Friday, March 17, 2006


Here are some pictures from our Youth Symphony Concert:

Annamarie played the Dvorak Cello Concerto with the Youth Symphony.

Jenni played a Saen-Sans Cello Concerto with the Repertory Orchestra.

Jen and I with Mr. McHugh. Our family has bought seven violins from him.

Mike, Jen, and I with our Grandma.

Jen and I with our violin teacher (12 years for me), Mrs. Black.

And randomly...

...Jeddy at the Roadhouse.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The Music that Moves My Soul and the Saturday Mornings that Changed My Life

March 4, 2006, will be one of the happiest days of my life, but also on that day, I will lose part of myself. It will not be an unexpected loss, but rather an inevitable one that I have foreseen and have been preparing for these past ten years. Many people might see my last semester in the Wichita Youth Symphony—my last audition, my last concert—as a door to the freedom of lazy Saturday mornings at home. In some ways the end of my membership in Youth Symphony will free me, but this will not be its only effect. More immediate, and more substantial, is that with this loss, I myself will be lost. Instead of going to rehearsals, I’ll be sitting around on those Saturday mornings wondering, “What am I supposed to do with myself now?” In no other area of my life have I felt such joy and a sense of completeness as I do at Youth Symphony.

I have played the violin for twelve years, and I have been in Youth Symphony for ten. In all these years, I have missed only two rehearsals. People are always surprised when they hear this, and they wonder how I can put aside everything to be at Youth Symphony. The answer is simple: I could never imagine spending that time any other way. I wouldn’t trade one minute of any rehearsal to have been somewhere else.

I am overjoyed every time the orchestra comes together to play. It always amazes me how quickly we are able to come together and play as a group. At first, everyone is worried about learning their own part, but once the notes are out of the way, we can begin to make music together. There is no better feeling than getting it right and knowing that the conductor is truly pleased.

Most weeks we have sectionals, where each section of the orchestra plays separately under the guidance of a professional musician. These sessions are essential in helping each section polish its individual part, but still, you just can’t wait to get back to the full orchestra. I have learned so much from the section coaches, and they always go beyond their roles as teachers to show us true musicianship.

Each conductor has their own unique teaching style and personality, and I know that I will miss them all. Everyone who has been in Chamber Players would probably say that they miss the ‘Chamber days’ with Mrs. Dillon. She not only gets you ready for the concerts, but also prepares you for the other two orchestras. I’ll never forget her two cardinal rules for playing in an orchestra: one, the conductor is always right; and two, if the conductor is wrong, refer to rule number one.

Mr. Burrow also has a sense of humor. On our first day of rehearsal in Repertory, we were all reminded to take care of our ‘$50 folders’ with the ‘$30 pencil holders.’ (The pencil holders, by the way, should never be empty.) We were also cautioned about the dangers of marrying a trumpet player. Every fall semester by the second or third rehearsal, the string players can be sure to have received Mr. Burrow’s definition of playing at the frog (fingers over the strings). The students sitting on the front row should always be sure to wear a watch, because Mr. Burrow frequently asks for the time, especially how much longer it is until the afternoon football game.

What immediately strikes you about Mr. Luttrell is how much he genuinely loves his job. Just as Mrs. Dillon prepared us for the older orchestras, Mr. Luttrell prepares us for life as a musician beyond Youth Symphony. He never fails to point out passages that will be required in auditions for professional symphonies, but he also does not forget to point out passages that we play better than professional symphonies. He frequently encourages us to go to the Wichita Symphony or WSU Symphony concerts, or other classical music events. One of his favorite composers, I think, is Brahms, and he is always ready with the story behind the piece we are playing.

During the summer or Christmas break in between semesters, nothing feels quite right until that Saturday morning comes around when I go to WSU or Century II for a Youth Symphony rehearsal. Whether in crowded C-107, or the echoing service club room, or the somewhat intimidating Century II Concert Hall, rehearsals just fit, and nothing matches the feeling you get when you fill a room or stage with music.

Besides rehearsals there are many other memorable aspects of the Youth Symphony program. Of course, this includes the infamous seating auditions. It’s easy to get wrapped up in these and let them become the focus of the semester, but I always remind myself that just being in the orchestra is what matters. Another wonderful experience is the Honors Ushers program, which is a great way to be around and meet professional musicians and to listen to beautiful music. In December of 2004, members of the Youth Symphony were able to perform in a side-by-side concert with the Wichita Symphony. We were paired up with professionals from the Symphony for a weekend that I’ll never forget.

Even with all of these amazing opportunities within the program, nothing compares to the actual Youth Symphony concerts performed each semester. You just have to experience the thrill of walking onto a stage in front of hundreds of people to play for them the music that your orchestra has been perfecting for the past three months. It simply cannot be put into words. I still go back and look at all of the Youth Symphony programs that I have collected, and I try to remember how each piece goes. Two of my favorite pieces that I have been a part of performing are the Fifth Movement of Tchaikowsky’s 4th Symphony in Repertory, and the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with Tim Jones as soloist. The Tchaikowsky performance was amazing because in rehearsals, we had never gotten the ending quite right, but at the concert, it was perfect. We knew it, Mr. Burrow knew it, and the audience knew it. It was my proudest moment in the orchestra. Everyone who heard Tim perform as the first place winner of the 2004-2005 Youth Talent Auditions would agree that he was one of the best soloists they’ve ever heard. Never has the joy and gratitude of a performance been so tangible. The audience’s ovation at the end was an acknowledgement of Tim’s talent as a violinist and of his value as a leader in Youth Symphony, but more importantly, it was a ‘thank you’ for being able to hear a piece performed with such emotion and intensity of feeling—performed from the heart.

