In just a few short days, the 2014 National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America will come together for the first time at Purchase College, SUNY. Throughout the coming weeks, we will be featuring the story of NYO-USA through the eyes of the musicians themselves. Our first musician blogger, Leah Meyer, is a returning musician to NYO-USA, hailing from Belmont, MA.
She first wrote this essay in September 2013. With the 2014 program less than a week away, she revisited this piece, reminding herself of the potent energy and important personal growth she experienced as a member of the ensemble.
I chose to play the French horn for three reasons: the brass was shiny; I was scared of the oboe because my brother had told me the reed was so sharp it could cut your leg off; and I had a dream about receiving a horn in the mail. In the years after my dream, I've focused my energy and enthusiasm on orchestral music, and as I've grown up, I've become something of a ring leader in my high school and youth orchestras. I've worn a lot of concert black, and when I auditioned for NYO-USA, I certainly did not expect to wear bright red pants and white-star studded Converse All-Star sneakers on famous European stages. When I first saw the pants, I didn't expect to fit into them, either.
Just as NYO-USA surprised me with the pants, it redefined how I approached leadership. Instead of leading from ahead, I learned to lead as a member of the community itself. On our first day, the photos of hometowns, questions about bowings, and unashamed exclamations of excitement we had only known online bubbled out of cyberspace and solidified in the form of 120 young musicians. No one was cocky, not even the kids who had already been accepted at major conservatories. For teenage musicians, to play with world renowned musicians and represent our country through music was unimaginable. iPhones were hidden on stands not to text, but to snap photos of famous musicians Joshua Bell and Valery Gergiev, and to sneak recordings to review over dinner. The more eye-opening opportunities we were given - whether coachings with some of the country’s greatest musicians or the hundreds of people “queuing up” for tickets outside Royal Albert Hall - the more humble we became. We were all young kids again, wide-eyed at the music school instrument petting zoo.
We were awed, but not silent, because this was our element. I'd always gotten a kick out of being the one whistling Verdi down the hallways at school, but here, even the "cool kids" were eager to talk about Wagner. I wasn't the only one who had the desire to get up and dance to Stravinsky's Rite of Spring (as kids these days would say, “yea, that happened”). As I became close with musicians who had so much to share, whether Emerson String Quartet recordings or their dreams of the New York Phil, I learned that I could promote engagement from my peers without always having to take the lead.
When I realized that I no longer had to be the engine, I could shift down without falling behind. I didn't have to shoulder the responsibility of being the driving source of energy because the group propelled itself with our common desire to create and share music. I loved how people would first exclaim, then nod understandingly as I explained why I wasn't going to music school. We all had our reasons for being there, our fuel. Bassoonist Jordan Brokken looked up into the back of the top balcony in Royal Albert Hall and said, “I look for the person the farthest away, in the very back, and say, 'I'm going to make it worthwhile for them.’ ”
We weren't always confident. We were kids, we got homesick, and we worried about practicing enough. At first, we were anxious at the prospect of playing for foreign audiences in the grand halls of Europe. But that just meant we had to rise to the challenge, and doing that made these stages feel like home.
In these final days before NYO 2014, my horn never goes back into its case; much like my excitement, it cannot be contained! The Facebook fervor is of a different flavor but just as ebullient this year, with #nyoobies (our affectionate name for new musicians) and #nyoldies (those from last year) conversing. Just as I discovered a new dimension of leadership and camaraderie in 2013, I look forward this year to giving a warm welcome to the new members of the NYO family and the brilliant energy they bring to the ensemble. I see already the buds of new friendships that will blossom alongside the reunion of old friends. From this fertile ground of enthusiasm, the music we will grow together is #Limitless.
Learn more about the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America.