The sounds of lyre music drifted across Ponyville Park, blanketing the fields in Lyra Heartstring’s latest composition.
Lyra sat at her usual bench, carefully balancing her lyre with one hoof and strumming it with another. Her eyes were shut and she swayed slightly as she manipulated the instrument, as if she herself were lost within her own music. Her horn glowed slightly, the only visual evidence of the minor spell Lyra was casting that amplified the sound of her lyre so that all in the park could hear it. No ponies spoke, not even foals, and even the birds had fallen silent. All attention was on Lyra and the music flowing gently from her instrument.
Lyra smiled slightly as she entered the cadenza, the improvised section, and began to rapidly strum a high pitched, bird-like melody that drew a few gasps of amazement from the crowd. Distantly, she noted that she was in her element. There was only her, her instrument, and a group of fans who were giving her their fullest attention. And, of course, a few of those fans were extra-special to her. Bonbon, as always, was front and center, and Ditzy was floating just above her, a grinning Dinky on her back. That reminded her, she’d been planning on writing a happy and energetic dance soon, maybe she could dedicate it to Dinky…
But all these thoughts flashed by in a moment and were gone, because she had music to play and she had to focus. The improvised section was ending; the next part was difficult and she had to be at the top of her game to pull it off. She had a rapid glissando along the strings, followed by –
Her ears, sharpened and tuned by thousands of hours of practice, heard hoofsteps approaching her. There were a few murmurs from the audience, a startled tweet of a bird. Lyra pushed this knowledge aside. It wasn’t important if somepony wanted a better view. The music was what mattered.
Anyway, after the glissando was a series of rapid sixteenth notes, then chords in both the lowest and highest reaches of her lyre. She’d been trying to improve that part, because having to play the low notes prevented her from fully manipulating the higher ones, but she hadn’t found a way around it yet. Still, the music was lovely, and –
She heard, faintly, the sounds of somepony opening up latches on a box.
This, too, she ignored. Maybe it was a photographer unpacking her camera, maybe an especially oblivious foal with a lunchbox. They might as well have been on another world. Lyra finished the cadenza with a flourish, strummed a flowing glissando that made all the ponies gasp, plucked out the sixteenth notes, and –
Was that a cello?
Lyra’s eyes opened in shock, her hooves hesitating over the lyre for a fraction of a second, and she saw a gray-coated, black-maned pony standing next to her, playing a cello like it was the most natural thing in the world.
Octavia glanced at her, expression stern and implacable. The meaning of the glance was obvious. It was the first thing Octavia had ever taught Lyra – when you played, you kept playing, no matter what. A real musician would never give up in the middle of a performance, but would keep going until the end. The audience deserved it, and so did the music.
Lyra grinned and immediately resumed playing. The hiccup was so small that she doubted even the most observant ponies listening noticed it.
Though they had never rehearsed this piece together, they meshed wonderfully, with Octavia improvising the low notes as Lyra’s hooves danced on her highest strings. The light, airy sound of the lyre contrasted beautifully with the rich cello, and Lyra wove intricate melodies around the steady progression that Octavia was building. The Ponyville ponies, none of whom had heard Lyra play in duos before, were floored. Octavia’s music seemed to be laying down a structure that Lyra’s notes could build on, with the result reaching far greater heights than either could construct alone.
Lyra swept her hooves downwards, descending to the lowest reaches of her instrument and approaching the upper limits of the cello. She smiled at Octavia, and inclined her head just slightly. Come on, she thought. Let’s really knock ‘em dead.
Octavia’s glance remained implacable for a long moment… and then she winked.
Lyra’s smile became an ear-to-ear grin.
Octavia began to play higher and higher notes, Lyra descended still lower, and then, with little more than a nod between them, Octavia ‘skipped’ over Lyra and began to play higher notes than her.
