A Swing in C Sharpe
The wizened white unicorn rose shakily from his couch and began to walk across the creaky wooden floor of his cottage. As he made his way past the window, he regarded the night sky. As he watched that ethereal black ocean, he reflected on his life, and on the choices he had made. With a sigh of nostalgia , he slowly trotted over to a small wooden desk. Once before the desk, he levitated a pen, placed it upon the parchment, and began to write.
On a warm summer’s day in Stalliongrad, a proud couple of unicorns, Alta and Tenorran Locria, gave birth to a healthy young unicorn. Keeping with the long line of musicality within the Locria family, they decided to name this young colt Sharpe. The newborn unicorn had a radiant white coat, with a two-toned mane, the upper half being the same brilliant white as his coat, the lower being a more subdued gray, his tail was also this same shade of gray. Despite his near-colourless mane and coat, his eyes shone as a brilliant beacon of colour on the unicorn. They were green, but not just any green, a very peculiar shade of green, it was as if sea foam had enveloped an evergreen forest, and blended in perfect harmony. Ecstatic with their new baby colt, Tenorran and Alta looked forward to raising their foal to be a young musician, just like their parents had before them.
10 years later…
“No, no NO! Try again!” Tenorran bellowed in frustration at his son, his gray coat positively steaming.
Sharpe winced, and once again levitated the bow up to the delicate strings of the cello. As he slowly began to glide the bow across the strings, a painful shriek emanated from the instrument.
“Stop, stop”, said Tenorran, stomping his hooves in disgust.
“Let me show you” he said, taking the instrument from his son. He placed the bow to the strings, much the same as Sharpe had, but this time, beautiful soothing melodies caressed the ears of any who happened to hear. Trying once more to emulate his father’s perfection, Sharpe once again succeeded in producing nothing more than senseless noise. His father stomped away in disgust. His cutie mark, a cello’s bow, served as a stark reminder to his musical heritage, and what was expected of him.
3 years later…
Alta sighed and stared at him, thinking of how best to deal with this predicament. They had tried nearly every instrument they owned, but Sharpe had so far managed to excel in none of them. It must be even worse for him, she thought to herself. Every Locria was expected to learn a string instrument, she remembered so clearly the day she discovered the violin, her own cutie mark, a violin itself, stood tribute to that, clearly visible against the mint green of her coat.
Sharpe slumped dejectedly after another failed attempt to play an instrument. Somehow, his mother’s quiet disappointment was even worse than his father’s enraged outbursts. With his mother, she made him feel remorseful for not being good at an instrument, without even saying anything. At this thought, he raised the bow to the violin once more, hoping to try again. Once again, it produced little more than a noisy squeak, as it always did for him.
3 years later…
Sharpe’s parents were running out of ideas, and instruments. As Sharpe ruled out more and more of the instruments in the Locria household, his attempted lessons became less and less frequent, when at last, one day his mother and father said to him.
“Son, we’re going to go on a little trip, to Canterlot. We’re taking you to one of the best music shops in Equestria, Ionia’s Instruments.”
Sharpe’s face lit up, having heard of the famed music store in conversation before. If there was anywhere he’d find an instrument he was good at, it was there. The journey to Canterlot took almost a full day, but when they finally arrived, he was in awe. All around him, brilliant lights illuminated the air, mingling with the crimson sunset. As they traversed the streets of Canterlot, Sharpe heard some music coming from one of the buildings, a night club it looked like. It was nothing like what his parent’s played. Tenorran and Alta had always played strictly classical music, nothing else. This music was something different. Looser, more free somehow. It had a certain life to it. His parents hurriedly ushered him away from the club.
“Come now Sharpe, stop listening to that ridiculous ‘Jazz Music’”, scoffed Tenorran.
As they continued along the wide streets of Canterlot, they soon came to a large building. The sign depicted a musical staff, with various notes on it. Written on the note heads were letters spelling out
As they entered the shop, a unicorn, presumably Ionia, greeted them warmly
“Welcome to Ionia’s Instruments, how may I help you?”
