“What?!” Marta Von Croy exclaimed. “But Elfi, you are only 13. You have already competed in the 12 to 14 and 15 to 17 classes. And I am so proud of how well you did in both.” Marta smiled at her daughter.
Her younger brother Stefan jumped forward and hugged his sister. “Oh, Elfi, how wonderful! You will do as well in that class as you have in the others, I know you will!”
He stepped back and grinned at her.
“I don’t know,” Elfi said. “I’m afraid to try!”
Herr Welser said he has arranged it?” her mother asked.
“Yes, mama, he said I am well able to do it. But, oh, mama - competing against the grown up girls and boys? He said for me to come and tell you.”
“Yes, I did,” a deep male voice said, and a hand rested on Elfi’s shoulder. “Mein leibchen, I know you can do it. All you have to think about is your violin, and making it sing for you. Forget the others, forget the adjudicators. Remember only yourself and your violin, and you will do very well!” Guenther Welser smiled down at his young protege, then looked at her mother. “Will you give your consent, Frau Von Croy?”
“Yes....yes, I will, but...but I can not stay with her. I must go with Stefan, he is to compete now in the 7 to 9 clarinet class, then in the 10 to 12 class. It is his first competition, I thought Elfi would be finished and come with us. I do not like to leave her alone.”
“Go, Frau Von Croy, I will look after Elfi. I will keep her with me until this class is over, then we will come and meet you at the other hall. She will be safe.” he turned to Elfi “but leibchen, why do you carry your violin in the wrong hand?” He chuckled at the expression on the little girl’s face.
“On, Meister, when you told me, I was putting it away. I just grabbed it and hurried to mama! I was too excited and afraid to notice.” quickly, she took the violin in her left hand, holding it with the bow dangling from a finger. “There,” she said. “That’s better.” suddenly she looked up at him and grinned. “I’m ready, Meister. And I will do as you said, and think only of my violin and the music.”
“Good girl,” he smiled. ‘Now we must go.”
Marta gave her daughter a swift hug and kiss, and whispered “you will do as well this time as you have always done. I love you.” then, taking Stefan’s hand, she turned and hurried off down the hall. Elfie and Herr Welser turned and walked in the opposite direction.
Elfie did do well - excellently, in fact, winning top honours in all three classes she competed in. Six months later, she was chosen to play at a special recital at Kursalon, the concert hall where the Strauss brothers had performed. It was a very great honour to have the opportunity to play there, and she was both elated and frightened. But then she remembered Herr Welser’s advice at the competition, and the fear lessened.
As Elfi walked out on stage, she kept the Meister’s advice in mind, and tried to ignore the loud applause. Looking straight ahead, she saw the conductor, Dietmar Steindachner standing, watching her, one hand out. There was a welcoming, encouraging smile on his face, and she felt safer, and less nervous. She walked to him, bowed, turned and bowed to the orchestra, and then to the audience.
At the lifting of Herr Steindachner’s baton, the music started. Soon she was playing, and nothing else mattered. She was only vaguely aware of the other musicians, and the conductor’s baton. All of her attention was on the violin, and making it sing, the sound carrying her soul to incredible heights. Then it was over, there was a moment of silence, and then the applause exploded, the wave of sound almost pushing her back a step. Dazed, she acknowledged it, not seeing that she had earned a standing ovation.
Still dazed, she bowed again, turned, and left the stage. In the wings her mother, father and brother were waiting for her, and she was clasped in their arms. The sound of the applause swept over them. Tears ran down Marta’s face. She was so proud of her little girl. Brother and father smiled and fought the tears.
“Och, mein leibchen!” Heinrich Von Cloy said. “You play like an angel! How proud I am of you, and how glad I am that I was able to be here this night, to see and hear you perform!” His work for the government often took him away for weeks at a time, so they were all pleased that he was home for a while.
The next week, when she went to the conservatory for her regular lesson, she was surprised to find Herr Welser’s room empty. She thought she heard voices in the auditorium, so she went there. As she walked in, she was greeted by enthusiastic applause. They were all there - all the students, all the teachers, even the janitorial staff, and they were all smiling and clapping. Hung across the stage was a big sign “Well done, Elfi!”.
They all gathered around to shake her hand, hug her, and tell her how pleased and proud they were. She had brought great honour to their school, and it reflected on them all. The rest of the lesson time was filled with talk, laughter, praise, cake and punch. Elfi was stunned by the honour. It was something she treasured always, looking back in later life. That everyone praised and honoured her, freely and without jealousy, was a memory to last a lifetime.
Two years later, when she was 16, she had the honour to play with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra in the Wiener Konzerthaus. Once again, she earned a standing ovation. Three beautiful bouquets were presented to her, one by a famous violinist, one by the Mayor, and the last by her very best friend, Gretel Gusenbauer. She was touched almost to tears by that last one. Smiling, she accepted the flowers and the applause, then bowed and left the stage. Once again her parents and brother were there to greet her, and celebrate her success with her.
“Elfi, my wonderful daughter,” her father said. “Where next will you play?”
“I don’t know, Papa,” Elfi answered. “But I would like to take some time off now. Just practise, continue to see Herr Welser, and get on with my school studies. Maybe a couple of years, so I can finish high school. Then I will be able to go on to University. I would love to play in the Musikverein some day, if that could ever be possible.”
“Then, my love,” her mother said, “that is what you should do. You have come far already, and you deserve the time to work on your academic future, too.”
Happily the family left the hall, content to wait for Elfie’s next big performance. They had no premonition of what that performance would lead to.