It took the ponies listening a few moments to catch on, and even then, they could only stare in awe. Cellos were never played that high; it was too hard to do – but there was Octavia, playing Lyra’s melodies perfectly. And Lyra had taken Octavia’s place, plucking out a solid structure, though she reached the very limits of her lyre. It was new and fascinating; it was music nopony there had heard before. It was music that should have been impossible… and yet they were hearing it. Even the smartest and most observant of the ponies in the audience had to reassure themselves that their ears were not deceiving them.
And once they did, they couldn’t restrain themselves. A wave of applause, of hooves thundering against the ground, resounded from every corner of the park.
Lyra and Octavia exchanged places again, and Lyra gracefully ended the piece with a soft and fast succession of thirty-second notes. She lowered her harp at the same time that Octavia bowed slightly, and then ponies were cheering and screaming her name, and she felt as happy as the day she’d learned that she had received a scholarship to the Magic Academy.
Eventually, the cheering died down, Lyra received a fortune in tips – more than triple her usual amount – and the other ponies slowly dispersed. Only then could Lyra turn to Octavia and warmly tap her hoof.
“I’ve missed you,” she said.
Octavia blushed a little, but she smiled as well. “And I you.”
Bonbon approached. “Hey Lyra. Who’s your friend?”
“Bonbon! This is Octavia Philharmonica. She was my mentor at music school. She’s also the greatest string player I’ve ever heard, and,” Lyra smiled again, “One of my very best friends.”
My little pony, My little pony
Ahh ahh ahh ahhh...
My little pony
Friendship never meant that much to me
My little pony
But you're all here and now I can see
Stormy weather; Lots to share
A musical bond; With love and care
Teaching laughter; It's an easy feat,
And magic makes it all complete!
You have my little ponies
How'd I ever make so many true friends?
“…so Piebald Pianissimo really went to Manehattan?”
Lyra had insisted on ordering lunch for Octavia, as the gray mare had refused to take any of the bits they’d earned (‘Your performance, your tips,’ she’d said). They’d gone to the fanciest café in town, La Fleur Rouge, since Lyra knew that Octavia would probably disdain the more rustic fare that was served in most Ponyville restaurants. After ordering, she began to ask about the other friends she’d made at the Academy. Bonbon was with them, but ate in silence, allowing Lyra to catch up with her companion.
“Yes. She received an offer to play for a musical.” Octavia daintily sipped her daffodil wine. “Personally, I think it’s a very good move for her. She always preferred harmonizing with a singer instead of solos, and she’ll have plenty of opportunity for that now.”
“Still a freelance musician.” Octavia smiled. “Granted, my clientele tend towards Counts and Vicerienes, but I don’t have a permanent appointment. Nobles with birthdays, weddings, even funerals hire me, and I perform for them. Nothing as prestigious as a full-time orchestra job, but…”
“It sounds amazing,” said Lyra. “You must get to meet so many important ponies!”
“A few here and there,” said Octavia, still smiling. “But Lyra, we’ve talked about me and our friends for the past twenty minutes. Don’t you think I want to know what’s going on in your life?”
Lyra blushed. “I couldn’t…”
“Lyra, really. I appreciate that you respect my abilities, but you shouldn’t idolize me. It’s not like you’re not worthy of discussion just because I’m in the room.” Octavia took Lyra’s hoof. “We are not just mentor and trainee anymore; we are friends. So please – tell me how you have been doing. I want to know. In particular: are you able to find suitable venues for your performances?”
“You just saw one of them,” said Lyra. “But, yes, I do get asked to play at weddings and parties, that kind of thing. Cute-ceaneras too, especially for the richer families.”
“Good. A musician without an audience, without ponies to perform for, is just a dreamer.”
"And, judging from her, a musician with an audience is a snorer," joked Bonbon.
"Hey!" Lyra giggled and nudged her.
Octavia smiled. “And… what else? Besides your music, what else is happening in your life?”
