy thought. It's one of the most popular ones in the world. I bet loads of people in the audience and on the panel will know it and like it.
Music that touches people is a powerful tool indeed, Mr Gibson advised them sagely. Young Daniel has a point.
Even so, Felicity argued, obstinately. If we do go with this song, we'll need someone pretty good to pull it off. What makes you think Olivia Hartford is up to it?
A fair point, the conductor conceded, over the soft babble of chatter that had broken out. Maddy? Any response to this?
Erm, Maddy began awkwardly. I guess, if you want to know if she's any good, Liv can give you a demonstration?
Two slender hands tightened on the armrests of the chair next to Maddy's, the knuckles whitening. Maddy glanced at her friend, trying to tell her silently that it would all be alright once she got over her nerves.
Come on, Hartford, Felicity goaded; it appeared she too had noticed Liv's sudden tenseness, for she was leaning back smugly in her chair, eyeing Liv with an expression of utmost contempt. Let's hear you sing it then.
Liv turned to Maddy and, for a moment, Maddy thought she might throw up on her.
Just get through this bit, she whispered to her girlfriend. I promise, Liv, I'll help you with your nerves once this is over but don't let Felicity Read get the better of you - or us for that matter.
Liv's face was pale in spite of her tan, though she gave a resolute nod at Maddy's words of encouragement. Slowly, and very unsurely, she got to her feet, and she went to stand at the front of the group. Felicity was smirking, like a hungry Roman lion awaiting its next prisoner, and Maddy crossed her fingers tightly. She was annoyed to see that smug grin back on the girl's face and she was hoping hard that Liv would be the one to wipe it off more permanently.
Relax, Olivia, smiled Mr Gibson, kindly. It's just us we don't bite.
Speak for yourself,' Maddy thought, glancing at Felicity.
In your own time, dear, the conductor went on, retreating to allow Liv the majority of the floor space. Expectant eyes all turned to watch her and Maddy saw a familiar stricken look darken Liv's features.
She's going to bottle it,' she thought, her heart sinking. She'll freeze up like she did last time.'
For a moment, it certainly did seem that way. Liv stood, stock still, at the head of the group, staring absently into the distance, her jaw set and her eyes wide. However, just as Maddy was giving up hope on her idea, she heard Liv take in a deep breath. Then a brilliant, beautiful voice rang out through the auditorium.