Violinist Demi Fang from Dayton, Ohio writes about the ups and downs of coming together as an orchestra.
I met a lot of people on my first day of NYO-USA.
Then again, so did everyone else.
Some were familiar faces-- acquaintances I hadn't seen in years, or faces I'd already met through Facebook. Others were brand-new. While the outstanding NYO-USA staff, who have been working with our names and faces for months, could recognize each and every one of us, most of us musicians spent many days fumbling with "Nice to meet you" and "Sorry, what's your name again?"
Considering all 120 of us had come from all over the United States in just two days, adjusting to the new social environment may have been the very first condition that drew us together. But with string seating auditions taking place the next day, the very next feelings we had in common were audition anxieties.
My fellow musicians were almost excessively modest, and the staff warned us repeatedly that seats were based not on ranking but rotation. Nevertheless, the heat was on. For some, the immediate stress of playing alone onstage for the superb string faculty was all it took to make legs shake; for others still, there was the added pressure from the drive to play well, a lingering survival instinct from years of climbing up the figurative ladder of the music world.
We string players weren't alone. I made the embarrassing mistake of asking the first bassoonist I met if he played the fantastic bassoon solo in the Shostakovich. (He didn't.) Frustrations couldn't escape wind and brass players whose parts had been assigned in advance.
Yet, we all learn to set this uneasiness aside. As our orchestra director James Ross put it, all of us musicians must have been successfully competitive to make it here at all. Yet as we form NYO-USA in these two weeks of residency, that same competitive edge will only hinder our progress as an orchestra.
I wouldn't say we had much trouble setting aside that edge. In fact, I think the quality we shared most apparently-- a tremendous appreciation of music-- drew us together a thousand times more than any sort of negativity did. For example, at our very first full orchestra rehearsal, many of us string players had been so astounded by the beautiful solos from the winds and brass that we couldn't resist turning around to take a peek-- to the point that we were lightly scolded for doing so. In another instance, during our seminar on concert repertoire, the musicians-turned-students let out a collective groan when our lecturer paused the clip of Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4 just before a climactic arrival. I have yet to meet a member of the orchestra who wasn't moved to tears during Friday's rehearsal as we humbly accompanied the Chicago Symphony's concertmaster Robert Chen on the Tchaikovsky violin concerto in preparation for Joshua Bell's arrival.
The whole premise of NYO-USA has been to reflect the melting-pot culture of our own country, our knack for unifying an immense diversity. Our audiences will be able to experience that unity visually and aurally, but we musicians have already experienced it in another dimension: in the social fabric we've weaved together during this residency. With all that's happened among us, we're ready to present the spirit of NYO-USA-- and America-- to the world.