Maestro walked in the space between the staff lines, following the “road,” if that’s what it was supposed to be. Warily, I followed a short distance behind him, as I distinctly remembered from my childhood being warned never to walk too close behind a horse because it could kick you if startled. Maestro didn’t seem the type to be easily startled, but I wasn’t taking any chances.
There was no sound besides the rhythmic clacking of the unicorn’s hooves and some cheerful song Alyson hummed softly to herself. The staff-road seemed to go on forever. What horrors awaited us at its end, I could only imagine.
As the images of monsters and screaming flashed through my mind, the roof of a large building rose up in the distance. Grey smoke billowed out of its brick chimney and swirled high into the air.
I knew it! They’re going to eat us, I thought. My mind raced to figure out a way to grab Alyson and make a run for it—but where would we go?
“Welcome to Music School!” Maestro announced.
Quickly, I jumped over the G line and ran up inside the space beside Maestro in order to get a better view of this supposed “Music School.” Maestro snorted and pointed over his shoulder with his nose.
“You had better get back behind me.”
I glared at him suspiciously. “Why?”
“Because, only the F Space leads to the school,” he answered in perfect seriousness.
I was not really in the mood to argue the plausibility of two parts of the same road leading to two completely different locations, so I did as I was told. Once we reached the building, Maestro knocked on the door with one of his hooves and it swung open ominously of its own accord. That did nothing to comfort me.
We stepped through the door and into a very long hallway. Behind the doors that lined the walls on either side, the voices of children laughed and shouted. They at least sounded happy–but perhaps they were in on the deception, too. They could be happy because they heard Maestro was bringing them a tasty treat, for all I knew…
With great reluctance, I followed the unicorn down the hallway, all the while weighing our options. Circumstances may not have been in our favor, but I wasn’t about to just stand around and let them turn us into human stew.
Maestro stopped in front of a door on the left side, with a sign nailed to it which read: “Rhythm Class.”
“It’s time for you to get down now, Alyson,” said Maestro. “We have arrived.”
Alyson slid down to the floor, then grabbed my hand and danced on her toes.
“I’m so excited to meet the notes!” she squeaked. “Aren’t you?”
“What? Oh—oh yes, of course,” I replied weakly. At the moment, my mind wasn’t so much occupied with thoughts of music notes as it was the possibility of “rhythm class” being secret code for “kitchen.”
Maestro knocked and the door opened for him as before. Alyson was practically ready to fly into the room the moment the door opened, but I held her back and signaled for her to stay quiet. Cautiously, I poked my head through the door and peeked inside.
The sight that met my eyes was so bizarre, not to mention ridiculous, that I momentarily forgot all my previous fears. I led Alyson into the classroom, still staring wide-eyed at Maestro’s “students.”
They were living, breathing, walking, talking music notes. Half notes, quarter notes, whole notes, eighth notes, each with a stem for a body and a pair of scrawny legs and arms–except for the whole notes, of course, whose legs and arms grew right out of their heads, since they had no stems. In the center of their slightly oval-shaped heads were set eyes and a mouth, with only slits for ears and a nose. The eighth notes were easy to find, because they each had a pair of long black wings attached to their heels.
The note-children ran all around the room, laughing and playing games seemingly without a care in the world. All except one group. I didn’t see them right away, but in a back corner of the room a bunch of quarter rests was huddled together. They had arms and legs and faces, just like the notes. They seemed a quiet bunch though, never making a sound.
One thing I couldn’t quite wrap my head around, however, were the strangle little creatures that flew above the heads of the notes. They twittered and fluttered around like birds, yet they looked nothing like birds–round, black furry balls with thin, almost transparent wings and black eyes and beaks that nearly disappeared against the matching color of their bodies. I couldn’t make out any legs on them.
Against the back wall stood a set of risers, and facing them was a teacher’s desk and a blackboard, although I couldn’t imagine how Maestro could use either properly. Black tape marked off several vertical lines on the wood floor between the risers and the desk. As I stood facing the risers and looked at the lines all evenly spaced from each other, I couldn’t help but notice their resemblance to barlines, marking empty measures of music. Down at the far end, the last line was even doubled, just like the end of a song.
“Good day, class!” Maestro called over the ruckus.
The students stopped their play at once and scrambled up into place on the risers, while the flying round things fluttered over to a group of perches beside the risers.
“Good day, Maestro!” the notes sang in unison.
“We have guests with us today,” the unicorn explained. “They are called Stephanie and Alyson. They’re from the Other World.”
The students all gasped and chattered excitedly with their neighbors.
Maestro fixed them with a stern gaze. “I want everyone to be on their best behavior today for our guests. Understood?”
“That means you, G4 Quarter,” Maestro added.
“Why do you always treat me like the guilty one?” a quarter note in the front row cried out, crossing his arms. I wondered at first how Maestro could tell any of them apart, until I noticed on the note’s forehead (for lack of a better word) a small marking that looked just like a “G” followed by the number “4.”
“Because you usually are,” replied Maestro.
G4 started to argue some more, but a classmate beside him elbowed him in the side. “Listen to teacher!” she whispered sharply.
“That will do,” said Maestro. “I’m going to take attendance first, so listen quietly for your name and raise your hand!”
There were a few whispers and giggles, and a couple notes had a bad case of the wiggles, but one look from their teacher and they calmed down at once.
“First for the notes,” called Maestro. “A4?”
Four notes raised their hands, and Maestro silently counted them off: an eighth note, a quarter note, a half note, and a whole note.
Four more raised their hands, one of each type as before, and so it continued all the way to C-5. I guessed the numbers in the notes’ names corresponded to their matching pitches–that is, the matching keys on the piano. In which case, only the middle of the keyboard was present. It seemed no low or high notes attended this class.
Maestro counted the last group, then scowled. “C-5 Eighth is missing. Does anybody know where he is?”
The students all shook their heads.
“Where has that boy gone?”
The door flung open and an eighth note flew past us, the long black wings on his heels fluttering furiously.
“I’m here, teacher! I made it!” the note panted loudly as he leapt onto the risers.
“C-5! Why are you late?” Maestro scolded him.
“I’m very sorry, Maestro. My mom and dad both had to go into work early today, and my sister thought it would be funny to draw a double barline in front of my bedroom door so I couldn’t get out. By the time I finally erased the line on the floor so I could pass, I had missed the bus and had to run all the way here.”
“I see. I’ll have a talk with F-4 later. That’s enough!” Maestro said loudly, silencing those who had started giggling. “We’re not quite done with the role yet. Where are the Quarter Rests?”
On one side of the risers, all of the Quarter Rests silently raised their hands.
Maestro counted them out, then nodded in satisfaction. “Very good! Everyone is here. It’s time to get started now.”
He took a few steps forward and stomped a hoof on the wood floor. “Listen up, class! Your first task today is Time Matching.”
Several groans arose in protest to this assignment, but Maestro struck the floor with his hoof a few more times and they lapsed back into silence. “I’m going to give each of you a number so you can divide into teams, so pay attention! I don’t wish to repeat myself.”
“Yes, Maestro!” chorused the students unenthusiastically.
Once everybody had received a number, Maestro gave the order for each team to gather at a different spot in the room. There was some more shuffling, elbowing and pushing as the command was obeyed. Meanwhile, Maestro walked over to a large chest against an empty wall. It was made of a heavy wood, and the lid was fastened shut with a bronze latch. Maestro undid the latch with his lips and pushed open the lid.
To be continued…