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NYO-USA Musician Blogs: A Life-Altering Experience

Violinist Helen Wu looks back on her experience with the 2015 National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America, reflecting on the difficulties and triumphs during the tour, as well as the strong and lasting bonds formed among the musicians.

Helen Wu

In spite of the minor speed bumps of jetlag and irrepressible cough, my second tour with NYO-USA has come to an end. As I think back on my experience with NYO-USA 2015, I recall every memory with happiness. I know I will treasure the unforgettable memories I’ve made and friendships that I will hold for a lifetime. As with most endings, the close of the tour has been bittersweet, and as is always true with NYO, the end of the program has found us all back home different people, changed for the better by the life-altering experiences we’ve had with the orchestra. The “post-NYO feels,” to which no member of the residency and tour is immune, pour out with countless Facebook posts and a deluge of picture albums and inside jokes. Ultimately, though, as cliché as it is, I think endings simply mean new beginnings. For me and many other members of NYO-USA, this year is a year of endings and new beginnings: leaving high school to start college and leaving the place where we were raised to start a new chapter of our lives.

NYO Helen Wu in Hong Kong (Chris Lee)
Helen and other members of the orchestra joined in a celebration of the tour at the China Club, hosted by Sir David Tang. (Photo: Chris Lee)

I’ve learned so much through NYO, and it has provided me with experiences that are almost unreal, allowing me in 2014 to tour the US, my home country, and in 2015 to serve as a musical ambassador throughout China, a country with rich culture and history and the country where my parents and ancestors were born and raised. I’ve worked with artists whom I would be fortunate just to meet in my lifetime, let alone tour with for several weeks. As Maestro Charles Dutoit repeatedly entreated us to listen to each other, hear the sound we want to produce, and respect the composer’s markings on the page, and as Tan Dun gave impassioned speeches and conducting that made his artistic purpose so clear to the orchestra, the music, and I alongside it, truly came alive. I was and continue to be inspired by my friends and colleagues, who persevered in playing beautifully executed concerts through jetlag, sickness, and sometimes unfavorable air conditions, embodying a belief I hold to dearly, that “the show must go on.” How we managed to look wide awake and deliver quite a good live-streamed concert at Beijing, our first stop in China, just a few days after we had arrived is beyond me. I look back with a smile because I’m not sure anyone in the audience could have imagined the scene backstage as our orchestra manager and apprentice orchestra manager rushed around during intermission stuffing sugary cookies and instant coffee in our faces as we fought our jetlag.

One of the really incredible things about NYO-USA is the bond and the network it builds among its participants beyond the four-week confines of the program itself. NYO-USA is a magnificent orchestra, whose talented members I can say with confidence I will see again and again. When I was visiting colleges this past year to determine which one I wanted to attend, I met up with NYO members in each place who gave me warm welcomes to their schools and showed me around. I look forward to passing on the kindness and giving the same treatment to the NYO members who come to visit my school. As it turns out, I will be starting my freshman year at Harvard University in the fall with four other NYO members in my class. I can’t wait to see what the future holds, and I’m certain that NYO-USA memories, experiences, and friendships will stay with me forever.

Browse all of the blog posts by Helen and the other NYO-USA musicians.

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