Fang Zhao's lecture at Muzhou Music Academy was a huge success. You could judge from the number of web hits.
The president of the academy was smiling so broadly his creases deepened. He was cocky about his wise decision. After the lecture, at least 10 percent if not half of the global music-student community was now interested in symphonic genres. People who tuned in were also exposed to the name "Muzhou Music Academy." That was the biggest achievement.
Still, time was limited. There was only so much Fang Zhao could cover in one lecture. Many viewers hadn't gotten their fix when the lecture ended.
The president started brainstorming about how he could work with Fang Zhao again. Didn't he need a recording studio? "The academy has a recording studio. That would spare you the queue at Odd Music. We'll prepare the best recording studio for you."
But others had the same idea. The chief executive of Odd Music had already extended an invitation in person.
The Odd Music CEO responded to the president's offer with a casual laugh. "Old friend, why don't you save that outdated equipment for your students. For a professional recording, you'll need to come to Odd Music. Let's put it this way: the best recording equipment in all of Muzhou is at Odd Music. Didn't you bring your own granddaughter to record here on account of our new equipment? Don't fight me on this one."
The Odd Music CEO said that, as long as Fang Zhao was willing, he could offer him a recording studio for free right away. While the official word was that their studios were fully booked, the company reserved two studios for internal use in case of emergencies. They were equipped with the best gear.
The Odd Music CEO was quite enthusiastic and very polite. He also offered many perks. Fang Zhao had no reason to refuse.
"Have you contacted Teacher Fang from the symphony? If not, we can recommend a few alternatives," the smiling chief executive said.
Among the attendees of Fang Zhao's lecture were several key members of Muzhou's major symphonies. They had been waiting to approach Fang Zhao since the end of the lecture. When the Odd Music CEO made his comment, the small group, whose ears were already perked, pounced to pitch their own symphonies.
Musical tastes were not as sophisticated in Muzhou compared to Leizhou. There were few symphony orchestras and none of them had a global reputation. That was why every one of their collaborations with world-renowned master musicians was hard earned. With Fang Zhao's visit, the few major orchestras went at it again. Given that symphonies were gaining popularity among youngsters again and that Fang Zhao was a key figure behind this renaissance, this was too good an opportunity to pass up.
The Odd Music boss stood silently nearby and ignored the imploring looks from the folks that crowded over. He just stood and smiled, waiting for Fang Zhao to respond. Saying too much would come off as sycophantic and backfire. He had secured his deal. Everything else could wait.
Fang Zhao scanned the folks who had rushed forward to tout their services. Some of them were leaders of their orchestras. Others were first chairs of their respective sections.
"What's the name of your orchestra? How big is the orchestra? What's the latest?" Fang Zhao zoomed in on of the people in the crowd.
"I'm Daller, the leader of Soundcloud Philharmonic. I'm also first violin. Our orchestra is 10 years old. We have 80 musicians."
Daller passionately gave Fang Zhao the lowdown on his orchestra. Soundcloud was one of the larger orchestras in Qingcheng. Now that symphonic music was more popular, he wanted to recruit more musicians. All these years, they had never worked with a master. It wasn't a matter of quality. The few large orchestras in Muzhou were comparable in skill, but things just never came together for Soundcloud. Lo and behold, he had been called on by Fang Zhao this time. Of course he would make a hard sell.
An orchestra comprising 80-odd musicians was a large one for Muzhou, where symphonic music wasn't the rage, but it still paled in comparison to the orchestras in Yanzhou.
Even Silver Wing had a company orchestra made up of 100-odd musicians, and there were many outstanding instrumentalists on the waiting list. Even if they were short a few musicians, they could find replacements easily. They could also expand on short notice. It was a well-endowed department.
But things were different over here. Even though Muzhou boasted many orchestras, most were smaller ones. There were no more than five large orchestras in the continent. Even though they advertised themselves as professional orchestras, they weren't up to par by global standards. A regular performance calendar was the first step toward professionalization. All top professional orchestras had fixed seasons, but not in Muzhou.
Muzhou's orchestras weren't treated with respect. They were invited for the occasional performance, such as at a major farm owner's banquet or the opening or closing ceremony of a shepherd-dog contest. Their sole purpose was entertainment.
It wasn't fair for Fang Zhao to evaluate orchestras in Muzhou based on Yanzhou standards. The reason he had called on Daller was because Daller had listened attentively during the lecture and showed a dogged passion. The enthusiasm brimming from his eyes suggested a purity of purpose lacking in the others. Of course, Daller was also angling for his own personal interests, but genuine music lovers were hard to find—one in a million. To spot someone in this crowd who was relatively pure was a decent find.