Lyra began to rattle off what had happened during the past few months, including moving in with Bonbon and dealing with several of the weirder minor crises that had hit Ponyville. “…but at least they got the griffin out of town, thank Luna. I’d have gone crazy if she and Rainbow Dash had played any more pranks.”
“And that fake secretary you mentioned?”
“Gone. It’s been kind of crazy sometimes, but at least we can usually get through things in one piece. Sometimes, I kind of miss the days back at the Academy, when the biggest scandal was that Jokester set up two tin cans and tied them together with string so that Jester could whisper test answers to him!”
Octavia laughed at the memory. “Yes, and then the invisibility spell failed halfway through the exam, and everypony saw he had a tin can in his ear… perhaps he should have studied instead.” She grinned. “I’ll admit, I haven’t been keeping close tabs on Ponyville. But I did hear that a lot of… interesting things happen here.”
“You don’t know the half of it.”
“Although, I think you forgot one thing.” The cellist chuckled. “Apparently, you helped save the world by fighting off Corona?”
Lyra blushed a deep scarlet. She hadn’t brought that up; she couldn’t think of any way to do it that wouldn’t have sounded like bragging. “Uh… maybe?”
Octavia's laugh was a warm and rich sound, like, Lyra thought, her cello. “Congratulations. I always knew you were special, Lyra. Which Element were you, again?”
Behind Octavia, Lyra saw the door to the café open and Trixie, and the Doos entered. Lyra waved them over.
“Well, that’s most fitting. I don’t think I ever knew you to miss a practice, rehearsal, or show. You were the most reliable trainee I ever had.” Octavia finished her glass of wine. “And it shows. You truly have a prodigious ability, Lyra.”
“Thanks. Coming from you, that means a lot.”
“Hi Miss Heartstrings!” chirped Dinky as the others approached. “How are you?”
“Great, Dinky! Everypony, may I present Octavia Philharmonica, my mentor from my time at the Academy and one of the finest cellists in Equestria.”
Octavia bowed slightly. “A pleasure to meet you all.”
Lyra performed the introductions. Dinky hopped off of Ditzy’s back and beamed up at Octavia. “Your music is really pretty,” she told Octavia.
“Indeed. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything so lovely.” Ditzy glanced between the two musicians. “I don’t suppose you have records?”
Octavia and Lyra both chuckled. Octavia said, “Regrettably, I have not yet achieved that level of fame. I haven’t produced a record since my days at the Academy. Although… for friends of Lyra, I see no reason that the two of us could not, perhaps, put one together.” Lyra nodded eagerly. Octavia continued, saying, “That is, if this town has the necessary facilities. Is there a recording studio?”
Ditzy smiled brightly. “Vinyl Scratch has one. I’ll ask if you two can borrow it.”
Dinky asked, “Miss Philharmonica, how could you go to the Magic Academy if you aren’t a unicorn?”
“The Academy, in addition to their music scholarship, had a dual-study program with students from my institution, the Canterlot School of the Musical Arts. We took some of their classes and trained with them, and they with us” said Octavia. “Even though I wasn’t performing magic spells, I was still technically enrolled in their music program during my last two years of education.”
Trixie looked awkwardly at Octavia. “Hello again.”
“Miss Lulamoon.” Octavia’s voice seemed to become a little colder. “How… nice to see you again.”
“Look, I’m sorry I caused that, uh, incident with the Ice Palace… were you able to fix your cello?”
Lyra hesitated, not knowing what to say. Trixie was squirming. But then Octavia lowered her head. “Nevertheless. Any friend of Lyra’s is a friend of mine. I forgive you, Trixie Lulamoon. Just… please, be careful around my instruments. They are extremely fragile.”
“Of course,” said Trixie, looking relieved. Unusually, she didn’t even complain about Octavia using her last name. “Thanks.”
Octavia waved this off, and Lyra grinned. “Octavia’s only in town for a few days, so I’m going to help her get to her lodgings and get unpacked. Can we meet up later?”
Ditzy nodded. “Of course.”
