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NYO-USA Musician Blogs: First Rehearsal

Violist Faith Pak describes the experience of sitting down for the first rehearsal with the other members of the 2015 National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America. In particular, she was amazed at how seemingly inscrutable elements in Tan Dun's Passacaglia: Secret of Wind and Birds eventually came together to form a cohesive whole.

Faith Pak

I leaned my head back until I could feel my shoulders. From my seat onstage, I stared up into the yawning dark ceiling of the rehearsal hall, dotted with starlike spotlights. In the third movement of Symphonie fantastique, the offstage oboe communicates with the English horn, setting the pastoral scene of shepherds playing to each other across vast green fields. The woodwind solos seemed to be suspended in the air, and our hearts beat inaudibly under the music and silence. Time bent to the players’ will, and we found ourselves in Berlioz’s sunlit, grassy dreamland.

“This is what playing in NYO-USA is like. Time bends, our senses are heightened, and our hearts are moved.”

This is what playing in NYO-USA is like. Time bends, our senses are heightened, and our hearts are moved. All the memories of last year’s onstage magic came rushing back to me at the first rehearsal, with the grand sound of an entire orchestra of people playing music with real love and care. More than once, I missed an entrance because I was too mesmerized by someone else’s part. Maestro James Ross set the tone with his Dumbledore-like demeanor, and the orchestra responded to his passionate movements and listened to each other, searching for a balance between careful and bold. My bow and fingers felt strong on the strings, and playing music just felt good.

After the run-through of Symphonie fantastique, we took a break and moved on to Tan Dun’s Passacaglia: Secret of Wind and Birds. At first I was skeptical, because my part by itself seemed odd and incomprehensible, with seemingly random instructions to slide and whisper and snap and imitate birds. But then the percussion boomed out a majestic, earthy sound, and the winds and harp melded into this backdrop with the theme, and for the first time I could hear the wild, mysterious forest that Tan Dun had created with music. The sliding notes that seemed so out of place in my part turned out to be the heroic main theme, which could have come straight out of an epic adventure movie.

Tan Dun shared this video, recorded during a visit to Purchase College, SUNY, where he led a rehearsal of his piece, Passacaglia: Secret of Wind and Birds.  

Then we got to the whispering. The strings are instructed to say in rhythm: “In order to arrive at knowledge of the motions of birds in the air, it is first necessary to acquire knowledge of the winds, which we will prove by the motions of water.” We only got to air before Maestro Ross burst into laughter, and the rest of us were doubled over with giggles. But once we held our breath and tried again, we got to hear the woodwind players singing along with our whispers, and the wonderful layers of the piece showed themselves as we sat entranced in our seats. The beauty of the first rehearsal was in hearing the entire orchestra come together and play the music as it looks in the full score, with notes overlapping and a common tempo binding it all up. I can hardly wait for the magic of the performances, fresh and bold and powered by adrenaline.

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

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