The Organizing Committee arranged the players by drawing lots, knowing what track Zhou Yun Sheng would play, no one wanted to be his follow up act, his performance would make theirs seem more mediocre. Obviously, everyone was similar ages, but the gap was so obvious. He was excellent to the level of inducing fear, it took great courage to compete with his skills on stage.
When it was their turn to put their hand in the black box, everyone began desperately praying, even the self-proclaimed genius Hannah. She’d regarded this session’s championship and the admission to Curtis Music Academy as hers, she hadn’t expected to encounter a true genius like Xue Jing Yi halfway. Because of Xue Zi Xuan, she’d paid close attention to the girl, and could’ve sworn that she was a very ordinary person.
Chinese people viewed arrogance as a thing of shame, perhaps she’d been hiding her strength? True strength should be flaunted rather than striking people off guard, damn it, she must’ve done it deliberately! Hannah indignantly pulled her hand out of the black box and looked at the number, then her face suddenly paled. 12, the middle of the group, usually a very good positon, but because Zhou Yun Sheng was 11, it was a death sentence. After him, who would still have the patience to listen to her song?
“No, how can there be such a coincidence?! Someone must’ve rigged it, I want a re-draw!” Hannah’s family was very prominent in Austria, she looked polite on the surface, but her true character was very overbearing. She insisted that someone was deliberately arranging her number and Xue Jing Yi’s close together since the preliminaries just to embarrass her.
“If you have great strength, nothing in the world can make you feel fearful.” Zhou Yun Sheng lightly commented. The staff translated this sentence into German and English, and the noisy Hannah immediately quieted down, realizing that her unruly behavior had exposed her inner fear.
But when facing such a strong opponent, who wouldn’t feel fear? Thought the remaining twenty-five contestants. No one was willing to draw the number 12 either.
The draw scene was broadcasted live, and the boy’s statement hinting at his strong self-confidence conquered the audience members. The competition had not yet begun, but the ratings were already climbing. Because of ‘To Pavlochev’, people who’d never listened to classical music had become Zhou Yun Sheng’s fanatical fans.
Today, the concert hall was overcrowded, and the cameramen were aiming their lenses at the first few rows of spectators. They were mostly heavy-hitters in the music industry, including Xue Zi Xuan, the eight judges, and several world-class pianists. Then the twenty-six contestants promoted to the semifinals, the international pop music godfather, Bill, the famous director, Parson, and even the Dean of Curtis Music Academy, Beckett.
At the time of the preliminaries, they were scattered around the world and had endless work on their plates, but after listening to the Zhou Yun Sheng’s vivid music, they put everything on hold and came to the venue, wanting to personally appreciate his unique charm.
“Missing the chance to listen to ‘To Pavlochev’ live is my lifelong regret, this couldn’t happen a second time, so I did everything I could to be here today.” In order to hype the competition, the host went around interviewing the heavy weights. This statement was from the Dresden Symphony Orchestra’s lead pianist, Kent.
“I came here for Joy. Her sound watered my almost dehydrated inspiration, so I hope I can have the opportunity to work with her. She’s wonderful, her hands are magical!” Bill directed a NO.1 gesture at the camera, his words revealing utmost admiration.
“Curtis Music Academy needs such talented and passionate students like Joy. Will we accept her? Oh, what a redundant question, as soon as she’d finished playing ‘To Pavlochev’, Curtis’ door had already opened up for her.” Curtis Music Academy’s Dean finished this sentence, then vaguely glanced at the Julia Music Academy’s Dean sitting not far away. They also wanted to enroll this genius, in the future, their rivalry would be very intense.
When it was Xue Zi Xuan’s interview, he turned to look directly into the camera and spoke word by word, “He will certainly surpass me in future. Jealous? No, he is my pride.”
His voice faded, and the results of the draw came out, the attention-grabbing Joy was in eleventh place, Hannah following directly behind her. The huge screen also displayed the players’ chosen track in addition to their position. When they saw Joy’s track, many of the spectators couldn’t help but gasp, and even the judges and music circle heavy weights whispered to each other, some were worried, but most of them were excited.
