Octavia coughed, having just kicked up a large amount of dust. Her parents were moving out of their old house, getting out of the hustle and bustle of Canterlot and going someplace calmer and near a beach. Enjoy their retirement. Still, that meant they needed to clean out the old house, which meant cleaning out the long untouched attic.
Octavia sneezed, stirring up even more dust but this time cover her mouth so she didn't continue to choke on the tiny particles. The movers were downstairs, ready to carry most of the boxes down. It was Octavia's job to pick and choose what should be kept, what should be sold, and what should be thrown away.
She had already gotten through half the attic, and just opened an old dresser filled with a bunch of old business documents. The dresser, to be sold. The documents, to be thrown away. Most of the decisions were that simple. Still, as Octavia began to walk past the dresser she took notice of something leaning against its side.
Stopping in her tracks, Octavia had trouble believing what she was seeing. Covered in a thick layer of dust was an old instrument case, a case for a contrabass. The case was covered in nicks and scratches, from years of service protecting the delicate instrument inside.
Without even really thinking about it, Octavia reached out and took the case down, brushing some of the dust off before flipping the latches. She opened the lid, looking in on the instrument inside. It had seen better days, a few strings had snapped from age and the whole contrabass needed a good shining. There were also signs of nicks and dings across the instrument, from times when it was handled by less delicate hooves.
Octavia looked over the contrabass, letting her hoof gently caress the neck. It had been a long time since she'd seen her first instrument.
"I won't hear another word young lady." The mid-aged stallion snapped as he and his daughter walked down the street. He was a slate gray stallion with a large, poofed white mane that was perfectly coiffed. His cutie mark was a briefcase, a sign of his job as a business pony.
"Your mother and I work hard to make sure you have a bright future but we can only do so much. We can't get you into a good university, only you can do that. Sure, you've got good grades, but so do a lot of fillies and colts applying to get into the more prestigious schools. So, you have to have something that sets you apart."
"But Daddy..." The young filly whined again. She was gray, much like her father, but her mane was a much darker, almost obsidian tone. A color she inherited from her maternal grandmother.
"Octavia Ann, what did I say!?!"
Knowing to stop when her father used her full name, Octavia decided to glare at the ground as she and her father, Corner Office, turned and headed into a store. All about the room were instruments of varying sizes and complexities. From the super simplicity of a triangle to the full complexity of a grand piano, all such instruments were laid out and available across the store walls.
"Welcome to Harmony's Shop, I'm Harmony." A female unicorn offered with a smile from behind the shop's cash registered. "What can I do for you today?"
"I'm looking for an instrument for my daughter."
"Oh, does she have an interest in playing?"
"She will have an interest in playing soon enough."
The shop owners smile shifted from genuine to forced. She knew this kind of parent, having dealt with them a number of times before. The parents that insisted their children learn an instrument, even if they really didn't want to. Still, it wasn't like she could just say no. If she didn't sell the instrument, somepony else would. Sometimes, you can just dissuade over-bearing parents.
"Okay... so, any thoughts on the kind of instrument?"
"Okay, we have a number of string instruments in stock. A young mare came in just the other day an bought a Lyre. Maybe something like that?"
The force and snappiness with which Corner Office replied made the shop owner wince. Oh, it was going to be one of those sales. "Okay... um, how about a guitar?"
"Do you have anything classical in stock?"
"I usually try to keep a violin in stock, but my last one was purchased last week for a colt. Uh... wait... um, just one moment." With that the store clerk disappeared into a back room, several rustling sounds and a loud symbol crash emanating through the shop before she returned.
Above her floated a huge instrument, twice the size of the small Octavia, the small gray filly watching the instrument like it could leap to life and crush her. "What is that?"
"It's a contrabass." The store owner answered, setting the instrument down and leaning it against the store counter. "It's a member of the violin family, and... well, it's basically the violin's big, big brother."
"That will be perfect."
"But Daddy, it's twice as big as I am."
"Sir, if I may... if she really doesn't want to learn to play an instrument then-"
"If I want your opinion I'll ask for it." Corner Office snapped at the store manager. "Now, please ring up the contrabass, some basic sheet music, and anything else my daughter will need to start learning."
"NO! NO NO NO! Your hoof goes here! Are you so simple that you cannot remember where to hold the instrument?"
