Your Leader in April

I hope to revisit Your Lie in April one day. The initial episodes almost overwhelmed me with their beautiful depictions of how grace can sweep you away and change your world, while the final episodes were as emotional as those from Anohana, Violet Evergarden, or any other tear-inducing anime. Besides that, the series is one of the very few anime that remind me of childhood. While I wasn’t a prodigy the likes of Kousei or Kaori, I did play strings, an experience that helped define who I am.

It was in 5th grade that I first started to play music. I was a late bloomer among Asian-American kids, as I later discovered, and to boot, I went against my mother’s wishes and chose to play the string bass in my elementary school’s orchestra. Imagine this little, gawky Asian kid, short even among ten-year-olds, playing an instrument taller than he is. Somehow it worked out and I excelled, but after three years, I became bored of the instrument and wanted to transition. So the summer before 8th grade, I worked hard at learning the violin, trading in steady background beats for the glory of playing the melody.

In hindsight, I don’t know why I went through with that decision. I was a nervous kid, fearful of the public eye. Making the switch to the violin threatened to tear away the security of being in the background (quite literal when it came to the bass). I must have hated the bass more than I feared discomfort!

 

illustration by claud

On the first day of 8th grade, I entered the Orchestra room, my new instrument in hand. With little self-confidence and a fear of embarrassment, I took the very last seat among the second violins, a place where I could hide. But as is required in music classes, you eventually have to stand out, and that occurred for me when we tested for our seats.

I remember it all pretty well. I was proud that I thought I tested well enough to perhaps get fourth or fifth seat in our Orchestra. But the next day when I came to class, there was a buzz, and everyone was looking at me. I felt my face hot and flush with all the attention. A friend, another violinist who had been sitting at first seat, came and said I needed to move up to the front: I was the new first seat violin.*

You know in movies where a character walks up some aisle or walkway, and all eyes on him or her? That was me that day. I don’t think anyone had really listened to me play so far that year, and so they were all surprised. Hey, I was surprised, too! And frightened out of mind. I could no longer melt into the crowd—I was now the concertmaster, as much as a middle school Orchestra can have one.

The concertmaster is the first chair of the first violins. He or she helps to manage the Orchestra, an administrator of sorts. All eyes are on him as well, with the other violins of course looking forward and following along. If I was off rhythm, it’s likely the whole section would be. And any solos, I later found out, would be taken by me.

In the U.K., there’s another title for this position: leader.

Leading was something more fearsome than death for the 13-year-old Charles (so young that I wasn’t even yet “Twwk”!). I had to put aside everything that kept me safe and jump off the edge of a cliff—every day, every practice, every competition, every concert. It was terrifying.

But you know what? I somehow survived. We did okay at competitions. I placed in solo events. I didn’t screw up when we were judged. And I never ran off stage in fright, though recently, my mom related to me a memory of hers that I’d forgotten. At a concert once, my teacher was looking for me, as were several other members of the Orchestra; my mom apparently thought I was so frightened that I had run away! But when my parents found me, I was in a quiet place praying, calming myself before going on stage.

I’m glad my mom mentioned that story to me, and by happenstance on the same day I was thinking back to Your Lie in April. It helped me remember how hard it is to be a kid sometimes, how difficult to face challenges. And this violin journey, though just one year, prepared me to grow into a stronger person, to face setbacks, to become a leader—things I would need to do later in life through work, service, and as a parent.

To this day, I still struggle with leadership. I still hate the spotlight, and if I think about it too much, I totally wilt. But I’ve come a long way from being that nerdy, hunched-shouldered, tiny kid, largely because of who I was and the road I took in Orchestra and through many other tasks in life (ready or not). But that’s the truth for all of us, isn’t it? Whether as a concertmaster or a cub scout, student filmmaker or mechanic, computer programmer or pre-med hopeful, it’s the journeys we take, sometimes in walking through a door without realizing what a sojourn it will be, that make us who we are.


Special thanks to my good friend, Claud, for sketching the lovely art above for this article.

* My friend simply moved one seat over to 2nd, and as someone a little older and far more aware, she guided this scared little kid through a frightening year of “all eyes on me.”

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