"Looks like he's almost fully recovered," Fang Zhao said.
"Almost. There are still some challenges we haven't resolved, but the doctor said he will get over the hump in about half a year and fully recover in the next three to five years."
Ming Cang and his wife now beamed when they spoke of their son's prospects. The huge weight that had nearly crushed them had been lifted.
Both Fang Zhao and the Mings had been busy, so Fang Zhao had never had the chance to learn about Ming Ye's treatment in detail. This visit was the perfect opportunity to catch up. He was personally very curious about the treatment process as well. Ming Ye's treatment plan had never been made public, and Fang Zhao had only read updates in medical journals. Now he could hear firsthand from Ming Cang and his wife.
After an extended chat, it was dinner time.
"Xiao Fang, did you bring your driver? Ask them to join us. It's just a casual meal," Su Tong said eagerly. "You can ask Teacher Ming for advice about your concert afterward."
After being summoned upstairs, Yan Biao and Zuo Yu did their best to keep a low profile, especially Yan Biao. Zuo Yu had joked that Yan Biao projected the aura of a gangster and might spook young children. If this had been any other occasion, Yan Biao would have blown him off, but now he reined himself in.
After dinner, Yan Biao and Zuo Yu rested in the living room, their faces tired from all the smiling in response to Su Tong's generous hospitality.
"Tea? Or juice?" Su Tong asked.
"No need, no need. We'll just have some water. We'll help ourselves. Why don't you go about your business? We'll just wait here," Zuo Yu said.
Noticing that Yan Biao and Zuo Yu were a bit stiff, Su Tong didn't insist on serving them. She led Ming Ye to his bedroom for a chat.
Yan Biao and Zuo Yu finally relaxed when they were alone in the living room.
The two bodyguards could put themselves at ease in front of thugs and businessmen, but they were at a loss as to how to behave before such a cultured family. They didn't even feel comfortable speaking up.
"Hey, Zuo Yu, let me ask you a question," Yan Biao whispered, wearing a curious expression.
"What kind of illness did that Ming Ye, Professor Ming's son, contract? Did Boss's music really cure him?"
"Yes and no."
Yan Biao didn't like the answer he had gotten. "Either yes or no. What do you mean?"
"To draw an analogy, Boss's 'Period of Destruction' series was like the key to a crucial door. It pointed researchers in the right direction. The rest was up to the researchers. It was a matter of finding the right direction and making a critical breakthrough. Ming Ye didn't necessarily have to listen to the series repeatedly."
"Sounds like a straightforward matter, but without a clear direction, any amount of time, manpower, and resources would simply go to waste." Yan Biao finally understood why this couple treated Fang Zhao so well. Ming Cang and his wife had not stopped smiling since the moment they had entered the apartment. Putting himself in the couple's shoes, Yan Biao thought he would do the same.
While Yan Biao and Zuo Yu were gossiping in the living room, Ming Cang was in his study, giving Fang Zhao pointers about the upcoming concert.
Ming Cang was rather conflicted when it came to live concerts. The most respected figures in the music industry despised big money and crassness, but they also wanted performers to put on classy shows. They seemed to prefer venues that were super expensive but had limited seating capacity, thinking that only concert halls of that category were a match for their level of artistry.
In short, the senior figures in the music industry only respected the three main venues in Yanzhou. Even though they looked down on venues like Golden Age that were open to the highest bidder, saying these venues reeked of gaudiness, they still acknowledged the status of these concert halls.
This was a major contradiction in the music industry these days, a big shortcoming. But as a single person, Ming Cang had limited influence. Even though he took issue with the trend, all he could do was play by the rules.
That was the message Ming Cang delivered to Fang Zhao—if you couldn't change the status quo, you had to conform first.
Ming Cang also zoomed in on details regarding the lead-up and aftermath of the concert that were often neglected.
He pondered some more and added: "Why don't we do this. You've never been to a concert at one of the three major venues. Let me check their schedules. No amount of advice I give you is can substitute for the actual experience. I get quite a few complimentary tickets. Let's pick a show and check it out."
Ming Cang was a former president of the Qi'an Academy of Music, after all, and the current deputy head of the Yanzhou Music Association. Folks like him were regularly invited to concerts of all sorts.
