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NYO-USA Musician Blogs: Mark Trotter

Hornist and former high school football player Mark Trotter’s fascination with Chinese culture adds to his anticipation and excitement for this summer’s tour. Below, he recounts a recent experience that brought him closer to China without leaving his native Florida. Mark and the 113 other member of the 2015 National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America start their journey on Saturday, June 27, when they arrive at the orchestra’s training residency at Purchase College, SUNY.

Mark Trotter

Despite Tampa’s rush-hour traffic and a 50% rain forecast (and in America’s Lightning Capital, rain means rain), my family crossed Tampa Bay to visit a childhood haunt—Lowry Park Zoo. The occasion: Zoominations, a zoo-wide display of traditional Chinese lantern sculptures that provided a timely precursor to my upcoming summer experience as a hornist with the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America.

Despite the exhibit’s goofy name, I found myself inextricably drawn to attend due to an increasing desire to connect with China, a land I’ll soon visit with NYO-USA. As I stepped from our van into the first of many nefariously placed puddles, an insistent drizzle ensued. But optimism eclipsed the rhythmic droplets pinging my umbrella as I caught sight of the opening display.

Awash with the warm glow of a massive four-pillared archway, Lowry Park’s entrance screamed “China” in vivid reds and golds. I walked ahead of my family to stand beneath the center arch of this replica of the nine-gated entrance to Beijing’s Forbidden City and couldn’t help but wonder what it will be like to stand beneath a similar arch this summer. Placing a hand on the column, I noted how different it was from Western architecture—the squared pillars, rounded (almost floating!) rooftops, strong horizontal lines, and vibrant adornments—all so drastically distinct from our frame of reference.

NYO Mark Trotter at Zoominations
Mark at Zoominations

As I entered the zoo, my mind turned back time, thoughts jumbling and swirling, a massive kaleidoscope. China … history … football. Sophomore year. Every weekday at 8 AM, I sat in the second row of Mr. Sanson’s AP World History class and relived the story of mankind. As a mild Western-history buff, I knew all about Caesar’s crossing the Rubicon, the Tennis Court Oath, and Triangular Trade, but his class opened my eyes to the Far East. It’s that opposite face of the globe, that right side of the world map, tucked below Russia and trailing into Oceania. Its story began with the Indus River Valley and their turtle-shell oracle bones. It thrived, spanning 16 dynasties and enduring more than 20 uprisings—and every 45 minutes the school bell interrupted its captivating story. Six hours later, I’d swelter in Florida’s thick, oppressively humid heat as Coach Sanson ran us across the football field in our 15 pounds of heat-blasted pads. China … history … football.

My thoughts returned to Zoominations. Its centerpiece was a massive replica of the Manfeilong Pagoda. It stretched 50 feet high, ablaze with thousands of interior lights splashing vibrant hues about the night-dimmed courtyard. Made entirely from porcelain plates, cups, and spoons, it was a feast for the eyes, combining modern and traditional Chinese construction techniques to marvelous effect.

As I passed beneath a sea of low-hanging red lanterns that swayed slightly in the night’s gentle coastal breeze, the rain continued, intent on wearing through my umbrella. Displays passed in a blur—groups of illuminated pandas, a host of Chinese dragons, the “auspice from unicorn,” the Temple of Heaven—snapshots of China, a land I’m soon to visit.

The sun set, its dying crimson brimming over the horizon then fading into a deep darkness. We snapped last photos, enjoying a final walk through the exhibits when a final postscript caught my eye: 7,500 miles—that’s how far these lanterns travelled. And as I entered the side door of our van, it hit me. This summer, I will travel that same distance, 7,500 miles to China. As we backed out of the parking space, I glanced at my watch, making a quick calculation: 46,709 minutes before NYO-USA performs in Beijing. Not that I’ve been keeping track or anything. And just as these floating lanterns make their return trip home, I will leave my home to enter theirs—the land of dragons, of ancient wars, of the Han, Tang, and Ming.

I’ve always known that music takes you places, but it never registered as a possibility that I—a classically trained hornist and ex–football player with a penchant for sci-fi/fantasy novels and chess puzzles—would tour China with my country’s national youth orchestra. While I have vicariously experienced small facets of Chinese history and culture through history classes, art exhibits, and its uniquely satisfying cuisine, soon I will hear, see, touch, taste, feel, and breathe it all in for real. And while I never envisioned myself standing before the Great Wall in red trousers and star-spangled Converse sneakers, I couldn’t be more excited!

View Mark's profile, and learn more about the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America.

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