Black’s Sonata

Author: David Mango
Genre: Comedy-drama
Storyline: 7
Dialogue: 8
Characterization: 9
Writer’s Potential: 8

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Against the wishes of his heavy-metal family, a virtuoso musician gets a seat in the New York Philharmonic.


TREVOR BLACK, a 17-year-old high school dropout from a poor Brooklyn neighborhood, plays like a guitar god in a heavy-metal band called Black Plague. His father, FRANK, and older brother, RANDY, back him up on drums and bass. They’re truly terrible — Trevor is the only thing makes the band worthy. This is recognized by DON, the owner of two bars in Brooklyn. He books them on a three-month contract, four nights a week alternating between his bars. At an after-gig party at their house, mopey Trevor sneaks off with an old violin. He practices in an abandoned house next door. Frank sends Randy looking for Trevor; Randy finds him and discourages him from the violin. They get into a fistfight, and Trevor runs off.

On Park Avenue the next morning, Trevor ambushes MAESTRO LUCIEN ZALEM’s limousine. He’s the conductor of the New York Philharmonic, and it’s made clear that Trevor has been begging him — writing letters, following him around, etc. — for a very long time. He wants an audition. Zalem breezes past him, and his limo driver threatens Trevor. Intercutting between that evening’s Philharmonic performance and Frank quitting his tattoo-artist job (greeted with gentle mockery from the owner) and yet another party at the Black house, it becomes clear that Frank has forced this unsuccessful heavy-metal lifestyle on his children from birth. Trevor has become rebellious in the ultimate way — by secretly training himself as a virtuoso classical violinist. Randy, meanwhile, has adopted a codependent mentality, making sure Frank doesn’t die when he passes out for the night, cleaning up the party, etc.

After the Philharmonic performance, Trevor chases Zalem’s limo for several blocks. He sees it stop at a fancy French restaurant. He tries to get in, but the Maitre D’ has him thrown out. Trevor sneaks in through the back entrance, making his way unnoticed through the kitchen with his violinist. He matches the restaurant’s house violinist note for note as he makes his way to a table where Zalem sits with first-chair violinist SERGEI KOLESNIKOV. He plays a beautiful sonata. Zalem is shocked but pleased, and Kolesnikov is instantly jealous. Zalem finally grants Trevor his audition, for the following morning.

Trevor sneaks back home and, in an effort to make himself look neater, cuts his long “heavy-metal” hair. Frank wakes up and is horrified by the new look. Frank also sees the violin, and they get into another argument. Frank throws Trevor out of the house and the band, and Trevor gladly leaves. A disappointed Randy realizes it won’t be easy to find a replacement guitarist. Trevor plays in subways and on streetcorners for spare change. He makes enough to buy a cheap suit from a thrift store, which he wears to the audition the next morning.

At the audition, Trevor meets Zalem’s intern, HANAKO GOTO, a beautiful 21-year-old violinist. Zalem has Trevor run through basic stuff: scales, arpeggios, and a piece of Zalem’s choosing (from memory). Finally, Zalem gives Trevor a sight-reading audition. Trevor asks what the piece is, Zalem tells him; Trevor plays a different piece from what’s written on the sheet music. Zalem realizes Trevor can’t read music, but he’s such a great violinist he’s willing to give Trevor another shot in two weeks. He tells Hanako to spend that time teaching Trevor to read music. Meanwhile, Frank and Randy put up fliers for a new guitarist.

KAWA AZUMA, an arrogant Julliard violinist, leads a quartet through Hanako’s graduate performance selection. Trevor listens to them play and gets into an argument over Kawa’s perception of the piece. They instantly hate each other. Hanako yells at Trevor for interfering. They do their music-reading lesson, and Trevor is frustrated at his inability to read the staff and play flawlessly. After Trevor leaves, Kawa yells at Hanako about him, ends up giving her a black eye. Trevor spends the night in a subway station, practicing music-reading as much as he can. He improves steadily.

Several days later, their practice room is taken, so Hanako sneaks Trevor into an old music archive in the Philharmonic building. Hanako feels Trevor has mastered music reading. She asks him how he can play so beautifully, and he explains — disappointed to realize he’s using his father’s phrase — that she has to feel it. He gives Hanako a few puffs on a joint to relax her. He takes Hanako to Brooklyn, to an old heavy-metal bar in his neighborhood. He gets her some liquor and shows her the raw, wild emotion of the bands. They’re not great musicians, but they have energy and passion — the one thing her technically flawless violin playing needs.

Hanako sneaks Trevor back into her dorm at Julliard, where she’s accosted by Kawa. Trevor takes the opportunity to pound Kawa’s face. Trevor and Hanako kiss — Hanako’s first. The following morning, Trevor arrives for his second audition. The orchestra practices, so he’s forced to wait. Kolesnikov can’t play the piece, which he blames on the percussion. Zalem gives Trevor his audition, in which Trevor is asked to sight-read the second violin part of the same piece Kolesnikov had trouble with. Trevor plays it flawlessly; Zalem offers him a seat in the orchestra.