Lyra helped Octavia balance the cello on her back, and they began to leave the restaurant. “So, how’s old Professor Eighth Note?”
“Getting on in years, but he can still play ‘Dance of the Ursas’ better than any other pony in Canterlot…”
Several hours passed, during which Octavia and Lyra reminisced and exchanged all manner of stories. Lyra found herself increasingly eager to visit Canterlot; so much was happening there on the musical scene that she could barely believe it. New venues, new musicians, and a new music competition Luna was sponsoring with a thousand-bit purse to the winner. Maybe she would enter, she thought. She probably wouldn’t win, but she was sure she could put in a good showing.
But after the catching up, and after dinner, Octavia asked if she could have an hour to herself so that she could practice her scales. Lyra agreed and opted to take a quick walk around the city. The sun was setting and casting a warm, red glow over the fields and flowers of the village. Lyra smiled – everything was so beautiful. It was like music for the eyes.
“Hmm?” Lyra turned. “Oh, hi Trixie. What’s up?”
Trixie shrugged. “Nothing really… how’s Octavia doing?”
“She’s fine. She really likes Ponyville.” Lyra grinned. “She says I’m even better than when she last heard me! She told me that she knows of a couple groups she can recommend me to! Trixie, do you realize how amazing this is? She’s, like, one of the most famous cellists in Canterlot!”
Trixie nodded. “Yeah… about that. Um, who does she usually play for?”
“Nobility, I guess. Social events for the rich ponies and the politicians… I think she played at the Night Court’s Gala one year. She’s not quite at the level of giving Luna herself recitals, but give her a couple years and she’ll be the Court Musician.”
Lyra frowned. “Is something wrong?”
“Lyra, how many ponies do you think know my last name?”
“Oh, come on, Trixie. There’s no reason to be embarrassed—“
“I’m not embarrassed!” But Trixie did look a little flustered. “Isn’t it weird that Octavia just knew it? We’re not exactly friends. In fact, I don’t think we’ve ever spoken.”
“What does it matter?”
“Maybe nothing, but…” Trixie sighed. “If she studied up on me before coming here—“
“—She might be planning something. If she deals with the Court, they could be influencing her. Be careful, okay?”
“Planning something? Trxie, she’s a musician, not one of your Night Court enemies. Stop worrying.” Lyra smiled. “Wait. Are you jealous?”
“What? No! I’m—“
“Trixie, just because I have another friend – one who didn’t pressure me into a performance I didn’t want to do – doesn’t mean I’m going to abandon you. I’m the Element of Loyalty, remember?”
Trixie looked annoyed. “I’m not jealous! But this is the kind of thing Luna taught me to look out for.”
“I’ll be careful,” promised Lyra. “Now – I really should get back.”
Trixie frowned, but nodded. “Alright. Just… watch out, Lyra. You haven’t dealt with the Court, but they use proxies all the time.”
Lyra rolled her eyes. “I get it, Trixie. I’ll make sure I don’t get pulled into any political turf war. Good night.” And she quickly walked off.
Jealous, she decided. Trixie was just jealous. Ah, well. The blue mare really was trying hard to be a good friend now. Hadn’t Trixie saved her at that performance a few weeks back? She could forgive a little jealousy.
Lyra heard ‘Sonata of Grass and Snow’ as she approached Octavia’s door, and paused to listen. It was one of her favorite cello works. Eery and melancholy, yet ending on an uplifting and hopeful note. The grass reached through the snow, the sun poked through the clouds, and the notes faded away like the last gusts of winter.
“Lyra, you can come in,” called Octavia.
Lyra chuckled. Surprising Octavia was near impossible; the musician’s ears were some of the best in the country and she could identify most of the ponies she knew by their hoofsteps alone. Lyra had never managed to sneak up on her, despite dozens of attempts. “Did the practicing go well?”
Lyra opened the door and entered Octavia’s lodgings. The mare was setting her cello back in its case and wrapping the bow into its wax sheath. Lyra set down the little basket of hot cocoa mix that she’d balanced on her back. “Just like old times, huh?”
