I know it may be hard to wrap your head around but some of the million trillion gazillion American citizens do occasionally exaggerate. I’m not claiming that this is a gigantic flaw in the country. I’m simply admitting that we can tell a good red, blue, white lie from time to time. But in Europe, it is not so. Descriptions are accurate and honest, exaggerations are held to a minimum, and words are used in their original intent. A sandwich cannot be awesome unless when you eat it, the Queen of England comes out and gives a rousing toast to you and your life accomplishments. Although, I would think that it would be hard to eat the sandwich if your jaw has dropped straight to the floor.
So, speaking in a European style, my time in London was awesome. Let me prove it to you.
Our first day was our concert day and we would be performing at the Proms. For those of you who don’t know, the Proms is not a series of classical music performances at different high school dances all across London. Proms is a month(ish) long festival of different performances, all taking place at Royal Albert Hall. Think Woodstock with tails and bowties. But there’s a twist. At proms (which stands for promenades), you can either purchase actual seats which typically are expensive and very hard to get, or you can wait in line on the day of the concert and purchase standing room only tickets that will put you either in the gallery above the paid seats or in the arena which goes directly up to the stage. And people do camp out for these tickets. In the US, we wait outside in tents for iPhones. In the UK, they camp outside for babies and classical music. My kind of country.
It can get kind of busy, though, in Royal Albert Hall with concerts happening every day. Right after our dress rehearsal, Daniel Barenboim, former conductor of the Chicago Symphony was conducting a German orchestra in a rehearsal of the Ring Cycle. (Note: this is not at all the same as the Lord of the Rings Trilogy). Needless to say, I opted to stay. And I’ve come to this conclusion: Daniel Barenboim would make even Chuck Norris scared to miss an entrance. He spoke mostly in German so I couldn’t exactly understand the words, but I’m pretty sure that I’m not allowed to say that kind of vocabulary on this blog. You’ll just have to use your imagination, I guess.
And I thought my imagination was playing tricks on me later in the day. I was heading out of the dorms at the Imperial College and I saw one of the other horn players in NYO, Weston, talking to another musician. Judging by the case, I thought maybe they were a hornist too and were waiting in line to hear our concert. I decided to wait for Weston and when the unknown player turned around I just about pulled out some of Daniel Barenboim’s favorite words. Now when I tell you the name of this person, many of you won’t know who it is, but if you could react like I told you that I met the royal baby, that would be great. Right there, on the street was Stefan Dohr, principal horn of the Berlin Philharmonic and debatably one of the greatest living orchestral horn players. Despite the fact that it is my middle name, I immediately lost all the grace I had in my mad rush to meet him. He’d been subbing with the German orchestra from earlier and was in London “just for a bit.” But now, he was in front of my dorm room waiting “for a friend”. I offered to be the friend he was waiting for, but he respectfully declined. You can tell how excited I was by the frantic state of my hair in the picture I got with him.
In retrospect, I certainly consider this a good omen for the concert later that night. Because this blog post will be exceptionally long (see the blog post on procrastination), I will save that evening’s performance until the end so that you are forced to continue reading. Mwahahaha, I have you now.
The next day was the day we got to explore the rest of London and the city certainly gave us a warm welcome—it was literally the hottest day of the year thus far. It’s almost like I never left Florida. So, covered in a layer of sweat we had a private tour of the tower of London with the crown jewels. Just an FYI: Ladies, if you are in the market for a wedding ring or crown, the Queen knows a guy. Gentleman, if your lady is interested, I’ll try to put you in touch with Her Majesty and you can exchange services or something. I’m sure she’d love a nice foot rub if you’re up for it. I certainly needed one after the walking tour we did of the Thames River including the Globe Theater and Millenium Bridge. Despite the color of the Thames (a mystery meat milkshake kind of look), I might have considered swimming to get out of the heat.
After a bus tour and a picnic lunch in Hyde Park, we were on our own for about an hour and 45 minutes. Before I tell you the next part of the story, you have to understand where I’m coming from. Whenever my family goes on vacation, we go on vacation. Going to a major city? We do every possible signature landmark and activity possible. Going to a tropical destination? We are scuba diving and hiking every day. Going to a theme park? We almost kill my grandparents riding every single ride in the four Disney parks because God forbid we miss one. That’s how we do vacations in my family and so, given an hour and 45 minutes, that’s how I did London. I took the Tube (the subway system not the Television Set) to Buckingham Palace, walked to Big Ben, and at three o’clock, I entered the Westminster abbey. I had to be back by 3:45. And walking into the church, it just completely took my breath away. Normally, I’d encourage you to look up everything I’m saying (for fact-checking purposes so you can hold something over my head later) but I don’t think you should Google pictures of the abbey because they won’t do it an ounce of justice. Every architectural decision made, every historical figure buried, it is so spectacular. So spectacular in fact that not only was my breath taken away but also, my sense of time. I left the Abbey at 3:30.