The unicorn was a dainty mare, with a frosty blue coat, and a cutie mark of a flute.
“Yes, we were looking for an instrument, any instrument, to suit our son here” replied Alta
“Well, you’ve come to the right place, if you can’t find an instrument for him here, then you won’t find one anywhere!” said Ionia, cheerfully.
One by one, the Sharpe went through each string instrument in the shop, cellos and violins, violas and lutes. His parents even had him try a guitar! But to no avail, each and every one of them defeated Sharpe. As Tenorran stood near the front of the shop, comforting a distraught Alta, something caught Sharpe's eye in the corner of the store. There, a behemoth of an instrument, surface black as a midnight, with white keys like fresh snow, a grand piano sat quietly, as if waiting patiently to be noticed. Distracted by his sobbing wife, Tenorran was too busy to notice Sharpe inching towards the magnificent piano. Until, that is, his hooves touched the fine keys of ebony and ivory. From the moment his hoof depressed that single black key, a C sharp it was, he knew that he was destined to play the piano. Towards the front of the store, his upset parents continued to weep over their apparent failure. All of that fell silent however, when a beautiful melody began to emanate from that secluded corner of the store. Sharpe's hooves danced across the piano, deftly and surely, as if he'd been practicing the instrument all his life. A lively tune progressed into a slow sonata, dripping with emotion, which progressed once more into a piece of absurd speed, finally to peter of, so that the last notes were naught but a whisper. Sharpe turned to face his parents, beaming, having finally found his calling. His parents however, were quite the opposite. His mother began sobbing with renewed regret, and his father's face turned a fiery red with rage.
"You....YOU...you couldn't just be like every other Locria could you? You couldn't just learn a real instrument and make your parents proud? No, you have to be different don't you! All our lives we spend trying to teach you to play an instrument, to make beautiful music, and this is how you repay us?! We work ourselves to the bone to try and teach you a noble string instrument, and the moment we’re not looking, you go and play this…this…piano?! You’re no son of mine, you’re nothing but a disappointment, to me, and to the Locria name! Get out of my sight, and don't ever come back!”
Distraught, Sharpe stared in disbelief for several moments, before dashing out of the shop, his emotions a mix of rage, sadness and fear.
He wandered the paths and alleys of Canterlot for several hours. Blinded by his turmoil of emotions, he barely noticed when he found himself in front of a bar. He walked in tentatively, there was a small crowd. He approached the barkeep, who told him promptly:
"Don't think I'm sellin’ you anything kid, I ain't no foal"
Sharpe said nothing, but simply nodded.
Casting his gaze around the room, he noticed a tiny platform, almost like a stage, along the back wall. On this miniature stage lay an ancient looking piano. It looked like it hadn't been used since he was born, but otherwise seemed functional at first glance.
Noticing his stare, the barkeep said
"Hey kid, you play?"
Sharpe gave a nod
"You look like someone with no place to go, tell ya what, this place could use a bit of music, I'll give you a bed for the night if you can play us a few tunes"
Sharpe shuffled over to the piano, and took a seat. As he placed his hooves over the keys, the memory of the piano in the shop earlier took over, and he played the same sonata as before. The crowd in the bar muttered to themselves, otherwise unimpressed. Somepony at the far side of the bar shouted in a drunken drawl
"Hey..hic!..Howbout you playussome reeeaaal music. Give us some jazz mister piano pony!"
The crowd hooted in approval, apparently they wanted some jazz.
Sharpe had only heard jazz once in his life, coming from the night club on his way through Canterlot. He brought that memory to mind now, and tried to emulate it on the smooth piano keys. Contrary to the lively jaunt of his previous sonata, a smooth swinging beat now emanated from the ancient upright instrument. As he began to play more, Sharpe found he rather liked this jazz, and even began tapping his hoof to the beat. He continued to play more songs throughout the night, making most of them up on the spot. The listeners seemed to like it well enough though. Once most of the drunks and ne’er-do-wells had trickled out of the establishment, the barkeep tossed him a key, which Sharpe caught with magic
"You did good out there kid, your welcome here anytime, same deal", the barkeep said, approval in his voice.
