The anticipation in the room was slowly rising, with some people shuffling around in their seats, others quietly talking to each other in the small groups that had formed across the sections. Every now and then, an unexpected noise would lead everyone to turn their eyes towards the double doors on the right side of the room. Any moment now.
Yaz, already dutifully seated at the first desk, her score open on her stand and a pencil behind her right ear, had the perfect view. Her left hand was casually holding the neck of her violin, two fingers wrapped around the bow that was crossed over it, the bottom of the instrument resting against her upper leg. Yaz was quiet, tuning out the excited babbling of the guy sitting next to her and keeping her eyes glued to the doors. Of course, she had done her research on the woman that was supposed to have walked in about ten minutes ago. She had quite the reputation: young and extremely talented, one of the very few women able to make a name for herself in this field that was so widely dominated by old, white men. Her career had skyrocketed over the past two years, and nobody had dared to call it into question. At 32, she had not only managed to become a celebrated conductor, the woman had somehow also done the impossible and casually gotten a PhD in musicology as well. Yaz hadn’t found a single interview with her, so she figured that the young prodigy was either too busy or too shy, because journalists must be pushing each other over to talk to her. But Yaz had seen pictures, and all of them showed a large, warm smile on her lips, and a quiet determination in her eyes.
“Everyone, places please!”
Yaz was pulled out of her thoughts by Peter, the orchestra’s manager, who suddenly stood in front of them all, waving multiple times at the people in the back to quiet down. Percussionists, Yaz thought and had to fight the urge to roll her eyes. She loved them all, but they were the most disorganised bunch she’d ever met, and it drove her insane sometimes.
“I want you all to give a very warm welcome to your conductor for the next five weeks, Dr Joan Smith!”
At that, the people in the room starting clapping as a small blonde walked in through the doors, wearing that same smile Yaz had seen on all of those pictures. Her white shirt was tucked into her dark blue trousers, and as she shrugged off her light blue coat, yellow suspenders appeared. Yaz smiled; she already liked the woman’s clothing style. The blonde stepped in front of the conductor’s stand, and gave everyone an awkward wave, before she pulled her baton and a large, tattered orchestra score out of a small bag.
How the hell did that fit in there?, Yaz wondered.
As if having heard her thoughts, the woman turned and stretched out a hand towards Yaz.
“You must be my concert master”, she said, still smiling. Her voice was soft and melodic. Yaz rose halfway out of her chair, and shook the offered hand. “Yasmin Khan - Yaz to my friends.”
She didn’t know why she had added that last part - she had literally just met the woman, and they were here to work together, not strike up a friendship.
A twinkle appeared in the blonde’s eye, and she gently squeezed Yaz’ hand while replying “I’m Joan Smith - Jo to my friends.” At that, she winked and let go.
Yaz did not understand what exactly had happened, but she could feel all eyes on her and a blush was rapidly rising from her neck all the way up to the tip of her ears. Thankfully, Joan quickly brought all the attention back to herself.
“Right, first of all I’m terribly sorry for being late - traffic was quite something. Secondly, I am very excited to be here and work with you all. This is the first time I have the pleasure of conducting Stravinsky’s Firebird, and I am very much looking forward to bringing us all together for this fantastic piece, as well as the rest of the program. I’m sure you are all aware of the challenges it brings, and that’s why I suggest we jump right into it! You had time to tune while I was on my way I assume?” She glanced over at Yaz, who nodded. “Right then, let’s get a shift on!”
An hour and a half later, when they broke for tea, Yaz knew two things: One, Dr Joan Smith was a musical genius with an insane amount of energy, and two, she could watch that woman’s hands for hours. There was a particular elegance to them that was not to be found in male conductors, who tended to move their hands as a whole. Joan, however, at times seemed like a gentle puppeteer, separate instruments attached to each of her fingers by invisible strings, and all that was needed was a slight change of movement for them to follow in any way she desired.
This was exactly the kind of person Yaz wanted to be working with. Above all else, Joan seemed to be genuinely kind - which didn’t mean that she wouldn’t put her foot down when it came to it, as the cello section had learned very quickly today.
Pondering all this, Yaz had made her way to the break room and headed straight for the tea section. She poured herself a mug of steaming water and absentmindedly pulled a bag of chai out of the pocket of her jacket, opening the packaging and lowering the bag into the water.
“I see someone’s particular about their tea.”
Yaz frowned and started to turn towards the voice. “This is the best and if Pete would finally stop buying that cheap stuff instead I wouldn’t have to - ”
She stopped mid-sentence as she came face to face with Joan, who was casually leaning against the table, hands in pockets, regarding Yaz with a raised eyebrow and a general look of amusement on her face.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t realise…”, Yaz started to mumble awkwardly.
Joan raised her arm and waved it, as if to swat Yaz’ apology away. “Don’t worry. I like it when people talk frankly! It’s refreshing. Maybe I should dedicate a part of what Pete’s paying me to getting you that tea if it’s that delicious.” Again, that wink, and again, heat rose to Yaz’ cheeks with incredible speed. “Do you want to try it?”, she blurted out, and could have slapped herself a second later. Why was she behaving like an idiot around this woman?
To her surprise, Joan’s whole face lit up at the suggestion. “Really? I would love to! I love tea. Tea from Yaz. Brilliant.”
Yaz felt a laugh bubble up in her chest, both at the woman’s enthusiasm and at the use of her nickname, and she reached into her pocket to pull out another bag of chai, handing it to Joan. “There you go! Enjoy.”
She watched as Joan gleefully lowered the bag into her mug and then proceeded to stare at it intently, as if pure concentration was going to make it steep more quickly.
“You know, a watched pot…”, Yaz started, smiling.
“I know, I know!”, Joan replied, not taking her eyes of the mug. “I’ve never been one for patience.”
Yaz cocked her head to the side, frowning. “Don’t you need a lot of patience as a conductor?”
At that, Joan briefly glanced up from her tea into Yaz’ eyes, then looked back. “Hm. Once I concentrate on something big, I can do it for hours and don’t mind at all. It’s the small every day things that I have no patience for in the end, I guess.”
Yaz nodded. “I get that.”
Joan continued to stare down at her tea a while longer. She finally looked at the watch on her wrist, then proceeded to pick up the mug and lift it to her lips.
Alarm bells went off in Yaz’ head. “I don’t think you should - ”
Too late. Joan pulled her head back from the mug, and grimaced as her tongue darted over her upper lip, trying to ease the pain of the burn.
“See,” she hissed, “no patience.”
Some ten minutes later, Yaz watched everyone file back into the rehearsal room with a smile on her face. She had watched Joan burn her mouth twice more, and every time Yaz’ warning had come just a moment too late. Finally, Joan had been able to drink the tea and she had closed her eyes at the first real sip, humming with contentment. The sight had been so lovely that Yaz had silently decided to always pack some extra tea from now on.
As Joan raised her baton to start their work on The Princess’ Round, Yaz found herself so mesmerised by the woman’s hands again that she almost missed her small solo right at the beginning. The quiet snicker that sounded out from behind her, no doubt coming from Izzy, her least favourite colleague, was sobering and made Yaz turn her concentration back to the music in front of her. She had a duty to always be at the top of her game, as the whole orchestra depended on her, and she was determined to not let her thoughts get in the way.
But as she looked up at Joan to follow her through a particularly challenging bit, the blonde flashed her one of those warm smiles and Yaz had a feeling that somehow, this whole thing was going to be much harder than it usually was.