On Saturday, the musicians of the 2014 National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America (NYO-USA) met each other for the first time. However, a community of musicians has already formed thanks to social media and other tools. David Fickes, one of our bloggers this summer, already found a community in NYO-USA before the program even began.
I still have trouble comprehending the fact that I will soon be leaving to join NYO-USA for its residency and tour this year, and I am not sure that I will ever be able to fully understand what an amazing opportunity I have been given. This lack of realization is part of what makes seeing Listen magazine's article about how NYO-USA is “[debunking] the myth of the ‘death’ of classical music” so incredibly humbling. This article has been thought-provoking for me—what does it mean for classical music to be “dead?” How can this death be proven or disproven? These questions have stuck with me as I have prepared for NYO-USA, and they have made me realize something: The spirit of music is still very much alive, and modern communication technology has made it easier than ever to foster this joy and excitement.
I'll admit that it's easy to get discouraged about the future of classical music as I watch youth ensembles and orchestras that I have played with in the past shrink and or even close. In fact, this uncertainty is one of the major reasons that I decided not to major in music when I started college. But seeing the incredible enthusiasm that the members and alumni of NYO-USA show has reaffirmed my faith in the future of classical music. Whether we are discussing interpretations of a specific section of music, congratulating fellow members on some truly incredible accomplishments, or lamenting our lack of snapping ability for West Side Story (it's harder than it looks!), I have been completely amazed by the sense of community we have gained from only a few posts on a Facebook group. The fact that complete strangers can feel so close, before we have even met in person, only goes to show the bond that music can form.
Of course, I wouldn't have discovered any of this without modern technology. My generation has grown up with technology all around, and we all use it to its fullest effects. The implications of this for music are incredible. A few weeks ago, someone asked a question on the NYO-USA Facebook group, wondering if there would be any time set aside for chamber music. While no official time had been designated, we were encouraged to form unofficial groups and play together during free time. By the end of the day, an online spreadsheet accessible to all NYO-USA members was available, and we were all able to share the pieces we hoped to play.
This alone is remarkable, but the process of finding a piece to play further demonstrates the potential that modern communication technology has for music. When I finally decided that I wanted to play in a string quartet, I was able to listen to recordings by legendary ensembles instantly on Spotify. After deciding on a piece that I wanted to play, I found the entire score on IMSLP, an online library of public-domain music. Next, a quick trip to Facebook enabled me to set up a quartet with other NYO-USA musicians. This entire process, from first listening to pieces to finishing the organizational process, took less than an afternoon.
Even the audition process for NYO-USA takes advantage of the instantaneous communication available to musicians today. Instead of a long and expensive drive to a major music hub, applications are accepted online with the click of a button. I know that I, living in middle-of-nowhere Vermont, would not have felt confident enough in my ability to get into the orchestra to drive a long distance to an audition, especially with classes in session. But because the process is so accessible, I applied. I definitely would not have had this opportunity if it had not been for the online application.
I'll be honest; I have no clue what the future of classical music holds. But this entire process has quieted a lot of doubts that I have had about not only a career in music, but also about the continued existence of classical performance. I believe that as long as there are musicians like the ones who I have already met through this program, audiences will be attracted, and the cross-generational excitement over NYO-USA's performances is proving just that.
Learn more about the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America.