Octavia winced, quickly fixing the position of her hoof on the neck of the instrument. The small filly was forced to sit in a rather high chair to even get her short legs around the massive instrument, which threatened to teeter over and crash to the ground at any moment, taking her with it.
"Better." The instructor said, though she was far from satisfied with how practice had gone that day. "Now, play the piece."
Octavia swallowed, eyes moving to the sheet music positioned just near her face. The instructor, a much older pegasus, gently pressed his nose against a metronome sitting on a nearby table. Octavia was currently at her instructor's house, set in a small little room meant specifically for the instruction in such instruments. It was decorated with a bunch of musical posers, had a chalk board that currently only had dusty smears on its surface of old lessons that had been erased.
The metronome began its rhythmic click click click click, a sound Octavia had grown to hate... to hate almost as much as the huge contrabass she was just barely managing to keep up right. Still, with the expectant eyes of the pegasus instructor on her, Octavia forced down a swallow and began to play. It was just a series of long, steady notes... but even that was a challenge.
The contrabass sounded with sour pitches, causing Octavia to wince. It was like hooves on a chalkboard, it hurt her ears and all she wanted to do was stop making the horrible sound. Yet, she knew that if she stopped, she'd have to face her pegasus instructor's stern, disapproving stare. A hard, unforgiving glare that was almost as bad as her father's stare.
"Enough..." The pegasus instructor said after a few bars of the very simple practice tune, using a hoof to rub the bridge of her nose. "I want you to practice just this piece of music as much as you can over the next week, and use the pitch pipe to tune your contrabass again once you get home. I swear, half the reason the notes are sour is because you've failed to tune it correctly.
"Get your things packed up, and I'll see you again next week. Be sure to practice; I expect some solid improvement the next time we meet. We're just playing simple notes; if you can't handle this then you have no hope of playing this instrument." The pegasus offered as a final bit of encouragement before stepping out of the room.
Octavia glowered, once again struggling with the urge to smash the contrabass to pieces. Still, the gray earth filly had tried, but the instrument was too well built for her to stomp, too heavy for her to lift and smash... that and she had been basically told that if anything happened to the contrabass her parents would ground her until she was a full grown mare.
Getting down from the chair, Octavia set the instrument on the ground and pulled over its case. She took the bowstring in her teeth, clicking it off the special horseshoe that allowed the pony to hold the musical tool. The bow was placed in the case, followed by the horseshoes themselves. Next, the struggle as the filly was forced to put an instrument twice her size into a case just as large.
Finally, when the contrabass was tucked away Octavia wiggled herself under the pull strap, having to haul the huge instrument behind her like it was a pony drawn cart. It was heavy, and the strap was itchy, but the few times she had complained to her father he simply said that she'd get used to it in time.
But Octavia wasn't going to get used to it. She hated the instrument, absolutely hated it. It was big, it was loud, and she just hated it. She didn't want to learn to play an instrument, any instrument. She hadn't been able to play with her friends or do anything she wanted to for weeks, ever since they had first bought the horrible thing.
No, she just had to practice. Practice and study. She had to be the perfect little student and the perfect little musician. She couldn't disappoint father, his expectant gaze enough to make the filly do things she absolutely despised. She didn't know what he would do if she refused to practice... and Octavia honestly didn't want to push her luck.
Pulling the contrabass out of her instructor's home, Octavia began heading down the street, keeping her head down and focusing on her hooves. Thankfully, Canterlot sidewalks weren't as busy as the streets in Manehatten. With only a few ponies about, Octavia didn't have to worry much about running into anypony... unless they were specifically looking for her.
The gray filly winced, looking back over her shoulder. Coming up behind her were a pair of unicorns from school, primped fillies who had their cutie marks, among the first to receive them. Ones who loved to rub their "maturity" into the faces of their classmates.
And Octavia was one of their favorite targets.
"Coming from another one of your lessons Nerdavia?"
"Don't know why she bothers. She's not any good." The other unicorn taunted, speaking as if the gray earth pony wasn't even there.
"Oh, I know; she probably just tries to play that huge thing to hide the fact she doesn't have a cutie mark."
Octavia shut her eyes tight, breaking into the fast sprint she could manage while strapped to her contrabass case. Even still, she heard the laughter of her two unicorn classmates chasing after her, echoing off the buildings.