‘Show Off’, how long has it been since someone played it in public after Sears’ death? Even the Piano King Xue Zi Xuan only practiced it in private, and he rejected all requests to perform it on stage, stating that he wasn’t confident that he wouldn’t miss a note. In terms of emotional expression, ‘Show Off’ was lackluster, but on technique, it was undoubtedly the pinnacle of piano songs. If even half a note was off, the melody would become grotesque noise, and the performer would be disgraced, having no choice but to hunch off stage, devastated.
Sears relied on this song to stump all the pianists of his era, so much so that it provoked anger, and the song was renamed from the classy ‘Sears Rhapsody’ into the very mocking ‘Show Off’.
Most of the people who bought tickets to watch the competition were the most loyal fans of classical music, so they very much understood the history behind the infamous ‘Show Off’. Xue Lao Si clearly felt the ‘yeah right‘ atmosphere and whispered to his boss, “Why are these people so noisy, is something wrong?”
Xue Yan searched on his smart phone, then handed it to Xue Lao Si after reading.
“Whew wee, Xiao Yi outdoes himself again, the other players have no chance to survive.” Xue Lao Si shook his head and sighed.
The audience was not interested in the performance of the first ten contestants, 80% of them were here for Joy, so when the host summoned the 11th contestant, the applause was exceptionally intense.
Zhou Yun Sheng was wearing a pure black tailcoat, his long hair meticulously combed back and covered with a thick layer of hair wax, from the front it looked like a short hairstyle, very handsome. He didn’t bow like the other players, he just slightly inclined his head, full of arrogance. He hadn’t come to participate in a competition today, he came to dazzle with his skill, using his superb piano skills to make everyone quake and surrender.
The audience apparently liked his arrogant display, although the song had not yet begun, their blood was already boiling. Xue Zi Xuan pressed down his pounding heart, repressing his desire to rush over and hug the boy.
When composing ‘Show Off’, Sears didn’t invest his emotions, but he was a perfectionist, integrating various fingering techniques to give the song an absolutely beautiful melody. It had no higher purpose, it was simply beautiful for beauty’s sake, and required dazzling skill in order to dazzle with skill, but this song was just right to meet the public’s tastes, so even now it was widely known. It was often used in films and television shows, of course, it was a computer synthetized version.
Its melody was very lively and bright, its rhythm very varied. When it was slow, it crawled like a snail, and the performers often only needed to use one hand, but when it was fast, both hands were very busy, and occasionally, they even needed to use their elbows. Each bar required a change in technique, if it was not timely changed, it would immediately disrupt the melody, and the performer could no longer continue.
Zhou Yun Sheng sat in front of the piano and adjusted his mental state, then he lifted his hands and started the first short bar. Here, the rhythm was very slow, and the player needed good control of over pacing, if they were a second too fast or a second too slow, the melody would crash like a derailing train and collapse. Everyone was fretting for him, but he performed the first bar with extremely precise control, and transitioned into the second bar, which critics call the Cyclone Bar. The style of this bar was exactly the opposite of the first measure, and the score was packed with more than 300 notes, the two hands needed the support of the two elbows.
Finishing this section was like escaping from a storm, a feeling of survival and relief.
The judges and the audience held their breath and waited for the end of the first bar. The boy didn’t let them down, he calmly entered the second bar, and the cameramen focused on his white hands with dread. They jumped over the keys, until there was only a blur, the melody swirling through the concert hall like whistling storm winds, abruptly knocking the listeners’ souls out of their bodies, making them feel dizzy, their hearts hammering.
Since his hands would be too busy, the Organizing Committee had specially arranged a staff member to turn the score for him, but when the page of music was completed, the staff member didn’t move. If it was another performer, they would undoubtedly be unable to continue, but Zhou Yun Sheng only lightly glanced at the man, his rhythm still perfectly stable. His hands had almost blossomed into two dazzling flowers over the keys, the hits from his elbows a series of stressed cross-cutting, like a drop of hot oil falling into boiling water, detonating on the final climax. It not only intoxicated the audience, even the judges tapped their hands on the table, forgetting themselves.