I must have looked like the biggest idiot in the whole city. Here I am, sprinting, in a collared shirt and a pair of jeans, with my flip-flops in my hand (I’d taken them off so I could run faster) down the streets of London, trying to make a thirty minute journey into a fifteen minute one. I arrived at the dorms, tragically out of breath and out of energy at 3:49. And after booking it up to my room to change into formal attire, I was on the bus, seated at 3:53 wearing a dress, a pair of nice shoes, with my hair combed. When I said that I could win the Olympics for procrastination, I wasn’t kidding. That’s not poor preparation, that’s a talent.
You may have noticed my mentioning of the royal baby several times throughout this post, and that’s how it was in London. Everyone in the city constantly had one eye on the tube (the actual TV this time), waiting to see if any news would come of the future heir to the throne. And while we were at our final closeout party, hosted at the offices of Bloomberg, the news came: IT’S A BOY. And as soon as we arrived back at the hotel, I was back out to Buckingham Palace again. When I got there, the only way I can think to describe the scene is imagine the largest US rock concert and then multiply that by 8lbs 6oz. There were a lot of people, and most of them, including myself, wanted a picture of what was behind the gates. Judging by the crowd size, you would have guessed that the royal baby was sitting there with it’s parents doing a question and answer session. But instead, what everyone was clamouring to get a picture of was the easel with the official birth announcement on it. So, a friend and I slowly worked to the front which involved a lot of pushing, a lot of casual conversation, and one guy who kept yelling things like “EVERYONE, THE QUEEN IS BEHIND US ON THE OPPOSITE SIDE OF THE COURTYARD SIGNING AUTOGRAPHS. WE SHOULD ALL GET OUT OF LINE TO SEE HER!”
My digital camera ran out battery just as I was getting up to the front of the line, so I needed to use my iPod to take the picture. I’d been keeping my debit card in the back of my iPod case so that it wouldn’t get lost. Before you criticize that idea, it had been working very well. Unfortunately, that all came to an end when I took my iPod out of its case to get a clear picture and the debit card fell out. Onto the ground. Under the feet of a massive amount of people. In the middle of the busiest place in London.
Not to worry, I cancelled the card and no purchases were made on it and I’d like to point out that I picked a very good time, the last day, to have to go without it. But before there are claims that I broke my streak of losing something, I would like to point out that I did not lose my debit card. I knew exactly where it was, I just chose not to go back and get it. There is a giant difference.
And with that, my time in England had come to a close. It might not be the best note to finish on, but I still think it was a fantastic journey. But by far, the most wonderful part of it all was the concert we performed at the Royal Albert Hall.
I mentioned in my blog post about the Kennedy Center that the performer gives the audience member a collective emotional experience. It takes the occurances and feelings of those in the hall and combines them with the intentions and magic of the music being performed. And in this process, one of the most essential parts is the experiences and energy provided by the audience. At the Proms, every person in the theater is excited and thrilled to be hearing the work of the performers. They sit on the edge of their seats and those who are standing creep closer towards the stage trying to drink from the music that pours from the orchestra. This is what we encountered at the Proms. This is what made the concert so special.
We immediately were baffled by the 9,000 people in the sold out hall. The mosaic created by their faces was far more beautiful than any architecture found in the Westminster Abbey. Their raw excitement and emotional experiences were exponentially greater than the anticipation over the delivery of the royal baby. The fire that they each brought into the room combined into a blaze that was far greater than the heat wave taking place outside. The people listening fed us, as performers, and we returned the favor with the emotion that can only be expressed through the compositions. And that night, the performers were not the cause of the beauty that was created, the audience members were.
Similarly, this entire NYO experience has been something that has been made not by the spectacular locations we have performed in, the individual creativity it encourages, or even the vast amount of musical knowledge that I have learned. NYO has been unforgettable because of the people who surrounded and supported us. That includes those at home, those behind the scenes, and the participants who have been on the journey together. The pure enjoyment and raw passion that was brought to music has been a cycle of inspiration, encouraging us to support and feed the joy of others.
As I write this final post from the Newark air terminal with my passport resting safely inside my bag (I just checked), I know that this chapter in our lives is coming to a close. I know that every single member of the inaugural season of NYO will be wildly successful in their own right. Whether they pursue music or something equally as wonderful, the young people on this trip will be magnificent and the future of the nation, in my opinion, could not look brighter. But no matter the successes to come, I know that this summer will never be forgotten. It will be something that is always to be remembered, chronicled on Facebook, and one day will be looked at with nostalgia.
As I start to prepare for college, I can’t wait for what the future brings. I hope to continue to blog because it makes me laugh just as much as it makes you cringe. (Please check out the new page at http://rachmaninoffmyrocker.blogspot.com/ )But most of all, I look forward to the stunning growth of each and every member of the inaugural season of the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America.
Because ultimately, there is only one word that can describe this journey we have made together: