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NYO-USA Musician Blogs: Together in Music

In the midst of the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America's residency at Purchase College, SUNY, violinist Helen Wu reflects on the unique culture of NYO-USA. As a returning member of the orchestra, she can appreciate both the familiar aspects of the program as well as the fresh perspectives and unique backgrounds that newcomers bring to the community.

Helen Wu

NYO-USA often feels like a different world, one filled with the same 150 people and a world’s worth of experiences that would have been unfathomable for many of us in other circumstances. As with any community, NYO-USA is complete with its own culture. The culture is complex, reliant on the social dynamic and the interaction of the individual members of that year, and a large part of it is formed during our residency at Purchase. For returning members like me, Purchase College serves as a familiar embrace. The familiarity of the dorms, the staff, and even my room from last year bring back simultaneously nostalgia and excitement for the coming program. For new members, Purchase is where they enter, find their place in the orchestra, and have their expectations for what is to come blown out of the water.

The location of Purchase remains the same year after year, but the NYO-USA culture that forms within it is far from immutable. The residency sets the tone for the tour and program. It’s where we form memories and experiences that we all hold in common. We’re tied together by the magic of the first rehearsal, first wardrobe fittings, cafeteria food, NYO chants and games, the remarkable faculty, even the experience of auditions. The growing NYO-USA culture is one of the aspects that makes NYO most appealing to me, as I feel that every member makes their unique contribution to it. Welcoming first-year NYO players remains extremely important to me because I remember how appreciative I was of those who reached out to me last year.

NYO residency (Helen Wu 1)

A group of musicians let loose and dance around Helen Wu as they record a video for icebreakers. (Photo: Jennifer Taylor)

  NYO residency (Helen Wu 2)

Violinists Helen Wu and Claire Walter participate in movement exercises designed to promote healthy collaboration. (Photo: Jennifer Taylor)

As a top-rate youth orchestra with a limited age range, new NYO-USA players will always continue to the next stage of their lives while the new come to fill in the orchestra again. However, new members are not replacements but rather agents of change within the orchestra who can make their own impact on the culture of NYO. The orchestra and organization itself continues evolving, affected by the small group of players participating that year and the droves of alumni holding fond memories of their time in the orchestra. I enjoy being able to contribute to the culture by sitting in a lounge talking with and listening to players old and new or by helping first-years find their way to the Performing Arts Center. Our conversations here, motivated by our shared curiosity and willingness for discussion, develop in a way only made possible by our diversity in background and experiences.

There is a unique sense of community in NYO—one undoubtedly high-achieving but also concerned with the well-being of colleagues. Others outside of NYO-USA have often commented on our genuine support of one another in both music and other avenues. I attribute it to a remarkable humility that all in the orchestra possess, a pride in our own work, a respect for the talent around us, and the simple willingness to speak on behalf of others, all of which allow us to support each other through our work, words, and actions. The confidence and hard work we employ to better ourselves as musicians enable us to recognize and admire the artistry and talent in others. Another player likened NYO to an extended family—though many of us have never made music together, we, like cousins who have never met, feel an instant kinship common to all members throughout the years.

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

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