Typically, both Ming Cang and his wife were invited, but because of Ming Ye's illness, the couple skipped most of these concerts except the more important ones, and when they went, only one of them attended. The other stayed home to take care of Ming Ye. The tickets arrived in a steady stream. It was up to them whether or not to attend the concerts.
Fang Zhao watched Ming Cang sift through the electronic tickets on his tablet. He had already passed on the upcoming shows of several up-and-coming musicians in Yanzhou.
Noticing Fang Zhao's puzzled expression, Ming Cang explained, "You can't trust what you read online. You know how it works at big companies like Silver Wing. Even the weakest performer can be packaged as a master with the right backup."
What he meant was that performers like these seemed competent, but in reality, they were being inflated by their promoters. There was no point in watching their shows. It was a waste of time.
"Too many people view their concerts at one of the three major venues as a mere stepping stone. Not to say that there's anything wrong with that, but it's quite disappointing to me if they don't even bother putting together proper pieces or if they offload composing duties to others. The whole thing becomes a career move and the purity of the show is lost," Ming Cang lamented. Veteran musicians like himself could tell instantly if the performers put any thought into their pieces.
"Oh, here we go! Ha Wen. This student is quite competent. He's a talented arranger, too. His concert should be decent." Ming Cang pointed at the two e-tickets and told Fang Zhao, "He's one of my former students, and Auntie Su's as well. An arrangement major. He may not be that talented of a composer, but he's a very strong arranger."
The date of the concert was the day after tomorrow.
"Are you free?" Ming Cang asked.
"Yes," Fang Zhao responded. He had no conflicting engagements. He could definitely spare the night after the next to check out a concert picked by Ming Cang.
Once they had confirmed their plans, Ming Cang asked Su Tong to join them so she could send Fang Zhao her e-ticket.
"Ming Ye's medical team will be visiting him for a checkup the day after tomorrow, so Su Tong is going to stay home for that. I'll join you for the concert," Ming Cang said with a smile. "It's just a routine weekly checkup, it's OK. Last week, Su Tong had to attend a conference for a few days and I was the one who stayed home with Ming Ye. This time, it's her turn to stick around. We can go to the concert together."
Su Tong didn't take issue with the plan. She even asked Fang Zhao if she should send him more tickets.
Ming Cang cut her off. "There are quite a few concerts that you can pass on. Watching them will actually affect your performance. When I have time, I'll sift through them again and send him a few more."
Su Tong pondered her husband's response and agreed. She only forwarded the ticket to the Ha Wen concert.
The day of Ha Wen's concert.
Ming Cang briefed Fang Zhao on his former student's background in the car en route to Golden Age.
"This concert at Golden Age is a big step forward for Ha Wen's music career. It's in concert hall no. 1. He's been preparing for this concert for some two decades."
Ha Wen was in his 50s. His debut concert was happening much later than those of fellow Qi'an Academy of Music alums who were even younger. Ha Wen had started preparing for his concert soon after graduation. If things had gone smoothly, he would have staged his first concert in Golden Age's concert hall no. 1 five years after graduation. Alas, that was not what had happened.
Ha Wen's family business had had a major crisis, so he hadn't had the time or money to spare for his concert. Those had been his toughest times, but thankfully, he had survived the dark days and could finally stage his debut concert.
"Ha Wen's musical style is completely different to yours. His music is mellower, the underlying emotions a bit more subtle. He's charted a different course, so just use him as a reference and draw from his experience where you can," Ming Cang said.
Ming Cang started giving Fang Zhao pointers from the moment they arrived at Golden Age, from the entrance all the way to concert hall No. 1.
Fang Zhao had plenty of help from Silver Wing for his first concert. There were many details that he didn't have to worry about this time, but what about next time? What if Fang Zhao decided to leave Silver Wing and go solo? The more knowledgeable he was, the easier it would be for him.
So Ming Cang left no stone unturned.
Fang Zhao also paid close attention, remembering every single point. A minor slipup could sour audience perception.
This was not the occasion to behave like a know-it-all and offend all the veteran musicians who would attend his concert.
