As I lie in my bed, it's late in the afternoon as I'm a late riser, I hear the melodic strains of my younger brothers playing. It's Chopin; one of the many Preludes he wrote. My own musical knowledge comes in to play here as I know the majority of people surrounding us, our neighbours, will have no idea what he's playing; only that it sounds great. He's younger than I, but we started playing at the same time in our lives; I was 3 when I started and he was 3 when he started. There was a difference between us though, a very blatantly obvious difference; he opted for piano, whereas I preferred the violin. It was a more challenging instrument than the piano, as it required an excellent ear, perseverance, and much hard work to master. This brings tears to my eyes as I begin to remember what it was like to play; now all they do is continue to gather dust in the corner of my room. You must think I'm strange to be referring to my violins as 'they', but I do have more than one. You see, as I grew so too did the number of violins I owned; I ended up with six in total, two of which I had to sell two. The ones I did keep are a quater size, a half size, and two full-sized violins. Yes I have two full-sized ones; they were a gift from my grandmother, who had them fixed up for me. Sure, they're not Stradivariuses, but they're more precious to me than any amount of money in the world. They were a present to me, one that I'll be keeping for all eternity. Besides, violins are like wine, they get better with age. Wine may taste better as it ages, but violins sound better the older they get.
My brother continues through the various movements of the polonaise, unaware of the effects it's having on me. Sure, I've never once played a polonaise - it is virtually impossible to play a piano concert polonaise on a violin - but I have played numerous Hungarian dances. The most famous dance I ever played is the Hungarian Dance number 5 by Johannes Brahms. I'm sure you've all heard it, hell it's only been used on over thirty thousand TV commercials it's so popular. By no means is a Hungarian Dance similar to a Polonaise, but lying here, this is what I'm reminded of.
Polonaise ... by musical definition was an originally slowish triple time dance of Polish origin, written in binary form. This polonaise, that's played so damn well by my younger brother, is completely different; it strays from the Polish convention. It was the master, Chopin himself who almost single-handedly altered and expanded this style, as his marvellous concert polonaises have little connection with the original form. I never admitted to my younger brother, that I was proud of his talent. He was a real concert pianist; well he had the talent there if only he'd used it. If only you saw what I did; the way his fingers danced across the ebony and ivory keys of our hundred year old Beale, the way he had this knack of memorizing a piece of music so long it has its own separate book - the last book length piece I heard of his was Franz Liszt's 'Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2' - and just his all around damn musical talent. He astonished me ... every time. I kept telling him that he could be the next David Helfgott if only he'd put a real effort in. Now the music has changed, he's no longer playing polonaises but he's playing something totally different ... more modern. It's Rachmaninoff, a Russian composer; his name gives that away. Rachmaninoff's 'Prelude in C Sharp Minor' is next on his agenda, and to think this was all just part of his daily hour-long practice session. The way he played one would think he was born with it in him; that it was in his genes. Well in a way it was. It's in my genes too; music that is. Music has always been an integral part of our lives, however when it comes to the piano, I think it must have skipped my generation. Don't get me wrong, I can still play the piano, hell he and I were always competing against one another, but his was a more natural ability than mine. While I can make audiences cry with my moving rendition of Beethoven's "Sonate Quasi Una Fantasia" or more famously "Moonlight Sonata," he wowed audiences with the brilliant fast concert pieces of Chopin, Liszt, and Rachmaninoff. I could never play the fast, loud, exciting pieces he played. Hell I should know ... I tried. Instead, my fingers prefer those slower, more melancholy pieces, ones with feeling and so much emotion that you can almost feel the inner struggle of the composer. Take Beethoven and his Moonlight Sonata for example. As the melody floats through the soprano of the right hand, once you hear it you'll recognise the perfect four-part harmony instantly, it is easy to hear how troubled Beethoven was at the time he composed this masterpiece. He was almost deaf by the time he began to first scribble down the notes on parchment and this piece, this sonata, will always remain a favourite with people everywhere.
The sound of muffled music wafting through the semi-sound proofed walls of my home stops, and I pull back the covers of bed waiting for the inevitable groan of the music room door hinges as he emerges, ending one more day of solid practice. It never comes. Dressed in my pyjamas I trudge down the stairs and walk over to the stereo and switch it off. I'm not smiling, nor are there traces of those tears on my face. No. Instead the look of annoyed frustration is evident.
"Thanks for waking me up you little prick," I say lovingly to the tape inside the stereo. It's a tape of my brothers last practice session, which I listen to on repeat most days.
We were siblings and it was my job to be annoyed with him. Plus, I never told him how proud I really was of him; sisters and brothers don't do that kind of thing. Don't get me wrong, we got along like thunder and lightning but I'd never openly admitted to his face that we were close. I smile slightly as I can almost hear his smartass reply.
"You should get up earlier."
To which I would have replied, "yeah, well you should be at school you lazy ass."
I turn away from the stereo and the last remains of my brother's music, and stalk off towards the room I go whenever I get out of bed. I can almost feel him smirking at me like he always did every morning or afternoon when he was successful at waking me. I like to think that he smirked because he knew how proud I was of him and that he really knew how close we were. I know he knew I didn't hate him, just like I know he didn't hate me. That smirk was just his way of being a smartass because he knew where I was heading ... the music room, his favourite room in the entire house. Well it was his favourite. Before I fully enter the music room, I stop at the door, turn, and stare at the vacant spot in the lounge room. Normally he'd be standing there waiting for me to start, but he's not there now and he'll never be there again. I find my sheet music, place it in front of the piano - for he was the one with the excellent memory - sit down, and begin to fill the empty house with my own personal repertoire. For five to ten minutes, the only sound in the house are the triplets of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata; it's once piece I'll always be able to play.
As the final few triplets grow near, and the piece comes to a close, I whisper. "I miss you little brother."
The last syllables of my ever so soft words mingle with the final chords. Silence once again fills the house as I lift my hands from the keys and my feet from the pedals.
You see, like Beethoven - like Chopin - like Liszt - my brother is dead; killed in a car accident by a fool who kept on driving whilst leaving him to die all alone on the side of the road. Tears threaten to fall as I turn the page in my music book; Bach's "Prelude and Fugue in B Minor" is next.
"This is for you little brother," I say out loud as I begin to play.
I learnt this for him. It was the last piece he ever played.