To prove his orchestra's worth, Daller summoned his fellow musicians to perform a few pieces at the recording studio Odd Music had arranged. Even though they couldn't rival Silver Wing's highly paid orchestra, Fang Zhao couldn't spot too many mistakes.
"These were all original compositions?" Fang Zhao asked Daller after the set.
"Yes. It's nothing compared to what you find in Yanzhou, but we learned a lot from your lecture and will improve from here on out." The middle-aged Daller was quite uptight before Fang Zhao, who was dozens of years his junior. His tone conveyed a mix of caution and expectation, like a student showing off in front of a teacher.
Since Daller himself acknowledged there was room for improvement, Fang Zhao didn't offer any feedback. He instead asked, "You plan on going professional?"
"Yes, that's the plan, but we still have a lot of work to do." Daller didn't hide his ambition. When he had founded the orchestra, he'd wanted it to become Muzhou's first professional orchestra in the New Era.
Fang Zhao slapped Daller on the back and said, "Pretty good."
Daller instantly felt more confident and couldn't refrain from smiling. But when he turned around to manage the orchestra, his serious face returned.
Many of Soundcloud's musicians were puzzled. He's so authoritative when he speaks to us. How come he acts like a primary student in front of that kid Fang Zhao?
Fang Zhao started recording soon after. Sometimes composers would double as conductors. Such was the case with Fang Zhao. Because of his high standards, the session didn't start smoothly, but things eventually improved.
Zuo Yu was a bit baffled. It was only a matter of days before they returned to Yanzhou. Why not wait and record with the orchestra at Silver Wing? They might even finish earlier.
Was Fang Zhao worried about fuel costs for the flying transport? Considering his winnings from the shepherd-dog contest, there was no point in being stingy.
But Fang Zhao had decided to stay put in Muzhou and work with a local orchestra at a local studio.
The recording ended up taking up 10 days. After completing a rough cut in seven days, Fang Zhao recorded additional segments in the final three days. And these were all preliminary recordings. Postproduction would be necessary for a finished product, but that would wait until Fang Zhao returned to Yanzhou.
All parties had signed a confidentiality agreement, including Soundcloud and Odd Music. They would be barred from divulging the contents of the recording session before their official release.
"Done yet?" It was the third time Xue Jing had called Fang Zhao.
Fang Zhao had been busy recording the past few days, so he was in sparse contact. Xue Jing had waited until he felt the timing was right before reaching out to Fang Zhao again.
"We just finished," Fang Zhao said.
"Then hurry on over to Huangzhou. We're waiting for you."
Xue Jing wanted to go on a global lecture tour with Fang Zhao. He'd made up his mind after watching Fang Zhao's live webcast. He had sorted out the details with the Music Association and more or less confirmed their itinerary. All they were missing was Fang Zhao.
After finishing recording in Muzhou, Fang Zhao packed up his things and headed to Huangzhou with Zuo Yu in tow. Curly Hair stayed at Shanmu Farm to continue training and entering competitions with Su Hou. Before he left, Fang Zhao gave Wu Yi 10 million dollars to bet on Dongshan Farm every time they competed.
The point of the global tour was to promote his own book, but Xue Jing also wanted to give Fang Zhao the exposure. How many musicians of Fang Zhao's age could stage a global lecture tour? It would help pad Fang Zhao's resume.
Many people thought Fang Zhao had practically become Xue Jing's final disciple. Why else would Xue Jing spend so much effort helping this young man?
Xue Jing's close friends in the industry also brought up the matter with him in private.
"Final disciple? You mean Fang Zhao?" Xue Jing got a kick out of the question. "Perhaps you have overestimated me and underestimated the kid?"
Xue Jing's answer was also made public, but no one bought it. Everyone thought Xue Jing was simply promoting Fang Zhao. Even though he gave a decent lecture, it didn't mean that Fang Zhao had achieved the same stature as Xue Jing.
Out of the world's 12 continents, the most frequent stops on any global lecture tour were the eight regular continents. Because of their unique histories, musical tastes were less sophisticated in the four special continents. Even though Fang Zhao's appearance in Muzhou caused a stir in the local music industry, for the masses, it was still less important news than other local happenings.
But the eight regular continents were a different story. Xue Jing and Fang Zhao drew more attention. Many folks marked their calendars well in advance.
Rare was the fool who was willing to reveal his trade secrets. Who didn't want to tune in? Admission wasn't that expensive and it would spare you the agony of figuring things out yourself. What a great deal. Why not attend?
Fang Zhao had no time to play tourist after arriving in Huangzhou. The next day, he kicked off his lecture tour with Xue Jing. Their stops were mainly higher education institutions. In continents with a greater passion for music, they scheduled extra sessions to include stops at other schools. Even though these stops were less popular than stops at music academies, attendance was still decent.
Fang Zhao's name was gaining more and more currency in the music industry by the day.