In advance of NYO-USA's inaugural residency and tour, Sarah Johnson, director of Carnegie Hall's Weill Music Institute, reflects on her experiences as a young oboe player when she first joined an orchestra outside of her home town.
After years of planning, the musicians of the first National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America will arrive on our doorstep in just a couple days! Students from across the country will soon descend for the start of the orchestra's two-week residency in Purchase, New York, and the opportunity to be part of something entirely new.Personally, I'll never forget what it felt like to be a teenage musician, leaving home for the first time to be part of a community of equally dedicated players. I grew up outside of a tiny town in Illinois, and my oboe teacher was also a local dairy farmer—there weren’t too many other oboists around! I performed with my teacher in my local community orchestra. Eventually, I headed to the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan to continue my studies. To this day, I can still feel the palpable sense of excitement that came over me when I heard Interlochen's orchestra for the first time. I thought, "I have to be a part of this group." When I then had that opportunity, it was incredibly exhilarating to be part of a group of young people who cared about music as much as I did.For NYO-USA, the next two weeks will be packed with activity—orchestra rehearsals, sectionals, and chamber music, coaching by leading artists from across the country, and workshops on musical topics from improvisation, conducting, and composition to other areas like yoga for musicians and tips on traveling abroad. Most of our players are used to being among the best in their home towns. They’ll now be challenged to come together as an ensemble, a community of musicians, encouraging one another to achieve his or her personal best.
In planning the residency, we considered different aspects of training that we felt young musicians would need at this critical stage of their development. We thought not only about the practical matters at hand—preparing the group musically and the technical elements of getting ready for a tour—but also how to encourage the players to establish healthy artistic practices for themselves as they set out on the rigorous path of making music, even beyond NYO-USA. Throughout the residency, we’ll explore the orchestra’s repertoire, creating deeper context. The players will interact personally with Sean Shepherd as they rehearse the work that he has composed just for them, and they'll learn more about Russian culture as they immerse themselves in music by Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich and prepare to perform under Valery Gergiev’s baton.While it will be an intense and stimulating time, we also want to make sure that it will be fun! With students coming from 42 states—rural and urban places, from many different backgrounds—the residency will be a cultural exchange in and of itself, and making new friends is part of the experience. The first members of NYO-USA will inevitably set traditions that will carry on for years to come—and that’s a pretty cool thing! We can’t wait to dig in and get started.