• Published 25th Nov 2020
  • 653 Views, 24 Comments

The Cab Ride and a Night Train - Penguifyer



After her composition is bashed by the critics, Octavia travels to New York City in 1978 to seek inspiration. Her answer comes not from the concert halls or academics, but rather from a cab ride.

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A Disappointment

Author's Note:

This story includes links to the music referenced in the story. These are by no means required listening and this story is designed to not require them. However, just listening to them for 20 seconds will clarify much of what the characters talk about. If you can, check them out.

Octavia slid off of her chair and bowed to an applause. The audience was quieter than she expected.

She picked up her cello and walked offstage with her piano accompanist. Once out of view from the audience, her accompanist walked up to her. “So, how do you think it went?”

“The performance was splendid,” Octavia responded, setting her cello in its case.

The accompanist put a hoof on Octavia’s shoulder. “You looked worried.”

Octavia brought a hoof to her mouth, realizing she was frowning. “Do I?”

“You do. Is something wrong?”

Octavia let out a deep breath. “My last concert had a louder applause. Considering I just premiered my new piece and invited a professor from the Canterlot Conservatory to listen to it, I’m a bit worried.”

“Hey, that’s tomorrow’s problem. Enjoy the night while you can.”

“Thanks,” Octavia smiled back, brushing the hoof off of her shoulder. “I need to hear that.”

— — —

The more Octavia thought about it, the more she realized all classical music, let alone music in general, sounded the same. Every song or piece had a melody, a harmony, and a logical form. Every voice stayed within a key, even if the key changed abruptly or subtly. Everyone used more or less the same instruments. That’s not to say there wasn’t a wealth of creative possibilities within this structure, but everything new was just a variation of the old. Where was the creativity? Where was the true innovation?

A single question enveloped her plight: why did music have to be this way? The only answer Octavia could come up with was that’s what ponies knew.

What if there was no harmony? What if there was no melody? What if music wasn’t confined to what ponies called “instruments?” Who said music could only be in one key at a time? It was this last question Octavia decided to experiment with. What if a piece of music was in two keys at the same time?

She composed a solo for cello accompanied by piano. However, the left hoof of the pianist played in C major as the right hoof played in D major while Octavia’s cello melody weaved between the two. She dubbed it “Bitonality.”

Right off of the bat, a new wealth of possibilities opened up. How would different keys interact with each other? What new aesthetics could she explore?

Just the thought of it excited her, just like when her cutie mark first appeared.

— — —

Octavia woke up the day after her performance and rubbed her eyes. A burst of adrenaline shot through her body; the reviews of her performance came out today.

She hopped out of bed, brushed her hair, tail, and teeth, chugged a quick cup of black tea, and dashed outside. Across the street, a mail pony flew by and dropped off a stack of the Ponyville Tribune to a small newsstand. The merchant pony in the stand shouted “today’s Ponyville Tribune is for sale!”

Octavia rushed to the growing line, jittering as it inched forward. One by one, each pony in line received a paper and moved on until it was Octavia’s turn.

Octavia stood her front legs on the counter. “How much?”

“Five bits.”

“Don’t do this to me.”

“Fine, two. Thought you’d be desperate enough to pay anything.”

She popped two bits and rolled them onto the counter as the merchant nodded and tossed her a paper.

She hopped out of the line and dashed back into her house. Once inside, she ripped the paper open, looking for the reviews section. Seeing two reviews on the fifth page, she focussed on the one at the top of the page and read it aloud.

“Once again, Octavia Melody proved to Ponyville, and much of Equestria, that her performance skills are second to none. Her ability to remain cool and make sense of such a piece is unmatched from any other pony I’ve seen.” Her heart raced with excitement. “And make sense she had to. The music was constantly at odds with itself, producing strange dissonances and awkward harmonies. It was as if the piece couldn’t decide what key to be in and settled on both at the same time. Overall, it made for a rather unpleasant listening experience.”

Octavia’s heart sank, but she forced herself to read on.

“On a second glance, one would notice Octavia composed the piece herself. Due to her skill, it can be assumed this is her vision for the piece. Plenty of ponies have made great careers solely on their performance skills. Likewise, Octavia might want to consider dropping composition and focusing on doing what she does well.”

Her forelegs twitched as her bones yearned to rip the paper apart. There was one more review though. A glance at the author revealed it to be from the professor of the conservatory. She turned her head and reluctantly mumbled it out loud.

“Octavia Melody’s A Solo in Two Keys is more accurately a solo torn between two keys. Although her musicianship skills are no laughing matter, one struggles not to let out a chuckle wondering why she thought this was a good idea. Although the blocked chords are bearable, the conflicting melodies give little more than an impression of what could’ve been. However, striking dissonances will pull anypony out before Octavia’s sublime skills can mesmerize them. The only impression the piece does give is that of a Yak mob…”

Octavia tore her eyes from the page and threw the paper at the wall. The pages split apart in the air, gently drifting to the ground as she collapsed. This was supposed to be innovation. This was supposed to get her into the textbooks. Tears welled in her eyes.

News of this would spread. Her colleagues would hold this against her and her career would suffer for it. She’d be known as the crazy cellist whose ideas boggled everypony else. She didn’t know if she could recover from this.

A click from the doorknob and a creak from its hinges signaled to Octavia her roommate was home. She grabbed a page of the paper and covered her face with it.

“I’m back, Octa…” Vinyl froze, unsure what to say. Octavia told her about the premier, but neither of them expected this. “It didn’t go well, did it?”