"Thank you, I'm glad everyone enjoyed the show", replied Sharpe in his velvety voice."
Key in horn, Sharpe proceeded up the stairs, and into a surprisingly clean room, with a surprisingly comfortable bed. As he drifted off to sleep he banished thoughts of Stalliongrad, and his parents from his mind, and instead his head filled with dreams of beautiful melodies, and silky smooth keys. As he fell into a deep slumber, unbeknownst to Sharpe, a bright flash sparked from his flank. Slowly, a musical sharp made itself evident, midnight black against the stark white of his coat.
After discovering his talent with the piano, Sharpe decided that he didn’t want to be confined to one town. Be it Stalliongrad or Canterlot. So, he travelled across Equestria, playing at all manner of inns, taverns, clubs and bars in exchange for food and shelter. As such he got to travel everywhere, playing in all sorts of places. Though he played at most of the bars and inns in Equestria, fame and fortune were not his. In fact, his name was barely heard outside of the bars he played in, and he worked mostly off credit, with barely a bit to his name. About four years passed since Sharpe began wandering Equestria. By chance, he’s back in Canterlot for now, playing in a bar, as usual.
Sharpe sat at a bar, sipping a stiff drink from his glass. The air around him reeked of smoke and cheap beer. He'd be glad to be rid of this bar, this was the third one he'd been to this month, and he was eager to get to the fourth. As more people trickled into the bar, the barkeep gave him a subtle nod. He quickly downed the rest of his drink in one gulp, and walked up to the beautiful, albeit somewhat neglected, grand piano in the corner of the room. He played a chord to get everyone's attention.
"Alright everypony, how would you folks like a bit of music, I was thinking some jazz would be in order."
The crowd murmured their approval, and Sharpe set in for a long night of music. As he considered what to play, he realized what day it was. Four years ago today was when my parents abandoned me, when I left that old life behind. Despite his thoughts, Sharpe felt no remorse for leaving his parents, if they could so readily abandon him, then he didn't need parents like them anyway. Considering the day, he chose his song, and felt it appropriate. As his hooves touched the keys, he launched into the same swing that he played at his first bar gig, the same day he discovered the piano, and was promptly disowned by his parents. After playing a few tunes, he noticed that one particular pony was the only one clapping, amongst the usual indifference of the crowd. He was sitting at the bar, just a few seats down from where Sharpe was sitting, sipping a mug of coffee. The unicorn had a dark blue coat, with a mane and tail the colour of soot. On his flank, difficult to discern among his dark hued coat, was a Bass Clef cutie mark. As he clapped, his white cuffs fluttered slightly. On his face was an expression that could only be described as bemused. He noticed Sharpe staring, and they made eye contact. The blue unicorn rose from his seat and sauntered over to the stage.
He greeted Sharpe in a deep, resonating voice
"Not bad, not bad at all, I can see you've got some talent there."
Surprised, Sharpe answered in his warm velvety tones
"Why thank you, it’s not often someone gives any acknowledgement beyond a drunken mutter. I can't help but notice your cutie mark, do you play any instruments of your own?"
A wry smile spread across the blue unicorn's face
"I do indeed, I play the Double Bass. Actually I came up here to ask you if you might be up for a little duet."
An ecstatic Sharpe replied
"Of course, but you'll have to run me through some things, I’ve never played with another musician before."
"Sure, sure, not a problem. Give me a minute and I'll grab my bass." replied the blue unicorn, meandering slowly over to the back wall, levitating a large case, and meandering back in just as easygoing a fashion.
"I never got your name, who are you?"
The unicorn smiled,
"My name is Flatt, and you are?"
"I go by Sharpe"
"Sharpe and Flatt, a fitting pair to be sure!"