This moment illustrates perfectly why we’re all in Youth Symphony and why I love it so passionately. It’s all about the community; the community of the orchestras and the larger musical community as a whole—performers, teachers, listeners, professionals. This is why the gift of this program is so huge, because experiencing music in such a community is unique and incomparable. Through music I believe that we encounter beauty and goodness, and in an orchestra, we encounter these in each other.

I’ve sat in the back of the section, and I’ve sat in the front, but what really matters is that I’m a part of the community. When I was about twelve years old, I seriously considered quitting the violin, but the Youth Symphony year was about to start, and I realized that I could never quit that. So I kept at it, and I have never regretted my decision. I’m not the best musician in Youth Symphony, but I still do my best as a member of the orchestra. I love Youth Symphony, because when I’m there, I know who I am.

Music can be described as the concrete beauty of infinite possibility. It is the timeless and universal language of the human soul. Who would have thought that a bunch of third to twelfth graders from every school, neighborhood, and church in and around the city would come together every week and share this timeless beauty of music with each other, and then after three months, with an equally diverse audience? If anything can be said for certain about music it is how it brings people together—the musicians as well as the listeners—people who would not necessarily come together otherwise. And it makes you ask yourself why do we separate people into groups at all? Because in the presence of this music we are all wonderers. And if you can believe that the curiosity of a nine year old turned into the passionate wonder of an eighteen year old, then you just might have a grasp of what this program means to me.

I thank every member of the Youth Orchestras, past and present, as well as the conductors, guest conductors, and section coaches, for an unforgettable ten years in the Youth Symphony program. I owe a special thank you to my amazing private teacher, Laura Black, for putting up with me for twelve years. Without her, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I also thank Ann Trechak, Anne Marie Brown, and all those who make this program possible. Music, but especially the music I made in the Wichita Youth Orchestras, has made me who I am today. I know that I’ll never forget those Saturday mornings when my heart was full and everything was possibility. I never thought the day would come when my time in the Youth Orchestras was over, but at some point in every person’s life, the day comes when the risk to remain tight in a bud is more painful than the risk it takes to blossom. For me, that day is March 4, 2006.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

When the Clouds Return After the Rain

“I can’t believe it. There’s been a drought here for over two years, and today it decides to rain. Just my luck.”

She looked up at the quickly darkening sky, and felt a few stray drops on her nose and cheeks. The warm August breeze turned suddenly cool, and the late afternoon light changed from a carefree shade of gold to an almost troubled hue of blue-grey. There was no reason that she shouldn’t welcome the much needed rain, but today of all days. She reflexively hugged her graceful arms around herself wishing that she had a shawl or a sweater. The sleeves of her knee-length sundress came only to her elbows, and she shivered as the temperature dropped and the wind picked up, blowing her soft brown hair in her face. Something in the air, a faint smell of the clouds ready to pour, made her quicken her pace, as some early autumn leaves danced around her ankles.

Materia was on her way home from her piano lesson, and she was supposed to stop by the grocery store to pick up a few things for her parents’ twenty-fifth wedding anniversary party. They sky, however, had different plans for this sunny day. When the first big drops began to fall, Materia knew that she had only a few moments before she would be soaked to the skin. She quickly ducked under a green veranda, one of many that jutted out along the busy city street. Most people outside had the same idea as her—mothers pulled their children inside and business men hurried into meetings or cars. There was a clap of thunder and the rain poured as if God were crying for his Son, just now dead on the cross. Everything was instantly covered in grey; the heavy rain made it look like someone had pulled an ash-colored veil over her eyes. Materia inhaled the comforting smell of this sudden shower, feeling the moisture seeping into her, though she remained dry under the canopy.

Leaning against the outside wall of an obscure bookstore, she was startled out of her reverie by the bell on the shop’s door.

“Hey, miss, you’d be more than welcome to come inside for a while.”

A young man about her age stood in front of her, holding the door open and beckoning her inside.

“I don’t think you want to catch a cold out here.”

He was dressed like a college student, maybe I’ve seen him at school, Materia thought, and under his arm he held a worn copy of Anna Karenina. He was well built, towering a good ten inches above her, and he carried himself in a way that reminded her of a football player, or a ballet dancer. She saw in his face a natural openness that came from his daily interaction with people. But in stark contrast to his cheerful disposition, his eyes held a deep sadness, and his handsome face could not hide some engraved tragedy.

All of this Materia observed in the second and a half before she replied, “Okay, thank you.”

Stepping into the bookstore, Materia felt a sense of familiarity, for the tall bookcases stuffed to capacity reminded her of the many rooms in her home filled with books. The shop was no bigger than her living room, and the thousands of books made it seem even smaller, but she could feel a an openness as big as the whole world, because she knew that these books were the lifeblood of man’s history and stories and genius. They were thousands of doors to every part and every age of the earth. To the right of the entrance in a corner of the tiny store was the sales counter, where the young man had resumed his place.

Materia browsed over the nearest shelf, every now and then running her hand along the uneven and colorful rows. She estimated no less than fourteen ceiling-high bookshelves, with probably a thousand volumes on each one. The aisles were barely wide enough for two people, but her slim body moved easily among the shelves. She spied a storage room, where there rested at least two more full bookcases.

“Do you think you’ll ever read them all?” Materia asked.

The young man smiled and said, “When I was little, maybe eight years old or so, I always told my father that I would read every one. Each day after school I’d come in here and take a book off a shelf and read until he closed the store. By the time I was finished with high school I had read through nearly three whole shelves. These days I don’t make as good of progress, with university classes and actually working here.”

He smiled again, and so did Materia. She pictured him as a little boy, his bright face smiling under a crown of unruly black curls, running from the confines of times tables and fractions to take an afternoon journey to another part of the world. I wonder if he still has that curiosity, she thought, looking over at him. His eyes were taking in the spectacle outside, and occasionally he would look back down at his book, but he couldn’t resist the rare view of the rain washing the earth, making little rivers in the streets and streaking the window through which he gazed.

Materia watched him for a while, and then walked over to see what held his attention so fixedly. They stood there together, staring at the downpour in a sort of wonder.

“I remember the last time it rained,” he said. “I was nineteen. It was June, I think.”

Materia nodded, not so much to affirm his statement, but to ask him to continue.

“I was working here—I’d just finished my first year at the university. It was a slow day for business, only a dozen people had come in all afternoon. At four o’clock it started to rain. I didn’t think anything of it, because it was the third time that week. The day wore on, and I closed early, ready for a hot supper and a good book. My house is only five blocks away, across the bridge, and on my way home I was drenched in a few seconds. I had forgotten my umbrella in the store, but I was too eager to get home, so I didn’t come back for it.”

His eyes had been fixed on some imaginary object in the distance outside, but now he looked behind him, where a brown umbrella lay on a cluttered desk, amidst piles of invoices and books.

“I’ve never used it since.” He turned his gaze towards Materia, who held it with an equal intensity and searching. The deep pain in his being had surfaced, and she knew that the story was not over, but she did not compel him to continue. Instead, they simply looked at each other, and in that moment it was enough. Materia’s face offered him comfort and patience, and he found in her warm brown eyes the strength he needed to finish.

“He died that night. My father.” He paused, but the rain filled the silence in-between his words. He looked out the window again, towards the place where his life had been changed forever. “I came within sight of my house, and there was my mother, running out to meet me. ‘Ma,’ I called, ‘you’re crazy! Go back inside!’ but in a moment she was in front of me with her arms around my neck. There were drops streaming down her face that had not fallen from the sky. They gave me a hole in the pit of my stomach, and a thousand questions formed in my head, but first I picked her up—she’s smaller that you—and carried her inside. We both soaked the couch immediately, but neither of us noticed. Then she told me, between sobs, that he had lost control of his car on the bridge.”

He stopped again, but this time for several minutes. Materia did not know what to say, so she simply touched his right hand, which was resting on the windowsill. It was trembling, and she steadied it with her own. When he started talking again, she took her hand away.

“I did not cry, not until he was lowered into the ground. I knelt by his grave, the ground was still wet, and I told him that it should have been me.”

“Nonsense,” Materia almost whispered, “it was an accident.” She tried to touch his shoulder, to reassure him, but he pulled away and spoke to the rain.

“We were both here that afternoon. He offered to close up, but I told him to go on home, that I’d take care of it. He wanted to walk home and let me take the car, but I told him to take it. He agreed, and it was the last time I saw him.”

He was crying now, and Materia herself was moved. At first he pushed her away, but finally let her hold him, because the tears had removed the wall around him. Materia hugged him close to her, so close that she could feel his heart beating. As her warmth enveloped him, his pain likewise flooded her. For a minute or an hour, neither of them knew, they stayed like that, as Materia shared his hurt, and helped him to carry it. When the rain had slowed to a soft drizzle, she released him, and looked into his eyes. He had spoken for so long that he now could not find words of thanks, but Materia saw it in his face.

“I should probably be getting home,” she said.

“Will your family be worried?” he asked anxiously.

“No, I usually spend the day in the city,” she answered. “They would understand.”

Materia picked up her bag, which she had set down by the bookshelf, and turned to leave.

“Hey,” the young man said, “wait a minute while I close up and I’ll walk you home.”

“Thanks,” she said, standing by the door as he locked the cash register and tidied up the desk. Satisfied, he came to follow her out, but she stopped him, and pointed at the desk.

“Better not forget that,” she said gently.

Smiling, his eyes still sad, but now less so, he returned to the desk and picked up the umbrella. He went out first, holding the door for Materia, but when they were both outside, they saw that the rain had stopped, and the sun was bathing the evening in gold once again.