This girl’s got grit

The third installment of my heroine’s profile – remember this is all FIRST DRAFT content, subject to change [and a healthy dose of spelling and grammar corrections].

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Stefanie Petros

Stefanie is an introvert. She relishes being alone, or at least she thinks she does. Even when she’s with a group of people, she does most of her talking inside her own head.

She understands conventional social interaction, but she hates the idea that she might say or do something inappropriate. So she stays neutral at best. Sometimes she appears downright cold. But always hidden behind a Barbie smile.

Attractive beautiful woman in greek style

The girl would say she’s neither an optimist nor a pessimist, bur rather a realist.

She knows first-hand how much discipline and rigorous practice it takes to “be the best” and she puts her time in daily. But she sees the grad students who’ve come in and out of her life, as well as the promising undergrads who started out stronger than her. Yet they’re treading water in a placid lake while she’s swimming maniacally in a shark-infested ocean. And she’s leaving them in the dust. [duh, how about “pool” to keep the metaphor going?]

“Not pessimistic for everyone else,” she says. “I just realize that most people are too lazy.” Or rather, she thinks this. It certainly wouldn’t be something she’d let roll out of her mouth.

The most important thing that’s happened in Ms. Petros’ life was that day when she was playing the 3rd movement of the Mozart D Major at in the central lobby at the mall, accompanied by a synthesizer instead of an orchestra. Mr. E. had organized several students to perform as background music on a busy shopping weekend.

No one could have predicted Julius Baker would stroll through on a quest to find a replacement luggage for an overnight a garment bag the airline lost.

[N.B. Julius Baker is one of my favorite flutists and teachers, so I use him here to anchor the profile in reality… except I don’t know how he really talks. But I DO know he pulled at least one prodigy into private study with him from an early age – beautiful flutist Mimi Stillman who inspired my own flute playing to new musical heights before she was old enough to go out for a drink with me.  This story is in no way meant to reflect what really happened with Mimi, but I can’t stop thinking about how awesome she turned out, and how AMAZING her parents must’ve been to make it all happen for her!]

Stefanie’s performance was piped through the mall’s audio system, and after just a few bars, Mr. Baker began (according to anecdote) told the luggage salesman, “I’m sorry, old chap. I think a friend of mine is playing in center court. Ta!”

He knew it had to be live because no one would record this piece with a synthesizer… and moreover, no one would record it with such a mediocre keyboardist. But the soloist! Ah… just soaring!

Perhaps it as one of his former students, or a colleague passing through town. But no. A cluster of people gathered around, originally shopping and talking loudly, but like an awed flash mob scene, they suddenly reached or cell phones on which to capture a picture or a video clip to share with disbelievers later.

At center stage, only four feet tall, played a brown-haired waif on what appeared to be a well-worn flute. while She stunned not only in small stature, but for playing completely from memory and which allowed her to make and hold eye contact with people in the crowd.

Not a fear in her body. Flawless execution. And an intricate and mature cadenza that belied her age.

Mr. Baker did not brook conversation with the girl directly, but rather with her teacher wh and the parents. Perhaps it was best that way, because Stefanie could not possibly have framed words together in a coherent sentence.

It was all so matter-of-fact. Like a transaction at the fish market. “Absolutely not,” said Stefanie’s father. “You’re not right in the head.”

But after two months of phone calls between Mr. E. and Mr. B., and a lot of late-night coffees at the Petros house, it was finally decided that perhaps their daughter really had a gift — worthy of pursuing despite the odds — like an Olympic athlete.

And plans were set into motion to move to New York City.

juilliard

The most devastating thing Stefanie ever faced was having a memory lapse in the middle of a performance when she was 8 years old. She tried to make up notes and find her place, even resorted to starting over. Three times.

Unable to get past her block, she left the stage in tears, retreating from the prep school recital hall to the bathroom where she kicked a stall door inward so hard it bounced back and hit her in the forehead. It also knocked the flute out of her hands to clatter in pieces on the tile floor.

Her tears turned to a high piercing scream. More of a wail, really.

And in that defining moment, Stefanie vowed that if her parents would get her flute fixed, she’d never again be anything less than 200% prepared for a performance.

‘Bullet-proof bitch’ was born on that day. Stefanie’s practice turned from joyful exploration of all that music has to offer the world into single-minded determination to never be embarrassed in public again. Moreover, to be so prepared that her previous foible would be a forgotten memory. Buried. Denied. Impossible. Inconceivable.

Her most profound childhood memory was the day her grandparents got her the canopy princess bed. She was 12 and they challenged her, “If you can win the Youth Symphony concerto competition, we’ll buy you that bed in the picture you cut out of the magazine and hung on your dream board.”

canopy bed

But Stefanie easily made the final round, but fel  knew she missed two notes in the cadenza — even though she practiced them hundreds of times. She left the stage with her head low, and didn’t even acknowledge the judges’ applause.

She sat outside the audition room while the last contestant played. Memory slip! Stef’s heart went out to the girl.

When the public announcement was made that Stefanie had been selected as winner and would perform with at the symphony season-closing concert, she knew it was only because of that final contestant’s mistake.

Winning only made her feel like more of a loser, but she could never reveal that to her parents or grandparents.

Her fairytale princess dream bed was now a constant reminder that even her best wasn’t good enough.

Her philosophy: “Only perfect is good enough!”

Stefanie deeply loves Mr. E. and her father, but she’s never experienced romantic love. No man — boys, really — has even begun to secure her attention.

Her deepest, darkest fear is that she will people will discover she’s not as good as they thought she as, and that she’ll be forced to teach private music lessons to tone-deaf children for the rest of her life.

“Those who can’t DO, teach,” she’s heard on TV and read in her novels.

The idea of listening to beginners, or even intermediate flute students for the rest of her life makes a her stomach roll and nauseous bile rise to the back of her throat.

Even though she loves her teacher dearly (Mr. E.), for her she sees teaching as a last-resort.

Her deepest, darkest secret is that she hates to perform. It’s so secret she hasn’t even acknowledged it to herself.

But it probably stems from that incident when she was 8 and lost it on stage. At some level, she believes it could happen again at any time and if the flute broke again (this time a $30k flute) there would be no replacement or repair forthcoming after the tantrum.

flute

Because each performance is a measurement against a scale of 0-to-unattainably perfect it never fulfils. The music never touches her heart. The performance is just a recitation of notes and the result of painstaking planning and preparation to make it sound as if it’s spontaneously musical.

On stage, she’s a fake. And that’s almost as bad as being underprepared.

Misconceptions – Stefanie listens very discerningly — and judgmentally — to everything played or spoken around her. She believes that other people hear and interpret and intuitively understand correct vs. incorrect in the same manner as she does. She believes they simply choose to ignore the “incorrect” because they’re too lazy to fix it.

The idea that anyone would purposefully take a risk — musically or otherwise — that could reveal mistakes is ludicrous.

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stef3

Ok, folks.  I’m finally convinced this girl’s got enough guts and depth to carry my book.  She’s saccharin-sweet on the eyes, lemon-pucker in conversation, and just a scared and hurt little girl trying to find her way in a world that didn’t exactly give her time to grow up.

I’ll be back this week with profile pieces of the young man Stefanie least wants to fall in love with…  Until then, I hope you read and write with JOY!

P.S. I’d love to hear how YOUR stories are shaping up, so drop me a comment below!  Or if you’d like to download the Character Profile worksheets I created for my students, you can get them HERE for FREE!

Click HERE to read the next installment in this series

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