When I was eleven and twelve, I participated in a major classical music contest held for students. I was registered in the piano section, and after the long, intensive practice through the summer, in early September, my mother and I travelled to Tokyo to attend the first round of the contest.
There were about a hundred participants in total and the performances lasted for two whole days. The contest carried an atmosphere which was completely different from what I was used to in my daily life. For one thing, people around us looked much more sophisticated than my family and our circle of friends. Their clothing, perfumes, and even the way they talked and behaved felt refined. Then there was a focused tension in the air as everybody strived to achieve their best performance on the stage after the long, arduous practice months.
Even though I had to handle a lot of pressure during this contest, in both years, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and managed to successfully pass the first round, which was actually a big deal since among all the participants, only about sixteen could move on to the second round of the contest. When the result was posted on a sheet of paper at the end of the second day, both cheers and tears were witnessed in the crowd.
After the dramatic two days, my mother and I took a local train from Tokyo to visit my maternal grandmother’s house. As I looked out of the window, the scenery gradually changed from the busy crowded urban city to a sequence of rice fields, and the exciting memory of the music contest started to feel like a dream that had never happened.
Before we changed trains for one last time, there was a spot with a public phone where my mother and I would always call my grandmother’s house to ask somebody available to come and pick us up from the nearest station.
When I dialed the number, it was my elder cousin who answered the phone.
“Hey, hon! How did it go?”
My cousin was not familiar with the concept of a music contest at all, but she knew it had been a big day for me.
“I passed it.”
The moment I said it, she cheered, and I heard her announce to the room
“She passed the contest! She passed the contest!”
I wanted to tell her that it was only the first round, but for her, such detail made no difference.
“I’ll come to pick you up at the usual spot! See you there. Congrats, hon!”
At my grandmother’s house, the whole family congratulated me and celebrated me as if I had won a gold medal. The next day, when my name appeared in a tiny section of the morning newspaper among other names who passed the first round, my grandmother carefully separated the newspaper from others, and when a postman visited her in the evening, she served him a tea and showed him the newspaper, pointing to the tiny print of my name.
“So this is my granddaughter’s name. She passed the first round of the contest.”
Though my grandmother’s family had no knowledge of the classical music and couldn’t have assessed my performance accurately, their celebration made me feel at home and had the power to make me happy more than any compliments the judges of the contest could have given me.