Zhou Yun Sheng switched between four successive techniques, he was high from beginning to end, his eyelids slightly drooping, staring at the keys with a contemptuous expression, as if they had already submitted to him, and could be driven by him any time he wanted. At this moment, he looked very arrogant, his delicate facial features revealing increasingly irresistible charm.
At the end of the performance, he stood up, slightly inclined his jaw at the audience, and raised an eyebrow, extremely impolite behavior, but it made the audience truly realize his strength and conceit. He was so talented he could face the world with Sears’ arrogance. They couldn’t hate him at all, on the contrary, they loved his performance, loved his expression, and loved his arrogant attitude. He should live so unbridled!
Thunderous applause suddenly broke out, the front-row judges immediately stood up and applauded, then the audience members stood up in succession, flushed and cheering.
Only Xue Yan was sitting, surrounded by the dense crowd, feeling suffocated. Xue Lao Si had already gotten carried away, his fingers in his mouth as he whistled. If things were normal, security would’ve escorted him out a long time ago, but no one cared today, because everyone was applauding too fiercely.
“If Sears was still alive, he would envy Joy’s talent. His ‘Show Off’ was completely unable to stump Joy.”
“When she started the second measure, my heart almost jumped out of my throat, too fast, faster than a bullet train, but so awesome!”
“In the past, I’ve only heard computer synthesized ‘Show Off’, the only human I heard play it was Sean’s live practice a couple years ago, but it was incomplete. Today, I got the opportunity to hear the full version played live. I prostrate myself before Joy. Everyone raves about her twisted expression when she played ‘To Pavlochev’. They should see her expression when she played ‘Show Off’ today- arrogant like a queen! I’m weeping for her beauty! “.
“Joy plays the piano with her soul!”
The live listeners immediately shared their feelings on social networks, so those who couldn’t buy tickets could rage in jealousy. Joy had rekindled the people’s love of classical music.
The next performance was Hannah’s, she stood off stage, her face pale. Seeing the boy slowly walking towards her, she subconsciously stepped back.
“Nobody helped me turn the score, know anything about that?” Zhou Yun Sheng gave her an icy smile and asked.
Hannah and the staff member stiffened for a moment. Zhou Yun Sheng inclined his head and turned away, passing on this matter to the Organizing Committee. He didn’t care how the Organizing Committee proceeded from here, he was not afraid of any competitors.
Because of this disorderly matter, and because of Zhou Yun Sheng’s brilliant performance, Hannah’s spirit was ruthlessly crushed again. After playing only two segments of her song she made a major mistake, and was helpless to remedy it even though she wanted to. Flustered, she suddenly sped up, changing the tune of the melody and making the judges frown.
The remaining performers also fell flat. Most of them had started learning the piano from the age of five, performing on stage from eight years old and up, so they never thought they would get stage fright. But today, because Zhou Yun Sheng arrogantly showed off his extraordinary piano skills, their self-confidence received an unprecedented blow. Just like Sears had overshadowed his contemporary piano masters, Zhou Yun Sheng had shown off his extraordinary talent. If things went well, he would become the next Sears, and opponents would need great courage and skills to face off with him on the same stage.
The semi-finals ended, and Zhou Yun Sheng took first place, advancing to the finals. Hannah sullenly left after receiving an admonishment letter, and the staff member who was responsible for turning the score was dismissed.
Zhou Yun Sheng’s performance of ‘Show Off’ spread like wild fire online, especially the second section, everyone repeated it over and over, amazed by the speed of his hands. They soon noticed that the staff hadn’t turned the score and linked it to Hannah’s admonishment letter. Many people decided it was the truth, and started vigorously scolding Hannah while their appreciation of Zhou Yun Sheng’s piano skills increased. They didn’t understand how he memorized such a long song, just the second section alone had as many as 300 notes, it was enough to set a world record.
“Joy doesn’t even read the score every time she plays, her strength is far beyond our imaginations.”
