From the onset, Sunggyu was all about perfection and neat tidy lines -- if he had to liken himself to anything else, he’d choose a sturdy brick house, made of sharp right angles and bricks neatly fit together to create smooth walls, and a floor plan that was logical and probably approved by five different architects (at least). The rest of Infinite could attest to his obsession with perfection with practising countless times a day, long after their vocal coach and choreography had called it quits and when their bodies were beyond exhausted.
Henry, on the other hand, is as different to Sunggyu as one person can get. He cherished fleeting moments of imperfection and impulsivity, moments where you couldn’t control yourself and actions were reflexes and nothing was structured. Henry loved mess and disorganisation, and if he had to be a structure, he’d be a treehouse that look like it’d break at any moment.
Which is why it makes no sense whatsoever when Sunggyu hears Henry’s playing and enters the music studio, the sweet sound of the piano muffled slightly by the walls, Henry’s eyes are closed as he sways gently on the chair, music sheets long forgotten. Sunggyu forgets why he’s even in this foreign building, forgets about the CD in his hand and the bag on his shoulder and his mind constantly counting and ticking down the seconds that he’s wasting. Instead, he listens to Henry play.
There’s something freeing in Henry’s music that Sunggyu almost never hears now -- all the music they sing and dance to are carefully structured, notes carefully measured on the stave, the metronome counting out the beats for each of their dance moves -- and Sunggyu doesn’t hate that, but rather cherishes the structure it provides. It gives him a finite goal for him to word towards, a clear image that he always keeps in mind when he tells himself that he’s slightly flat on that note, or when Woohyun is half a beat delayed on all their moves.
When Sunggyu’s bag thumps to the floor, Henry stops playing with a dull thud, and opens his eyes, wide, when he sees Sunggyu.
“Sunggyu-sshi,” Henry says and bows awkwardly from the chair, and Sunggyu bows back.
“Henry-sshi,” Sunggyu says, and his gaze move across to the violin lying on the grand piano.
Henry licks his lips, and Sunggyu’s gaze is drawn back to him. “Can I ask you what you’re doing here?”
There’s something implied in those words -- you’re a part of Woollim Entertainment, why are you in this building? -- and Sunggyu starts flushing at the words before Henry’s tone registers, and it isn’t accusative like he was expecting, but simply curious. The CD feels heavy in his limp hand, and he dully remembers scheduling to meet Jinseok after his training session, but all he can think about now is the sound of Henry’s music.
“I heard your playing,” Sunggyu says, and Henry’s eyebrows rise. “I couldn’t stop myself.”
Henry grins and stands, beckoning Sunggyu over and pushing him onto the piano stool.
“Do you play piano?” Henry asks as he picks up the violin, and quickly tunes it. Sunggyu feels his pulse jump at the short, soft sounds Henry makes as he turns the pegs, and Sunggyu isn’t sure if they’re from anticipation or dread.
“A little,” he says, and Henry smiles. Not like you, he wants to add, because Henry’s musical talent is nothing if not well known, especially in the idol world.
“A little is better than none,” Henry says, and puts his violin to his shoulder, tilting his head. “Have you ever improvised before?”
Sunggyu shakes his head and says, “No,” for good measure.
“Do you want to try?” Henry prompts, but Sunggyu has to refuse that too. He doesn’t even know what improvisation in music feels like anymore, but Henry just shrugs.
“If you’re alright, then you can just listen. Feel free to join in whenever,” Henry says, and Sunggyu closes the lid of the piano and leans on it, watching as Henry adjusts the shoulder rest and tilt his chin closer to the dark brown of his violin. He closes his eyes, and Sunggyu is tempted to, too.
But he doesn’t, and he’s sorely glad of this choice. He watches as Henry starts with a long semibreve, dark and sombre, drawn out before he switches to rapidly ascending quavers, jumping from one tone to the next, from ominous to cheerful and light, and back again, up and down and across the strings like it’s nothing, and he doesn’t seem to care when a note sounds particularly sharp or out of place.
It reminds Sunggyu of before Infinite, and before Woollim, and even of before moving to Seoul when he was still at school, still in Beat and they wrote and sang their own music. It reminds him of being in control but out of it at the same time, letting music come to him naturally instead of striving for it, constantly nitpicking and making sure everything was perfect. It didn’t matter if someone missed a beat or he went sharp on a particular note because music wasn’t about that. It wasn’t meant to be.
“I’m kind of jealous of you,” Sunggyu confesses when Henry takes a breather, and he can tell Henry’s surprised. “How you can just improvise like that, like it’s nothing. It’s so freeing -- I wish I could remember that feeling.”
Henry shakes his head. “These are the only times I can do this -- every other time we’re practising, promoting or traveling, and none of them are about music anymore. We dance and we sing, but it’s all a formula that other people decide are the best and most successful -- we don’t get a say at all. And we spend more time memorising lines than creating our own music that it feels... empty. The music feels empty, like it isn’t music anymore but just sound. We just performers now, not musicians.”
“Does that bother you?” Sunggyu asks, and Henry shrugs, putting his bow back on top of the piano.
“I won’t lie and say I knew what I was getting into when I signed up, because I didn’t. I expected more music, less drama or show, and I think it shows. Even people like Kyuhyun-hyung or Ryeowook-hyung who love music, knew what they were getting into when they signed up as an idol, and they’ve embraced it. I didn’t, at first, and I think it shows sometimes, because the fans look for whoever can perform the best, not the best musician, necessarily.”
“That’s just wrong,” Sunggyu says, aware he’s being a bit of a hypocrite while saying those words, because the best performance is what he always strived for, the only thing he knew how to do.
Henry shrugs again. “It’s the industry. And you knew that when you signed up too. And I’m not saying it’s bad, and I’m thankful I was given this chance, but being an idol isn’t about being a musician. It isn’t the same, and I miss that sometimes.”
“I don’t blame you,” Sunggyu mutters, and Henry grins.
“Enough serious talk, though, let me play you some music. What do you want -- structured music? Technical music? You look like someone who prefers technical excellence.”
Henry picks up his bow again and raises his violin.
"I can play for you ‘A Memory of the First Spring Rain.’ Few things get more technical than that,” Henry says and he’s smiling. “How about it?”
But Sunggyu shakes his head and says, surprising even himself, "No, I don't really like the rain.”
He pauses and chews his bottom lip, before, “I don't feel like techniques tonight... How about something... romantic?"
Sunggyu isn’t sure if he means something from the Romantic Period or something full of emotion as opposed to something full of skill, but Henry seems to understand. Sunggyu half expects Henry to say no, because Sunggyu's not the type of person you would play this type of music for, but Henry looks at him in new light, as if he'd never seen anyone like Sunggyu before.
“How about ‘à l'eau de rose’?” Henry asks, and Sunggyu shrugs.
“You might like it,” Henry says as he draws his bow across the first string, and Sunggyu closes his eyes and leans back, listening to the music and letting it draw him away.