Thrilled, Trevor runs off to Scarsdale to tell his mother, ZOE, who wants nothing to do with Trevor and wants him as far away from her house as possible — she has a new life, a new family. Depressed and dejected, Trevor mopes his way back to Manhattan. Meanwhile, Frank and Randy — after a series of unsuccessful auditions — have found a great guitarist. Unfortunately, he has a habit of urinating on the audience, which loses Black Plague their contract with Don. That night, Trevor arrives for his first Philharmonic rehearsal. He embarrasses himself by not knowing the protocol of where to sit, when to tune, etc. He also commits a faux pas by announcing that he can play a particular first-violin part when Kolesnikov has trouble. It angers both Zalem and Kolesnikov. Trevor complains to Hanako that he doesn’t feel like he fits in; Hanako tells him not let them intimidate him.

Twenty minutes before Trevor’s first performance with the Philharmonic, Randy tracks him down to announce that Frank’s in serious trouble — he was hospitalized after overdosing. After talking to the doctor and finding Frank’s in a coma he’ll probably come out of, Trevor and Randy go back home. Randy shows him a surprise gift from Frank — an electric violin, hand-built by Frank using Trevor’s guitar pickups. Touched, Trevor plugs it into an amplifier and plays around with it. Soon after, Frank awakens from his coma. Trevor and Randy are there, but they immediately get into an argument when Frank — initially proud of his son getting into the Philharmonic — learns that Trevor won’t have time for the band anymore.

Hanako performs her final exam; she plays brilliantly, perhaps as well as Trevor, thanks to his advice about playing emotionally. In the audience, her father — himself a famous San Francisco conductor — approves of her and her playing for the first time in her life. Thrilled, Hanako rushes off to Brooklyn to find Trevor. She also tells him that since she’s done with school, she’ll be leaving for San Francisco. When Hanako tells Zalem she’s leaving, Zalem is angered by the reviews of the preceding night’s awful show. He tells her Kolesnikov has announced he has carpal tunnel syndrome, and Zalem isn’t sure what to do: give a chance to this new violinist who’s brilliant, or allow Kolesnikov to continue embarrassing him. Hanako is, of course, in Trevor’s corner. Zalem has made his decision. When he asks Trevor about it, Trevor agrees — but under one condition. He wants to play Frank’s electric violin. Trevor tells Randy about visiting their mother, how she didn’t want anything to do with him, and how Frank (misguided as he is) really is a supportive father. Randy tricks Frank into going to Trevor’s concert that night. Trevor plays wildly, like a heavy-metal god in a concert-hall world. Zalem, Frank, and Randy are all proud of him. Critics rave, even Zoe is impressed when she sees it in the newspaper — but Trevor doesn’t bask in the success. He skips off to San Francisco to find Hanako. He convinces her to return to New York with him, and she agrees.


The author does a surprisingly good job taking a pedestrian ragtag-underdog-gets-his-chance-for-legitimate-success story and making it work, mostly on the strength of its characters. All of these people are flawed, make mistakes — in short, they talk and behave like real people within the context of a story that’s been done over and over again. The author does a very good job of simultaneously exploiting and obscuring the formula. Because of that, it works like a charm — a commercial story told in a straightforward, believable way.

One main criticism: Kawa is just too mean, too irredeemable an asshole. Granted, he’s supposed to be, but where are the extra layers the author applies to the other characters? What makes him so arrogant, so condescending, so jealous? He almost seems desperate — as if this is the one and only thing he has going for him, and it horrifies him that anybody could possibly be better. A nice, tiny moment of empathy with him would go a long way toward making him more fully realized. I’m not talking about him rescuing a box of kittens from a runaway truck — just a small, quiet moment where we can see for ourselves either a moment where he’s not pure evil, or a moment that really shows us why he’s so unpleasant.

I also have a suggestion. Though I like the story as told, I wonder what would happen if Trevor left Frank and Randy behind forever. It starts out in a “hero’s journey” mold, with Trevor realizing there’s nothing left for him in Brooklyn, but there’s a solid arc where Trevor discovers the approval he longs for from his mother was never there, while Frank — despite his obsession with heavy metal — really supported and helped to develop Trevor’s musical instinct. What would happen if this were more of a “created family” situation, where people like Zalem, Kolesnikov, and Hanako start to play the roles of his “new” family in the orchestra? Zalem has a paternal quality to him, and Hanako (despite the romance) plays a Randy-esque supportive/adoring role. It could be interesting to see Trevor create this new family in Manhattan, but still build off of what’s already there in the script. If Randy and Frank show up in the third act, and Trevor realizes that this new group he strove so hard to create is pretty much the same support system he already had with his real family. Trevor’s character would go through the same basic emotional journey; it would just have a different spin on Trevor’s experiences in Manhattan.

The story is very well-told, so that isn’t really a complaint, like “this is how the story should be.” It’s a minor “what if…?” scenario that I thought about while reading it. It might improve the screenplay, but it’s not a necessary change to make it succeed. It already does.

Posted by D. B. Bates on July 17, 2006 9:57 AM