“I heard Curtis, Julia, and Rochester are all competing for her, but I think she’s already reached the level to graduate from every music academy. I don’t know if there’s even a college instructor that can teach her something new, she’s clearly mastered all the tricks.”
“Didn’t Joy look especially handsome today in her little tailcoat? What arrogant Queen, I think she’s more of a King!”
“Because of her, I’m now addicted to classical music. I’m very curious about what she’ll perform for the finals.”
“I guess it will be ‘My Empire’.”
“Oh absolutely ‘My Empire’! The only thing that’s more difficult than ‘Show Off’ is ‘My Empire’. She has no choice but to play it.”
“Please, please be ‘My Empire’!”
Netizens from all over the world posted about this topic, strongly urging Joy to perform this song.
“What song are you going to perform at the finals?” In the hotel room, Xue Zi Xuan was packing up the boy’s clothing, he obviously rarely did such things, so each piece of clothing was re-folded repeatedly before creating a decent shape.
“I’m going to perform ‘My Empire’.” Zhou Yun Sheng said, sipping his warm milk.
Xue Li Dani walked into the room in time to hear these words, she looked at him with extremely complex eyes, then sat at the mini-bar and began pouring wine, her expression full of anxiety. She had just finished calling her daughter again to try to persuade her to give up having Huang Yi replace her in the competition.
Following ‘To Pavlochev’, he unexpectedly delivered a perfect interpretation of ‘Show Off’, this time she had been sitting in the audience, admiring his extraordinary skills. She’d thought: Even if Huang Yi was thrown through time and ended up in the last century, his light would definitely not be smothered by Sears himself. She could see it, he was so at ease when performing, calm as a breeze, even the so-called Cyclone Bar was nothing to him. He was even more confident and arrogant than Sears.
As soon as he sat at the piano, his timid and cowardly coat fell off, and he became dazzling. His performance was equipped with a strong personal style that no one could imitate, what would happen if he helped her daughter get into Curtis? As soon as she touched the piano, all their lies would be exposed.
This was why she was so nervous, and why she advised her daughter to give up again and again. But something had possessed her daughter, making her firmly believe that she could surpass Huang Yi. That’s impossible! If she had that kind of talent, it would’ve already come out!
Although she denied it inwardly, Xue Li Dani couldn’t say it out loud, and she didn’t dare pull Huang Yi out of the competition on her own. One, she was afraid of angering her son, two, she was worried her arbitrary decision would provoke another heart attack on daughter, after all, entering Curtis Music Academy was her greatest dream.
Xue Li Dani chugged her glass of wine, then coldly said, “You’re really courageous choosing ‘My Empire’. That song is the faith of a generation.”
Zhou Yun Sheng glanced at her but didn’t speak, instead using 008 to connect to the network and post an anonymous statement announcing that he would play ‘My Empire’, immediately causing a stir on the internet.
On the final day of the contest, the interview reporters noticed that most of the audience members were very old men, and a few of them wore starched uniforms, chests decorated with medals. They were veterans of World War II, and had travelled from various countries to appreciate the teenager’s performance.
When a reporter asked what they thought, one of them said, “I have not heard a pure ‘My Empire’ in a long time. When I heard that this performer was only sixteen years old, I had a few choice words about her selection of this song, but my grandson recommended that I listen to her other two songs. I was impressed to say the least, I think she might be able to do it.”
“‘My Empire’ is our generation’s faith, she better not destroy it, or I’ll be very angry!” Said one elderly man in military uniform, waving a cane as he harshly warned.
The reporter retracted the microphone and chuckled weakly, secretly cold sweating for Joy, fingers crossed.
Zhou Yun Sheng was sitting in the lounge corner, still surrounded by bodyguards, but they were now on Xue Yan’s payroll, only responsible for protection, not monitoring. When necessary, they would even block out Xue Zi Xuan. From a total of ten finalists, the nine others gathered to chat, whispers of ‘really bold’, ‘Omg!’ and gasps could faintly be heard. They obviously didn’t approve of Zhou Yun Sheng’s song choice.