As Flatt stepped up onto the stage, he opened the case and levitated out a truly massive instrument, reminiscent of his father’s cello and said to Sharpe.
“Now, you just start playing as you normally would, and I’ll follow along, trust me”
Nodding his agreement, Sharpe sat down at the piano and began to play a nice blues tune. Nothing too fast, but not something one would call slow either. As he continued along playing the song, Flatt decided to join in. Suddenly, the blue unicorn mouthed the word “less” to Sharpe, and began a slow bass solo. The deep resonance of the bass strings had everypony in the bar tapping their hoof to the beat. Once Flatt was done with his own solo, he cried to Sharpe,
“Its all you Sharpe!”
Abruptly, Flatt’s own playing slowed to a crawl, and took a backseat to the piano. Bewildered, Sharpe assumed he should play a solo of his own, so he played a lively tune, the quick, melodic notes of the piano providing a sharp contrast to the resonance of the bass.
The two ponies continued to play through the night. Their two instruments sounded like they were made to go together, the higher pitched melodic sound of the piano blended perfectly with the deep resonant beats of the bass, and the resulting music had everypony in the bar cheering after every song. As the night went on, Flatt continued to play along with Sharpe, making a better show then any Sharpe had had before. When the last stragglers had left for the night, Sharpe approached Flatt and said.
“A good show, wouldn’t you say?”
“A good show indeed, my friend.”
Sharpe’s next sentence died in his mouth as he considered the last word his impromptu partner had said. Friend? Sharpe had never really had a friend before, his childhood was mostly filled with his parents trying to force different instruments upon him. After that, he really hadn’t stayed in one place long enough to get close to anypony.
“You alright there?” asked Flatt, seeing a look of indecision cross Sharpe’s face.
“Hm? Oh yes, fine, sorry about that. I must’ve been lost in though.” replied Sharpe, rather hastily.
“Excellent. I have a proposition for you Mr. Sharpe. “
“First, I have a small confession to make. I have been under false pretences this time, I actually know a bit about you. I’ve seen you in several bars across Equestria. I know you travel around, playing at such places as this. My offer was this, seeing as we were so successful tonight, what say you and I travel together, a duo of sorts. I would think it certainly better then wandering Equestria alone, don’t you?”
Sharpe thought to himself for a moment. He had never been acquainted with anypony for an extended period of time, he would have to take some time to think about his offer.
“Here, how about I let you think about it, and you can get back to me in the morning, we’re both staying here are we not?” suggested Flatt
“That would be brilliant, thank you” replied Sharpe, relieved to not have to make such a decision on the spot.
“Not at all, I’ll see you tomorrow then.” said Flatt, as he turned to climb the stairs into his room. Several minutes later, Sharpe trotted up those same stairs, into his own room. As he lay down on the bed, he thought about Flatt’s offer. He supposed that having a friend or two couldn’t possibly be a bad thing now could it? Besides, they really did put on a good show...Very well, he thought to himself. I’ll give this pony a chance. Besides, if by some twist of fate, we end up hating each other, we can always just go our separate ways. Satisfied with his ponderings, he laid his head down on the pillow, and drifted into oblivion.
The next morning, Sharpe woke to the sun shining through his window. He descended the stairs to find Flatt waiting for him in the taproom below.
“Well, have you thought about my offer?” asked the unicorn
“I have, and I decided that I rather like the idea of a duo” replied Sharpe.
“Brilliant, a fine choice. Now, what say we head out? There’s no time like the present!”
“My thoughts exactly, friend. Off we go!” he exclaimed
The pair walked out of the bar, and started off on the trail to a new town.
His writing finished for the time being, the ancient white unicorn let drop the pen, and slowly walked away from the desk. Making his way around the clutter of his diminutive cottage, he eventually came to rest on his bed. As he lay there contently, slowly drifting off to sleep a smile crossed his face, as he thought of his life. Once the unicorn had drifted into a sound sleep, a single moonbeam shone through the window, to rest on his flank, upon which stood a simple black sharp.
To be Continued…