She hated this stupid thing, hated music. She just hated it all and wished she could just leave it there on the street-
Octavia skidded to a stop, looking back as a smile spread on her lips. Without even thinking, she grabbed at the strap, loosening it and letting the contrabass case drop on the sidewalk. She'd just leave it there, leave it right there on the street, and then run home and say some mean pony stole it. Her father wouldn't be able to get mad at her; he'd just think the instrument was stolen.
And then she'd finally be rid of the horrible, nasty instrument.
"Thank you officer!" Corner Office said, closing the door to the home. Octavia had managed to convince her parents of the theft, she had even dirtied herself up a bit and faked crying to make it look like she had been really scared. It had almost worked... but then the Canterlot town guard had come along, found the instrument, and returned it to the address that had been carved inside.
Thankfully, the officers hadn't said where or how they had found the instrument, meaning Octavia's story hadn't been blown. Still, it offered the filly very little condolence. The hated instrument had returned, like a shadow Octavia couldn't escape.
"Well, while I'm angry they have not caught the stallion who took this from you, at the very least we have it back." Corner Office offered, setting the contrabass in a corner. "Still, it's too late for you to practice and we're almost late for the concert."
"But I don't want to go."
"Young lady, your mother and I have been invited to attend by Princess Celestia herself;, it is a royal symphony by invitation only. And you were invited as well, so go brush your mane and get on your best dress; we're leaving in fifteen minutes."
Octavia sat, hooves crossed. She hated her dress, almost as much as she hated her contrabass. It itched, it was uncomfortable, and she always got too warm in it. Still, there was no way she could slip out of it, not with her mother and father sitting on either side of her.
They were in one of Canterlot's most famous concert halls, though such a fact was lost on the young filly who would rather have been at home, trying to devise new ways to rid herself of the stringed monstrosity.
The one cool thing about the evening was being able to see the princess, Celestia, sitting in the box seat on the right hand wall closest to the stage. Octavia had never actually gotten to see the princess so close before, but that was the one... one!... redeeming quality about being dragged out by her parents to some stupid orchestra. Why did she have to get invited too anyway?
"Now, the Canterlot Grand Theater is proud to present the Equestria Elite Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Mr. Great Crescendo." A voice announced, undoubtedly a unicorn using a spell to make his voice sound louder. Applause filled the room, but Octavia contributed nothing to it. No, she wasn't going to enjoy this. She was going to be mad, because music was stupid and evil... just like her contrabass. That and what kind of pony was named Great Crescendo? Sounded like some meanie bully like those unicorns from her class.
The conductor moved onto the stage, offering a bow to the crowd, to Celestia, and then to the huge sea of ponies that were up on the stage, ready to perform. A lot of unicorns, some earth ponies, and a few pegasi all fell into attention as the conductor took his stand.
Then, it began, a single rousing note that seemed to demand Octavia's attention, despite how badly she wanted to ignore everything that was going on. A single strike, from all the instruments. That one note hooked, and then the orchestra fell quieter, a gentler melody that seemed to pull Octavia in. For the first time since arriving, the foal uncrossed her front hooves. The song rose and fell, lulling about in the gentler melody for a time before returning to its strength.
By the time it ended, Octavia was applauding with the rest of the crowd. She had never heard music like that before. She had heard music, yes, but from records and from small street performers using trumpets or other kinds of instruments. This... this was different. That music was good, this music reached out, grabbed you, and didn't let go.
"Now, the Canterlot Grand Theater is proud to present Bass Clef and Ivory Keys for a classical duet."
The rest of the orchestra settled in as two ponies moved to the front, one taking a seat at a large grand piano while the other walked to the front of the stage carrying his instrument, a contrabass. Octavia couldn't help but sit up, bewilderment in her eyes. Only those two instruments were going to play; how was that going to sound anything like the music they had just heard? The piano may have sounded fine but the contrabass was going to ruin it.
The ponies, however, seemed dead serious on their endeavor. The pony playing the double bass looked to his piano compatriot, who began to play and gently tickle the keys of the grand piano, filling the auditorium. Octavia lowered herself down, ears flatting, waiting for the screeching of the contrabass to fill the hall and ruin the music.