“What does it look like?” Octavia sniffled, her voice muffled from the paper.

Vinyl trotted over to Octavia and levitated the newspaper off of her head. Sitting down, Vinyl held out her hoof and grabbed Octavia’s foreleg. “Come on, let’s get you up.” With a gentle tug, Vinyl helped Octavia up and guided her to the couch.

Once Octavia sat down, Vinyl covered her with a blanket and trotted over to the kitchen. A minute later, she came back with a mug of tea and a mug of coffee and levitated the tea to Octavia. Vinyl sipped her coffee as Octavia gave her tea a sniff. “Camomile this early?”

Vinyl sat down next to her. “I don’t think caffeine is gonna help you right now.”

“Fair enough.” Octavia sipped her tea.

“So, how bad was it?”

Octavia stared into her mug.

“If you don’t talk about it now, it’s only going to weigh you down.”

Octavia exhaled before stuttering. “I-I feel worthless.”

“Octavia…”

“Like if I touch a manuscript again, I’ll vomit notes onto it.”

“You know that’s not true.”

“How do you know? You go on stage, spin your little record, and everypony enjoys it.

“Don’t go there.”

“I put weeks of effort into my piece, making sure every note is correct and intentional, making sure the score is clean, rehearsing until the performance. You just trot onto the stage and do your thing.”

“Back off.”

“For what? I have to put in effort. I have to spend hours getting details right. Your fans will eat up whatever you do.”

“Octavia!”

“I have to please academics. I have to please professors who will ruin my career if they want to.”

“OCTAVIA!” Vinyl shouted, jumped off of the couch, and paced around. Octavia curled up and stared at the ground. After a brief silence, Vinyl sighed. “Look, I know you’re not mad at me. Please don’t take it out on me. I know it sucks right now, but please don’t make me your enemy.”

Tears welled in Octavia’s eyes. “Vinyl… I’m so…”

As Octavia broke into a cry, Vinyl slid onto the couch and hugged her back. “It’s okay, I know you didn’t mean it.”

Octavia leaned in Vinyl, breaking out into a bawl. “I-I’m so sorry.”

“Shh…” Vinyl rubbed Octavia’s back. “You’ll get through this one step at a time.”

Octavia sniffled back and rubbed her eyes. “I know, I just feel like there’s no point anymore.”

“Come on, you still have your stellar performance career behind you. Maybe the composition thing will be a slow burn instead.”

“Maybe…” Octavia let out a deep breath. “I just want to get away from all of this, even if I have to leave Equestria altogether.”

Vinyl paused. “Actually…”

Octavia raised an eyebrow. That was not the response she expected.

Five pages of the newspaper levitated in the air from Vinyl’s aura. Vinyl checked them one by one before, tossing a few aside. “Here it is,” she exclaimed, levitating a page to Octavia.

Holding out her hooves as the page fell on top of them, Octavia read the title out loud. “All Inclusive Trips and Tours of Earth?”

Vinyl smiled. “I saw it while I was pacing. I bet it’s just a week-long thing and won’t fix your problem, not that it should, but it might be nice to get out of Equestria for once.”

Octavia stared at the paper. She knew that humans had a long history of classical music much like Equestria. She even heard in passing that their classical scene was far more experimental than Equestria’s, although she didn’t know what that meant. That didn’t matter though. She was desperate for ideas and this looked like the perfect opportunity.

“How do I sign up?”

— — —

Octavia had to fill out an application form along with a statement on her intentions for visiting Earth (she emphasized her composition). The article in the paper commented on the strict regulations on travel between Earth and Equestria. The more research she and Vinyl did, the more they realized how likely her application could get rejected.

Vinyl pitched in some extra bits to help her out, allowing her to barely afford the minimum stay of a week. Money would be tight afterward for a bit, but she needed the break.

The company presented her with two location options: New York or London. She asked Vinyl if she knew anything about either of the places.

“I met a pony who spent some time in London. When I asked him what the humans were like there. He said exactly like you but human.”

“Interesting,” Octavia nodded, mentally crossing out London.

“Seems like a place you’d like if you ask me.”

“I bet it is.” She didn’t want familiarity; she wanted to go somewhere new.

It took a week before the travel company got back to Octavia. When they finally got back to her, they only sent her a letter saying she passed prescreening and would be notified in a week or two if she was accepted. A week later, another letter came in the mail saying she was accepted into the program. But due to a change in the scheduling for her trip, the trip would be delayed by a couple of weeks. This pushed the trip out to a month away, making the waiting unbearable. She wondered if anything went wrong.

The month leading up to the trip felt agonizingly slow. Every morning Octavia glanced at her calendar, counting the days until the trip.

Octavia continued to perform around Ponyville twice a week. She even got invited to perform at Canterlot for the princesses and a dragon diplomat. But that trip carried a mix of emotions with it. Even though the princesses complimented her and invited her to join the afterparty, she only stayed for thirty minutes after catching sight of the critic who bashed her composition.

The days went by as the X’s on Octavia’s calendar approached the date of the trip. As the day inched closer, she wondered what human music would be like and whether this trip was a good idea. What if she regretted it when she got there? At least she’d only be there for a week.

Finally, she woke up, glanced at the big circle on her calendar, and nodded. It was the day. After some last-minute packing and a quick mug of black tea, she hugged Vinyl goodbye and headed for the train station. Despite her doubt and the looming uncertainty, excitement filled her when she stepped on the train. Freed from the opinions and history of Equestria, she could discover something truthfully new. Just the thought made her smile and her cutie mark glow.