Arts & Culture, Open Mic

Open Mic: Picking Up the Pieces by Katie Velez

Intense smells of sweat and nervous determination filled the room. Sitting stiffly at the piano bench, faced with the withering stares of my competitors, I took a deep breath and began performing my piece. Ok, let’s do this. Fingers gliding across the ivory keys, I fiercely tried not to think of the judges watching me from their panel, occasionally scribbling notes on my performance. Trying to tear my attention away from them and the other contestants, I frantically attempted to control myself, my fingers missing notes. You can’t do this. Look, everyone is watching you fail. Just give up. Combined feelings of utter desperation and helplessness shot through me, and I suddenly felt ice-cold, my concentration shattering like pieces of glass. Finishing my piece, I shamefully walked back to my chair, suppressing tears. Piano competitions always brought out a panic in me that I could not suppress.

I reflected on this humbling memory as I walked towards the auditioning building. Because I have played piano for several years, I have competed in many piano competitions in front of judges. These central people then score their performances based on how well they performed. Piano orchestra auditions follow a similar process, providing prospective students with a chance to hold a spot in an orchestra. Today, I would compete against others for such a position.

Planted against the rising sun, the designated auditioning building towered larger than life before me. I walked in rather nervously, my soft black dress swishing against my legs. A woman sat at a table blanketed with a bright red cloth, where a small sign read, “Check-In.”

“Welcome! Please give me your name and instrument. You may warm up in the practice room before we call on you to perform in the concert hall.”

She pointed to a rather large door on my left.

“Ok, thank you,” I shifted in my tight black flats.

After giving her the desired information, I tentatively entered the practice room. Competitors with a variety of instruments turned to view the newcomer. Girls dressed in long dresses of every hue filled the room with color. Guys in shiny tuxedoes sat cross-legged, carefully practicing their instruments before their auditions for different parts in the orchestra. Gazing at my competition first, then at the two pianos sitting in the back of the room, I swiftly moved across the room towards the pianos, selecting the one in the front to practice on. Testing the weight of the keys, I started playing a bit of my piece and excerpts. Soon, my turn to audition arrived. I placed my hand on the brassy doorknob of the concert hall and turned it, uttering a quick prayer as I entered the concert hall.

Emerging from the door, I felt swallowed up by the enormity of the hall. In the middle of the room sat a glistening Steinway & Sons piano, illuminated by a bright spotlight. Across from it assembled two judges, both dressed impeccably, patiently waiting for me to begin my performance. With an awkward smile and a nod, I put my bag on a chair and carefully trod towards the piano, an action I had practiced over and over until I had perfected it. Why are you here? Why are you trying? You will just fail and embarrass yourself again.


Startling myself, my mind was suddenly flooded with the challenges I had overcome to reach this moment. Gazing at the delicate, scabbed skin sitting just above my nails, I remembered practicing glissandos, a piano technique I had practiced so frequently that the skin had split, leaving dark red marks on my skin. I remembered crying out in an emotional display of unsuppressed feelings, “I cannot do this anymore! I give up!” Finally, I recalled the hours my piano teacher and my mother encouraged me, coached me, and worked through the difficult sections of my pieces with me. Thinking of all of this as I walked to the piano bench, intense emotions of gratefulness, determination, and exhilaration combined within me. Fear, thank you. Thank you for helping me realize the power I have over you. I’ve come this far; I will not fail this time. I smiled slightly, flexed my fingers, and started to perform.

I played my own pieces first. Fingers flying across the keys, I knew this audition was different from the others. Rather than feeling scared, I felt almost confident in my abilities. Knowing I had worked hard for this moment, the towering fears I had once felt seemed to melt away as I played my music. Next, I played the audition excerpts. Because I had practiced them so frequently and with much dedication, my hands knew intuitively where to place themselves. I can do this. I finished my audition, thanked the judges, and left feeling satisfied that I had done my best.

Summer rolled in like a sandstorm. I was reading in my living room when my phone rang. Picking it up and noticing that my mom was calling, I worriedly held it to my ear.

“Hello? Mom? Is everything alright?”

She took a deep breath.

“Katie, you were accepted into the wind orchestra! I just got an email confirming your position.”

“Wait, really? I-I…”

My feelings of thankfulness and exhilaration in that moment were unspeakable. Tears of gratefulness, relief, and pleasant surprise streamed down my face like a waterfall. Such thankfulness drives me to persist and persevere through all my orchestra rehearsals. Not only are these necessary to succeed, but they can even be used to overcome fear at just the right moment.


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Meet the Author

How old are you?

I am 15 years old.

Where do you live?

I live in the beautiful state of California.

What classes are you taking with TPS?

I am taking English 4/5 Advanced Comp – Style and Rhetoric (Honors) and Chemistry (Honors).

What is your favorite thing about writing?

I love how people can put their life experiences on paper and display them as an art to share with others. I also love how creative and imaginative one can be with writing.


  1. OliverMunzer/omunzer

    awww so beautiful! <<<3

  2. This is great! I loved it🙃

  3. Daisy Pipit Page🌼🐕🏇🍫

    This was really good!! 🙂 Nice job Katie!