Then the pony on the contrabass began to play... and the sound was soothing, pristine. This... this couldn't be the same instrument. But it was; the sheer size of the instrument the pony was playing ensured the young Octavia that it had to be a contrabass. Was that... was that what the instrument could sound like?
Without warning, Octavia's imagination began to run wild, the little filly shutting her eyes. Suddenly, she had traded places with the musician on stage, and it was her hooves on the instrument. It was her movements, drawing the bow across the strings and grasping at the neck. The music was not just filling her, but coming from her... flowing from her.
Could her contrabass really make such beautiful music? Could she really make such beautiful music? Music that could fill the heart and actually enchant without magic? She didn't know... but for a moment Octavia just shut her eyes and let the music carry her away.
"Well, let's begin the lesson, shall we Octavia?" The pegasus instructor said after giving the earth pony a chance to setup her contrabass. "I'm sorry I had to cancel last week, but family emergency and all that. Still, I hope you've been practicing hard over these past two weeks."
"Yes Miss String."
"Good. Now, please play the melody you were supposed to practice."
"Um... do you mind if I play something else?"
"I found another song and I practiced it really hard."
"Do you have the sheet music?"
"Yes Miss String." The filly replied, setting the music up on the stand.
"Well... all right, impress me."
Octavia nodded, taking a deep breath and letting it settled. She very, very carefully drew the bow across the string, wincing a bit as the tone was sour, but with a small adjustment the tone became solid. It was a very simple thing, only just a few notes more complicated then the music she was supposed to practice. Still, Octavia played it with all her heart.
And when she finished, she was surprised to hear clapping. She looked up, and saw her pegasus instructor smiling.
"That... Dear, was beautiful. I don't know what you did over the past two weeks but you've improved so much. Still, there were a few sour notes... but, if you can improve like this in just a few weeks... my dear, I think you could have the makings of a great musician."
Octavia smiled widely. "Really?"
"Yes. Now, play it again, and watch out for the sour notes."
"Thank you all for coming." Miss String staid, the pegasus standing in front of a small group of parents that were sitting in in the small, simple concert hall of a school house. "As you know, your children have been practicing very hard for this recital, and for a number of my students it will be the first time they will be performing. Now, we'll start off with a Moon's Lullaby, with Octavia Ann providing a solo on her contrabass."
The audience of parents applauded as the many fillies and colts came and took their seats, Octavia meeting the smiling gaze of her parents who were seated right near the front. She positioned herself on the far edge of the small half circle of seats, clutching tightly to her contrabass.
The song began, a few sour notes slipping in hear and there... but then again they were just fillies and colts. To the parents, it was music just as sweet as any professional orchestra, any sour notes glossed over by their parental love.
Then, came the big moment, Octavia placing her bow string. With a nod from Miss String she began, the others falling quiet as her contrabass filled the room. There were no screeching, no sour notes... no, she had practiced too hard to have any of that. It was just the melody, just the simple lulling lullaby.
Her solo lasted for just a minute, the the others joined in and finished the song with her. The parents applauded again, and Octavia looked up. Her mother and father were beaming like she had never seen before... and her mother was pointing a hoof. Octavia couldn't help but cock a head, following the line of the hoof down to her flank.
There it had appeared, having undoubtedly taken shape during her solo. Her cutie mark, a big light purple treble clef.
Octavia smiled as she brushed a bit more dust off the old contrabass, her very first contrabass. When she had graduated from school and gotten a music scholarship to one of the best universities in Equestria, her parents had gotten her a new one, much finer quality than the honestly very cheap one she had received to learn on. With their daughter going off to college, the proud parents had moved a lot of her old stuff to the attic, including the contrabass.
It was like meeting up with an old friend she hadn't seen in a long time, a friend that had honestly started out as an enemy. Something she hated, just because she was being forced to learn how to play it. Then... then she learned for herself the music that could be made by the instrument, and no longer was it an enemy to be despised. But a friend that could help her express those emotions that she couldn't keep bottled up inside.
This contrabass, her first, had been there when she had made new friends and played with joy in her heart. Had been there when her grandparents died, and she needed a way to vent her mourning. It had been there, always ready to be her voice when words wouldn't do.
With a smile Octavia shut the case, taking up the contrabass and wheeling it towards the stairs.
"Come on old friend, let's get you home where you belong."