“Fewer whiny underponies,” said Octavia. “No drunken revelries interfering with our practicing… no whiny applicants to our quartet who think that their social lives are of a higher priority than perfecting the music they will play with us.”
“It wasn’t so bad,” teased Lyra. “We had a lot of good times there. And, admit it – that one weekend Timpani Tapper snuck in and hosted that huge party for all the string players was pretty fun.”
“Every musician I rehearsed with was hungover for two days,” said Octavia crisply. “My cello was scuffed. I myself have little memory of the evening; I probably lost several hours of practice time, and—“
“But you had fun,” interrupted Lyra.
Octavia paused, then smiled. “Yes. I had fun.”
Lyra began to brew the hot chocolate as Octavia reclined on the couch. “Anyway, Lyra. I have to confess that my visit here was not entirely for pleasure. There’s something I’d like to talk to you about.”
Lyra wondered briefly if Trixie had been right. “Yes?”
Octavia bent, graceful as always, and carefully took an advertisement out of a pocket in her cello case. “You are familiar, I trust, with the Song Cycle Extravaganza?”
“Of course.” Lyra nodded. “Every three years, the Canterlot Symphany Orchestra spends three months playing music with one particular theme and travels all over Equestria. I think last time the theme was ‘Nature,’ right? I remember you playing in one of the sections. Youngest ever to play in the Extravaganza, if I’m remembering it correctly.”
“I was then... but not anymore” Octavia slid the paper over to Lyra. “Because this year, the theme is the music of Concerto Forte. The most famous lyre player of the Classical era.”
Lyra stared. “You… you don’t mean…”
“They need lyre players. After they selected me to be second cellist chair, they asked if I knew any available ponies. I recommended your name.”
Lyra didn’t know what to say. She ended up not saying anything.
“The conductor is a close friend of mine and trusts my judgment. If you want the job, Lyra, you can—“
Lyra realized she was hugging Octavia. “Thank you thank you thank you! This – this is the biggest music event of the year! THANK YOU!”
“Personal space!” gasped Octavia.
Lyra released Octavia. “I can’t believe it. I’ve never held a position in a full-time orchestra, I—“
Octavia held up a hoof, and, just as in their days at school, Lyra quieted instantly. “Believe it,” said Octavia. “This is not a joke. If you want it, it’s yours.”
“Of course I want it!”
Octavia smiled. “Wonderful. Come back to Canterlot with me. Pack all your bags, and—“
“All my bags?” Lyra frowned. “Canterlot’s not that far from here… will I be staying overnight?”
“Well, during the Extravaganza, there’s concerts every night and rehearsal every morning. You’ll have to commit to staying with the orchestra for the whole period.”
Lyra hesitated. “I couldn’t go home? At all?”
Octavia shook her head. “No. The schedule is too demanding. But surely three months is a small sacrifice for such an opportunity.”
“It is, but…”
She was thinking of Carrot Top, who she’d promised to help fix a fence the next week, and help with some irrigation problems the week after. She thought of the foals, who by now expected her in the park each Saturday that it didn’t rain. Then there was Dinky, whom she had offered to start teaching music lessons next month. And, of course, Bonbon would miss her terribly. She was the Element of Loyalty; even for such an opportunity, could she really just up and leave for three months?
But, then again, wouldn’t her friends understand? That was part of what being a friend meant, after all. Supporting one another.
“…when do you need an answer?”
“By the time I leave,” said Octavia.
“Alright. I’ll see if I can clear my schedule.” Lyra nodded. She could probably get things squared away enough that she could go perform. She’d make every effort to do so.
Octavia nodded. “Very well.”
Lyra poured her two mugs of the now-finished hot chocolate. She added a few marshmallows, offered one cup to Octavia, and then drank from the other to hide her silly grin. This was shaping up to be one of the best days of her life.