Ming Cang and Fang Zhao found their seats. A program the size of a piece of A5 paper was placed on each chair. It looked like a paper bill, but in fact, it was a tablet stored with the full rundown and Ha Wen's biography.
Fang Zhao also noticed each of the 10 songs in the program was tagged with an empty circle at the end. He knew what the symbols meant—that the songs had not be sold yet. A song that had been sold was indicated by a solid circle.
There was still some hushed chitchat among the audience, but it died down when the concert started.
Ha Wen didn't seem that old. Someone in their 50s in the New Era was the equivalent of a young man in his 30s in the Old Era. He was a bit chubby and had a kind face. Perhaps he was more easygoing because of the adversity he had overcome. He gave a good first impression.
After a brief opening speech for acknowledgments, it was time for the first piece, which was a new version of a folk song for children from the Founding Era and was performed by harmonica.
The harmonica was truly an out-of-fashion instrument in the New Era, but it was a good fit for this newly arranged children's folk song. The melody was mellifluous and tinged with innocence and purity and the warmth of emotion.
The first song was followed by pieces that featured rearranged scores performed by the violin, the flute, the classical guitar, and other instruments, either in solo or in combination.
For professionals, music was the best way to vent emotion. Concerts were an opportunity not only to showcase your work but also to convey personal feelings.
And veteran musicians could tease out the emotion in every piece without reading the program notes.
Each piece was followed by a break during which Ha Wen introduced the next piece and briefly explained what the composer was trying to convey. Fang Zhao noted the structure of the rundown.
The 10th song and also the final piece of the concert.
The backdrop turned deep blue, and small spotlights meandered. The projection complemented the mood of the concert nicely.
The 10th song was a piano piece performed by Ha Wen himself that was adapted from a piece written by a famous composer some 200 years ago. Fang Zhao had heard Natiwuzi perform the piece on an electric guitar.
The original was fast and light-hearted, while the electric guitar version was wild and unkempt. Ha Wen's rendition was neither.
Ha Wen was in the zone. The melody progressed slowly, filled with tortured emotion.
The original was about 4 minutes long. Ha Wen's version was 8 minutes, about double the length, yet it didn't feel protracted. Instead, it conveyed the full extent of the composer's sorrow beautifully.
It was as if time had stopped, like a dead pool of water. A gentle breeze swept by, and the human heart fluttered, the occasional bubble marking the passage of time.
With everything that had gone down, it was important to remember one's initial dream. Honor the past by preserving one's purity of purpose.
This was not the best version of the song Fang Zhao had heard, but it was definitely among the top three. Stunning. It was undoubtedly a high-quality rearrangement.
No wonder Ming Cang had suggested this concert.
Someone who could rearrange a classic from 200 years ago in this way was an indisputable talent. His love for music also shined through.
As Ming Cang had pointed out, Ha Wen remained passionate about life and music despite having been dealt a cruel twist of fate. He had endured the kind of adversity that few had overcome, weathering major ups and major downs as he had gone from wealthy to poor to wealthy again. Such purity of purpose was hard to come by.
An epiphany struck Fang Zhao, and he smiled.
He realized why Ming Cang had picked Ha Wen's concert.
Ha Wen was undoubtedly talented. People who performed at the Golden Age weren't all pretenders. There were actual talents too, but out of all the shows, Ming Cang had picked Ha Wen's.
Ming Cang's choice was a subtle message to Fang Zhao not to be blinded by his current fame and fortune. The entertainment industry was too unpredictable and ever-changing. No one knew what would follow after a moment of glory—more glory, or a slump.
There were no guarantees.
It would be great if Fang Zhao's August concert was a big success, but if it wasn't, he shouldn't get too down on himself either. Look at Ha Wen, this senior musician in his 50s—didn't he make it after all?
As Fang Zhao had figured, Ming Cang was worried that the pressure was too much for Fang Zhao. Silver Wing was a business, after all. All they cared about was making money. Everything else fell by the wayside.
The media scrutiny, the pressure to turn a profit for Silver Wing, the public reaction—all these factors could work against Fang Zhao's development as an artist.
Ming Cang wanted to tell Fang Zhao that even if his concert failed or didn't meet expectations, he shouldn't give up, he should stay mentally strong and not back down. He was still young and had plenty of chances ahead of him.