Zhou Yun Sheng quietly read the scores, immersed in his own thoughts. He was scheduled 2nd. After the number was announced, only the 1st player jumped for joy, making the others lashed out at them. They had once again become Zhou Yun Sheng’s foil, unless he bombed ‘My Empire’, they were doomed.
Because the 1st player felt relaxed, their performance was very good, and when they walked past Zhou Yun Sheng, they raised a fist to cheer him on. Zhou Yun Sheng smiled and nodded at the other player while pushing back his meticulously combed hair. He still wore a male contestant tailcoat today- as long as you show enough talent, the Organizing Committee was very lenient. He took the stage and bowed, his expression serious, missing the arrogance from the semi-final. He sat in front of the piano, and as usual, was silent for a moment as he adjusted his mood.
‘My Empire’ was the work of Ivanov, a famous musician of the Levine Empire during World War II. When creating this song, the Levine Empire was at the verge of subjugation. With his strong patriotic spirit, he composed this song to motivate the desperate citizens to stand up and fight, and even set up an orchestra to play for the troops. The melody of this song was full of surging, inspiring force, boiling the blood and stirring unstoppable tears. Its emotional shock was far beyond ‘To Pavlochev’.
If ‘To Pavlochev’ was the main theme of death, then ‘My Empire’ was the sonata of life, a narrow selfishness, a vast expanse. Because the song was too inspiring, it soon spread from Levine Empire to the rest of the world, helping many nations on the verge of subjugation regain the will to resist.
Some called it an epic masterpiece, like a behemoth, its pace was heavy and slow, but it carried an entire era of history. It witnessed the destruction of fascism, and witnessed the rise of many nationalities, performing it required steel will and the most insightful understanding of life. It was far more emotion than technique, and those who have not personally experienced that era found it difficult to resonate.
But Zhou Yun Sheng had experienced war eras, he also understood it more clearly, having witnessed his own country’s demise. He spit out a heavy breath and firmly pressed the keys. Playing this song did not require gorgeous skills, it only needed reembrace of one pledge – With a steel arm, and a cast gold heart, let your emotions move, let your spirit take flight, awake the people’s anger with the clearest and sincerest sounds, make them know, its fight or die, only by taking up arms can they bring about a brighter future.
His weapon was his music, the intangible sound a powerful force.
At this time, his delicate face was chilled as a statue, his tightly wrinkled brow engraved with unyielding fury, his head swaying. His hair was an awful mess, but it seemed to reveal a surging vitality.
The passionate and heroic melody resounded throughout the hall, and many of the elderly were already in tears, trembling as though they had returned to that war-torn era. The roars of exploding shells, the cries of their comrades, and their hoarse shouts: March forward, to defend our empire!
Zhou Yun Sheng’s fingers were also marching forward, pressing a string of trills, then he stopped abruptly. As one musician once said- playing ‘My Empire’ is like using your spirit to dig ten tons of coal, it can make a perfectly healthy person die from exhaustion. These words were no exaggeration, Zhou Yun Sheng was now so exhausted he almost couldn’t breathe, he swallowed, but his mouth was too dry, like smoke could emerge from his throat at any second. His fingers trembled violently, he could no longer press a key.
He closed his eyes, his mind spinning. While he collected himself, the veterans stood up one after another, hot tears flowing as they applauded him, some even took off a medal on their chest and lifted it towards him, showing that his music had achieved the highest exaltation.
A contest entry was already an insufficient word to describe the performance’s brilliance, it was a heroic reverberation of a generation.
Yeah right– 讀書少 – I think it’s a reference to a line from the 1972 Bruce Lee movie “Fist of Fury,” released in the US as The Chinese Connection. The quote from the sub is “I didn’t have much education. Don’t try to fool me.” The ‘Didn’t have much education’ is 讀書少. It’s in quotes in the original.
My Empire– Doesn’t exist, reader’s speculate that it’s referencing Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, although the backstory is not similar. Wikipedia “has the reputation of being one of the most technically challenging piano concertos in the standard classical repertoire.”