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NYO-USA Musician Blogs: Lights! Camera! Action!

During the past two National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America residencies, members of the orchestra have been asked to break into groups and brainstorm ideas for a series of fun, short video projects. This year, horn player Mark Trotter worried that the idea he was thinking of proposing to his group might not be well-received by his peers. However, the sentiment, “N-Y-O, there's something about you ...” proved universal.

Mark Trotter

“Let’s begin with some ideas.”


“Yeah, this is just brainstorming—whatever comes to mind.”

“Food …” offered a violist, her warm Southern drawl breaking the ice.

“… A swordfight …” chimed a harpist from the Lone Star State.

I leaned against the side of my cushioned chair with only one idea echoing through the recesses of my sleep-challenged mind: Our NYO video project is doomed! And while those more bold than I fantasized over airing “American gluttony collides with Southern culture in a game show,” I remembered ...

“N-Y-O! There’s something about you! You’re off to see the world!”

2011: Annie Jr. Dressed in a double-breasted chocolate-brown jacket, I stood with a cardboard New York skyline glittering behind me. Annie, in her ever-traditional red dress and matching hair, marked to my left; Grace, my staid secretary, stood attentively on my right, while the Big Apple’s crowds milled about our contrived city block. The stage was set. Piano entrance serving as cue, I marked stage center-left, gestured magnanimously to the city around me, my city, and led with an easy tenor that I’ve long since traded for second basso. Action!

N-Y-C! There’s something about you! The pulse! The beat! The drive!

Nearby, a fellow hornist shifted slightly in his chair, abruptly returning me to the present conversation—the joys of eating mac ’n’ cheese for breakfast. Do people really do that? The video coordinator bordered on impatience. Hmm … should I?

The night before, I stayed loosely awake, bootlegging NYC lyrics from a rogue middle-school musical memory into my more recent world—NYO. In my own drowsy way, I thought it was clever, but at this moment, the group’s video pitches were so starkly different that I sheepishly felt mine was out of place.

It was during this contemplative moment that a silence gathered, as if all the crazy ideas had bled dry and nothing remained but pregnant white space.

NYO Mark Trotter video project

“Any more ideas?” the video coordinator asked. Was that desperation capping the question mark?

“He has an idea,” my fellow hornist offered, his long, thin finger pointing straight at my chest. As I privately renamed him Benedict Arnold, a violist fixed her inquisitive brown eyes my way and prompted, “You have an idea?”

The hopeful lilt of the question mark sealed it. Did I have an idea? Pffhh … of course I had an idea … well, maybe …

And so, with as much exuberance as I could muster while pitching a video concept to a circle of peers I barely knew, I sang my version of “Daddy Warbucks meets NYO,” a cappella.


Oh man! Why wasn’t this in the NYO handbook? Are orchestral musicians in Florida the only ones who sing Broadway? Have I just sentenced myself to four weeks of isolation, struggling to keep up with the instrument truck? Why couldn’t I just sit quietly and contemplate the aesthetic and even practical appeal of eating food on camera while bringing Family Feud between orchestra sections to life?

Blessedly, someone in the circle smiled as tensions eased into scattered applause. Next thing I know, it’s another hour of storyboard brainstorming. Our plot? Morning rehearsal, NYO-USA 2015.

“There are moments when you step outside of yourself and watch your life played out in slow 3/4 time. All of the details spring vivid and clear, sparkling. This was one of them.”

Tweaked lyrics whirled in my mind to fit the (often) ludicrous actions of our video group—drinking olive oil for breakfast, fencing with violin bows, sleeping in a bass case—and I slaved over them, bending that chipper Broadway standard exalting NYC into an over-the-top ode-à-NYO, emphatically embracing the antithetical vibrancy and panic found in a typical morning rehearsal.

The next day, I reported for a recording session. I pulled out my laptop to glance at the lyrics and found myself six inches from a vocal mic. The piano rolled the opening chords courtesy of a multitalented trumpeter from Texas, and I belted it out with Daddy Warbucks’s confident smile.

“N-Y-O! There’s something about you! You’re off to see the world!”

Just 24 hours later, film crews rolled into the sanctum of our dormitory—officially dubbed Fort Awesome—for the “real deal.” I pressed pause.

There are moments when you step outside of yourself and watch your life played out in slow 3/4 time. All of the details spring vivid and clear, sparkling. This was one of them. That Thursday afternoon, I saw a fond school memory that gushed classic Broadway transformed into a witty digital upgrade that imparts just a glimpse of our evolving, exciting NYO culture.

Lights! Camera! Action!


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

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