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.


Publius said...

I hope you had a wonderful concert, Sarah. I seems as though the you've grown considerably as a person and a musician over the last decade you've spent with the YS. Thank God for music, the very fabric of life itself!


riskitall said...

Sarah, it won't be the same for me without you there... to share stories and music (and opinions about people...)
It won't be the same for the program because of the enthusiasm you gave it and your love of the music itself.

You're the best!

seacb said...

Thanks, guys, especially you, Jen. I'll miss being there with you more than I can say. But you have 3 amazing years as a DIVA coming up!! You'll have so much fun.

A side note on this essay: it won me $100 at the giving out of awards at the concert. I love our manager.

God Bless y'all...

riskitall said...

Woohoo! One-HUNDRED dollars! Yay! That was super cool!

Man, I am SOOOOOO excited to be a diva! Gosh, it'll be a great 3 years!

bernadette said...

Oh Sarah... It was so wonderful to read your post. I've never been a very good pianist, but reading your post makes anyone want to get out there and enjoy music at its fullest regardless of where they are in their musical career. Thanks for the inspiration. I know what you mean about the loss. I've been doing ballet since I was a little girl, but I had to stop for three years in high school because of my homework load. I missed it so much, and I just got back to it about a year ago. I've been working really hard to get back to where I used to be. l guess the hard work is starting to pay off because I auditioned and got a spot for a summer intensive with a maestro from the Bolshoi Ballet. Hopefully, I'll be able to join a small company in college...we'll see. I know it can be disheartening when one phase of your life ends, but remember that there's another one beginning. You've matured into a wonderful musician, and with the passion that you have, you can do many great things in the future...I'm sure of it. So chin up my dear, and play on!

Becca said...

(this is Becca -- the crazy one you met at TAC...)

After learning how to spell existence, I finally found your blog. And lemme say WOW. I kinda understand what you mean -- when I was in choir for four years, I was there everytime and I couldn't bear the thought of missing a practice.

Still, I'm impressed.