Wednesday, July 24, 2013


Last summer, I went to horn camp in New Hampshire.   I distinctly remember this one conversation with a camp participant from Germany.  A group of us had never been out of the country and so we goofily asked him if European people were different from Americans.  He chuckled (I’d like to think it was laughing with us and not at us, but I’m inclined to believe otherwise) and told us that there wasn’t a large difference.  People hadn’t magically evolved in Europe to have a different number of limbs or anything.  It’s not like there was a giant wall internally separating a country from itself—that’s just foolish and besides, China’s done that already.  (Have some class, Germany).   But honestly, for the most part, we are all similar in our mannerisms.  There was really only one difference he could think of: Europeans are very literal. 

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!” 

Mission: successful.

Sort of. 

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 )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:


Monday, July 22, 2013

Forgive Me.

I apologize for not writing in the past few days.  I hate to say I've been doing better things with my time, but it is true.  However, I will be blogging tomorrow so if you'd like, you can come back then to hear about my time in London.  As you might have guessed it's been pretty crazy:
What with the baby and all...

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Scientific Method

Waking up on time is one of my greatest weaknesses.  I know I've already talked about it, but I think it needs to be addressed again with the great frequency with which it occurs.   It's really just an ongoing experiment, if you will, and so, I will describe it through the scientific method to further clarify (and also to prove to my parents that their tax dollars did teach me something).

Problem:  Nikki LaBonte sleeps as heavily as one of those slumbering giants of ancient Aztec legend.

Hypothesis:  If alarm clocks annoy her enough, then maybe she will decide it's more convenient to start moving than to deal with the hassle.

Dependent Variable:  Tardiness to school.
Independent Variable:  Number of decibels created by combined volume of all alarm clocks used.

  • 2 alarm clocks with 2 available alarm times each
  • One iPod app that monitors your sleep cycle based on movements during the night.
  • A basic need to get up.
  • A mom to rely on, in case of emergencies.
  1. Strategically position the alarms around the room to achieve the most annoying and difficult to disassemble set-up as possible. 
  2. Go to sleep.  
  3. Pray that it works.
Results: Inconclusive.

And everyone at NYO knows about this experiment too.  In fact, whenever you arrive late to something, specifically a bus call, they sometimes call it "pulling a Nikki".  No joking, I had to take a cab to a side-by-side rehearsal we did with a Russian youth orchestra because I missed the bus.  And strangely enough, that was not the first time I'd woken up after the lobby call for NYO.

Today though, I finally managed to roll myself out of bed in time to go shopping at the local souvenir market in Russia.  This was really a whole other experiment in itself.  

I've decided that bartering is the only kind of shopping that men generally like.  In order to be successful at bartering, you have to genuinely not want to be spending money.  Because this is how men generally function at malls, department stores, and anywhere else--except for places that sell food: that's like my mom in a Yankee Candle store.   And so, before I went, I Skyped my dad to find out the secrets.  He basically told me to act like he does when we take him shopping: Be extremely bored, question why anything is so expensive, and ask if there are any real practical uses for a Russian Babushka doll.  My favorite answer to the last question was "how about we cut the price down 100 rubles?"

And when I went out this morning, it was actually a lot of fun.  It's not often that Publix employees let you haggle over the price of a banana or Macy's cashiers will take half of what is on the price tag because it's "all I have left."  

Overall, I had a good time which is, really, all that matters.  Because as much as I felt like I was besting the vendors, I was still probably ripped off to the same degree as if I'd clicked on one of those "FREE IPAD" links on Facebook.  But I realized that even though the prices I bartered for were about as accurate as London's baby lottery is, I still consider the process of negotiating a successful experiment.

Tomorrow, NYO has our own final experiment: our last concert at the BBC Proms.  After playing with the 119 other musicians for about three weeks, I know that I can trust them.  I know that because we have rehearsed and performed and felt each other's energy that no matter what, tomorrow's concert will be successful.  It's similar to bartering in that, maybe some notes will be missed, some deals will be lost, some negotiations won't be as smooth as they could be.  But if we accomplish our potential, not as individual players, but as a functioning body, we will be able to walk away with a smile on our faces and shopping bags full of the gifts that we've earned:  a hand-painted lacquered box filled with memories and friendships, a shot glass filled with the liquid energy of the music we have as young people, and a Babushka doll filled with all sizes of inspiration, from large to small.

So, if you get a minute, tune in tomorrow to our concert.  It'll be broadcasted live from the Proms tomorrow.  Just click on this link: and click the "Listen Live" button on the left hand side of the screen.  It starts at 7:30pm London time which is 2:30 Eastern Standard Time.  
2:30PM that is.  I don't think that any amount of experimentation would be able to get me ready to play a concert at 2:30am.  I think that over the years of testing, I've proved that situation to be scientifically impossible.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Bus

I've had a pretty sheltered childhood.

I'm not saying it's a bad thing.  And it wasn't like we were Amish.  I could use a computer, could play video games that were rated Teen, could forgo the horse and buggy as a means of transport.  It was just more sheltered than some of my friends.

Let me clarify.  I had a lot of movies screened.  Before watching the first Pirates of the Caribbean, my sister and I were required to watch the behind the scenes footage so we "would know that everything in the movie was make believe".  I was twelve.  Not long before that, a friend my age and I were watching Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.  We'd watched the entire movie and were really sucked into the plot line.  Right before the final scene, my parents shut off the movie because they had forgotten that everyone melts and didn't want us to see the below average graphics of 1981.

And it wasn't just with movies.  When I decided on attending Bak MSOA, which is a roughly 20 minute drive from my house if you take I-95 (and speed--which I never, ever do), my mother frantically tried to find any possible way to get me to school without taking the bus.  She was terrified of me getting on a bus with a whole bunch of other kids, some of whom would be older than me.  I'm not sure why.  Maybe she thought buses weren't safe, or maybe that I would pick up a few new "vocabulary" terms (wink), or maybe she just thought someone would sneeze on me and I'd catch a cold and ruin my perfect attendance record.  Either way, riding the bus was like trying to get a bill through the 113th Congress.

So, in line with the sheltered lifestyle, one of my biggest complaints for the longest time was that I'd never been out of the country.  For me, foreign cities seemed like this horrible cesspool of crime and confusion.  My mom was doing me a favor by keeping me in the States.  (Aren't kids' imaginations just wonderful?)

And going on this trip I was a little nervous.  I thought I'd get lost and then have no phone and then not know any numbers and have no money and just have to sit on the street and cry until someone found me and arrested me for loitering.  I wouldn't even know who to make my one phone call to.

So when I got to Russia, I was a bit nervous.  I kept people watching and concocting these stories in my mind about how that guy walking by me on the street had a samurai sword in his bag and that he would just whip it out and chop me into a thousand pieces.  Or that lady would just punch me in the ribs because I looked at her for too long.

So when we were given time to sight-see, I made sure that I was in a group of three NYO people.   After spending ten minutes and asking about five Russian people where we were on the map, we came to the conclusion that it may not be a good idea to venture too far away.  So we decided to go to the nearby Mariinsky Theater and the newly built Mariinsky II.

 Fun fact: According to critics, Mariinsky II's architecture was supposedly the ruin of St. Petersburg and defaced the beautiful city.

Yeah, what an eye sore.

Since we performed in the Mariinsky II, we decided to see if we could explore the original Mariinsky theater.  The three of us walked in and kind of milled about in the lobby and tried to secretly find a way in while looking as inconspicuous and not-foreign as possible.  I think maybe the NYOUSA shirts may have tipped us off.

 After about a minute of arguing about who would have enough courage to ask the guard if we could see the theater, I drew the short straw and had to be the one to inquire.  He only spoke English "a leetle beet" and I tried to be as clear and use as many unnecessary hand gestures as when I'm talking to my mom's nursing home patients.

Upon my initial request to go inside, he said no.  But he said it slightly hesitantly and teenagers smell weakness like shark smells blood in a fish tank.  So, one of my friends brought up the fact that we were members National Youth Orchestra and we all tried to look as pathetic as possible to hopefully get an answer.  With a gesture to follow him, he got up and led the three of us into a back storage room.

This is where the panic set in.  This was what I was sheltered from.  This guy was going to beat us up in the middle of the Mariinsky theater and we were going to be stuck there and miss our concert.  Aside from our black eyes, we were going to be black-listed in the music community by Gergiev.  So as I braced for impact.  He pointed at the three of us and said "150 rubles each, 5 minutes in theater.  No photo".  150 rubles being roughly 5 US dollars, I have never spent a better amount of money in my life.  He took us inside the theater and it was breathtaking.  I can't even begin to describe it.  And because we told him just how gorgeous it was, he let us take some pictures.  Unfortunately, mine didn't come out so well, but just fill in the darkness with the most extraordinary architecture and sculpture you can think of.

The three of us were reeling.  After we left, we just walked in silence and occasionally one of us would awkwardly interrupt with an "OH MY GOSH THAT WAS SO COOL!"  Yes, it was.

I don't think we realized until after we got back to the hotel that the 150 rubles we each had paid probably wasn't going to the Mariinsky theater.  It was probably being used to buy some groceries or "apple juice" at a Russian bar.  We had probably bribed a Mariinsky employee.  I quite possibly committed a crime.

The guard was just doing some kids a favor, so it couldn't be really illegal, right?  And if I had to do it again, I'd still pay the rubles even though it might be lawfully wrong.

Maybe my mom was right.  If I'm committing crimes and not feeling resentment, then I probably wasn't sheltered enough.

I blame the bus.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Nights in White Satin

I love the movie Elf.  I think it's really funny and cute and of course wouldn't be complete without the "holiday cheer" theme at the end that just makes everyone all warm inside.  Or maybe that's just the hot chocolate in the winter.  Regardless, there are a lot of inaccuracies about the film.

I mean an elf traveling to New York City mainly via iceberg helped along the way by talking animals: there's definitely some issues.  Everyone knows that all the polar bears would already be using the icebergs.  Duh.  I think the most egregious error of the film are the inaccuracies of traveling from the North Pole to NYC.  It's like whoever has been to the film has never commuted from the North Pole before.  Gosh, at least send the coffee intern for some R and D.

First off, there has got to be some iceberg-lag (it's a thing, I asked Santa) involved in this journey.   Since, the North Pole is on the Alaska Time Zone, that's a four hour difference between the two.  (I didn't ask Santa for that one, I just googled it.)  Elves have to sleep too.  Heck, even the aurora borealis has a bedtime.

The only difference between that journey and my Russia expedition is that I didn't take an iceberg: Bloomberg, our sponsor, paid for individual dolphins to carry us across the Atlantic.  Oh wait, nope.  That was a Sea World advertisement.  But seriously, it's not that easy changing your internal clock by eight hours.  I'm not totally on Russian time yet, even after three days.  It took less time than that to ruin Paula Deen's career--I think I should have been adjusted.  I know what the keys are to overcoming the sleep deprivation, that's not the problem.  It's more like the problems I have at home.  To watch another cat video on YouTube or to not watch another cat video on YouTube?  #thestruggleisreal.

Compounding on top of the serious sleep deprivation that should be covered in this movie is the constant sunlight in the North Pole.  Especially in the summer (AKA the time of the year where the elves take off one of their six pairs of long underwear).   When it's in the summer months, it's light all year round at the North Pole.

And it's not that much different in Russia.  They call it the White Nights of Summer.  (Mom, Dad: This is not the same thing as Night in White Satin by the Moody Blues so please stop singing it out loud.  I can hear the pitch problems from here.)  Honestly though, there's a reason humans aren't nocturnal.  It's hard to make yourself go to sleep when you could be getting a tan at midnight.  In reality, all of this compounds to me writing this blog at 2:33am.  Not the best life choices but I consider this a YOLO situation.

Even within Russia, somethings are as different as night and day (or just day and a slightly overcast day-like environment).  Traveling from Moscow to St. Petersburg via train, we got to see some of the differences between the two places.  From the city hastily built around the opulent, glistening palace of the Kremlin filled with precious gems and history, to the well structured and cohesive "Venice of the North" there is quite a difference.  Let me explain a bit more.  Moscow is built surrounding the Kremlin but it's not exactly the most easy to understand city design.  St. Petersburg has been beautifully laid out to the T with a lot of regulations on building height and color.  If they were paintings, St. Petersburg would be a Van Gogh and Moscow would be a child's spin art.  Both are absolutely stunning and gorgeous in their own right.   Just one is structured, well put together and all the strokes work together to communicate an idea, while the other may have had a city planner who still described her age as "this many".  I hope it's not too clear which one is my favorite.

As we approach 3am and the sun is beginning to rise (I'm not kidding), I think it's time I get some shut eye.  We have a concert tomorrow at the Mariinsky II and I've got to get up for breakfast tomorrow.  Hopefully, the hotel will have all of the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corn, and syrup.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

LaBonte 2016

Since, I’ve officially been in Russia now for 31 hours, I can safely say that I’m an expert on Russian culture.  I’m applying to be the ambassador and I figure that Obama will be so blown away by my gigantic wealth of knowledge and expertise that I’ll be Secretary of State in about a week.  If everything goes as planned, I should be unanimously voted in as president in 2016.

And because I am such a wise, generous, and above all, humble person, I will give you a brief rundown on some aspects of the Russian culture and how to avoid problems while in the country.  Take note: all of these experiences are based off of things I’ve seen in the past two days.  (That doesn’t mean I’ve done all of them, but I have seen other people do them, and that’s just as good.)

When going abroad, the first thing that people are usually concerned about is their own health.  What vaccines do I need?  Is the water safe to drink?  If I step in a puddle with flip-flops on, will I contract a foot fungus that will turn me into a frog?  My personal belief on all of these topics is “if it’s inconvenient, then…meh, you’re too lazy anyway.”  For instance, I don’t like shots.  I’m not being a baby, you’re the crazy one if you actually enjoy a long needle going into your arm.  So, since they make me uncomfortable, don’t do them.  You’ll be fine.  On the water subject, if it’s clear(ish) and it’s a liquid, then I’m sure you’re good.  If it’s not clear, then think of it as vitamin water and drink it anyway.  And with regard to whether or not you’ll get a foot fungus, you probably will.  But I personally believe that disease is the most authentic souvenirs you can get.  If you’re lucky and it’s contagious, then it’s just the gift that keeps on giving. 

Unfortunately, my mom tricked me into getting the shots done and Russian water hasn’t given me anything fatal…yet.  

The next topic of conversation is usually common crime in the area and how to avoid becoming a victim.  To start with, I recommend traveling through all the back streets.  They may be dark, but there are way less people around and so, logically, you have less of a chance of getting pickpocketed.  If for some reason, you can’t just take the backstreets then be sure to put on your Mickey Mouse cap, wear your American flag shorts (face paint is optional) and take pictures of everything, even those puddles of water that you are stepping in.  The object is for everyone to know that you are a tourist from America.  That way, if they steal from you, the CIA will launch a counterterrorism investigation on the entire country and maybe in a couple weeks we will get to a full-scale war.  Or at least that’ll be the goal when I’m president. 

I’ve been pretty good with this one.  Taking lots of people, speaking English as loud as possible, I’ve got it down.  And so far so good, nothing stolen so far.  It’s not luck, it’s skill.

 Thirdly, people usually ask about money.  Where to exchange it, where to carry it, etc.  I recommend first trying to pay for everything in American dollars.  You’re the customer so you’re always right.  If they don’t take the currency, try talking louder and slower; that always helps the situation.  If that doesn’t work, whip out your wallet that’s overflowing with large bills and completely unorganized.  If something falls out (which it probably will), just drop everything and ask everyone in the store to help you pick it up.   Also, always argue over prices.  Numbers are totally different in different countries, so if something works according to English math, they are probably ripping you off.  Remember, these are all based off of real experiences.

Addressing concert etiquette is fairly simple:  when in Rome, do as the Romans.  But you aren’t in Rome, silly.  You’re in Russia, so just follow the Russians.   There are a couple mannerisms you should be aware of.  Firstly, take your seats as late as possible.  Again, you’re the audience, the orchestra will wait for you.  And we did.  Thanks for that.  But once the audience is seated, they are actually really quiet.   As much as we really appreciate the harmonics that babies crying brings to the music, we don’t actually enjoy it all that much.  Surprise.  Also, if you happen to be in charge of temperature, always turn the A/C off all the way, musicians hate it when they are comfortable when we play and love the fact that we can’t fan ourselves like the people in the audience.  Overall, I think the coolest part of a Russian audience is that they don’t stand if they like a performance  (No, I’m not being conceited in assuming that they would stand for our performance.)  Instead of standing, Russian audiences clap…in rhythm.  They all begin clapping on beat and the whole concert hall claps together.  It is so cool.  And so exciting and energetic.  It’s kind of like those elementary school cheers that you do while you’re jumping rope.  I even made one up: 

“We’re NYO. (Yeah). 
We’re pretty cool.  (Yeah) 
Gergiev conducts us.  (Yeah)
And he’s no fool. 

Now, we’re in Russia. (Yeah)
 And that’s so fun.  (Yeah) 
You clap in time.  (Yeah) 
Right when we’re done.”


So that’s really all you need to know about Russia.  I think if you follow all of those steps, you’ll be successful…to a certain degree.  If you don’t think you’ll be able to travel in the future, then that’s too bad.  It’s really very nice here.  (That was maybe the only sentence in this blog post without sarcasm)  If you are really out of things to do (cough loser), you could make some “LaBonte 2016” campaign posters. 

I’m thinking the slogan should be “She’s a teenager, of course she knows everything about running the country.  Duh.”

Monday, July 15, 2013

Inside Scoop

I am writing this post from the future. 

I’ve concluded that since I am now in Russia and eight hours ahead of the US, I can effectively see into the future and can ruin all of your good TV shows for you.  Watch, I’ll show you just how ahead of the game I am by telling you an inside scoop that only someone from the future would know: George Zimmerman is found not guilty.  Mind blown.

Because I am a teenager after all, I woke up after breakfast and instead had a brunch of a Chipotle burrito (the real breakfast of Champions).   And after hurriedly packing up and hoping that I didn’t forget anything (after all, there is a first time for everything…I wish), we met the NYO group downstairs.   I managed to avoid an incident that included almost leaving my travel documents in the hotel bathroom (I don’t think it counts because I remembered them before the bus pulled out) and we began the “adventure” of group travel. 

Warfare has been described as a series of brief bursts of action followed by extremely extensive periods of boredom.  It is the same thing when traveling with a large group.  Think the No Child Left Behind Act, but in an airport.  So we waited first to get our boarding passes, then to go through security, then to transfer to our terminal, then to get on the plane.  All in all, it was a total waiting time of three and a half hours.  I’ve decided that this experience is what purgatory feels like. 

Because it was my first international flight, there were a few things that I learned that I would like to share with you.  First:  If you are flying on British airways, everyone speaks with an English accent.  Don’t laugh, it wasn’t that obvious from my point of view.  Secondly, chefs who prepare plane food should be given their own food chain.  No joking, the pasta I had on the plane could have gotten past a round of Top Chef and was made with half the resources than the mystery meat served in a full-size school cafeteria.  I’m not sure which was the greater miracle: the ability to speed through the air in a giant mass of metal or the flavor in that preserved pasta.  Thirdly, planes are the reasons that Blockbuster went out of business.  Why rent a DVD when you could watch unlimited movies on an airplane?  And it’s free…or it comes with the purchase of an international flight ticket.  On second thought, maybe Netfix was the reason. 

I must have used up all the bad plane karma on the way to Purchase because all of our connecting flights were on time and in a way, it was a tad uneventful.  Oh well, better luck next time.  But, we had finally arrived in Russia. 

And oh was it confusing.  After stepping off the plane, I realized that this is what babies feel like.  Russian characters mean nothing, no one is saying anything you can understand, and the people surrounding you all of a sudden seem very big and scary.  I barely managed to avoid going to the fetal position in the middle of the airport, because I figured it wouldn’t help my status with the Russians.  Our group moved to the customs counter where they would inspect our passports.  Despite the reports of earlier people who had gone, I wasn’t asked any questions and instead just slid my passport under the window to the woman behind it.  I was excited because so far I hadn’t proven I was a total clumsy tourist.  That lasted for about ten seconds.  As I was retrieving the passport and visa confirmation form, my hand flicked the passport at a surprisingly high speed right back onto the keyboard of the customs officer.  And by her reaction, I’m fairly certain that the Russian police, KGB, and Olympic Gymnastics team were on their way to tackle me before the woman realized that I wasn’t trying to throw a weapon of mass destruction at her.  So instead, I sheepishly apologized (in English) and tried to make my way through the gate. 

Having successfully perpetuating the dumb American stereotype, we made our way to the buses to wait for the strings to clear customs.  I’m not entirely sure why they had to declare their instruments and we did not, but I took this as another factor to add to my extensive list of reasons not to play the violin.  And after another hour and a half of spider solitaire on the bus, the rest of the group arrived and we drove into the city. 

I’ve watched the Amazing Race for awhile and always wondered why it was so hard to follow a map and navigate somewhere.  Like what’s so hard about directions?  You know, maybe it’s the fact that the English alphabet has been distorted, rotated, and combined to form new letters and sounds on the street signs.  It gets better.  The H letter, instead of maintaining some level of consistency, makes the sound of an N.  My name in Russian?  HPKKP.  Yeah, now try to figure out how to navigate the highways to Moscow.

But when we finally did get to Moscow, someone must have forgot to tell Russia that buildings aren’t supposed to be gorgeous and instead should be designed with functionality and uniformity in mind.  And in our walk around Red Square, we all gaped like the stereotypical Japanese tourists in New York City.  We had everything, matching NYO T-shirts, cameras, and a complete disregard for the fact that people may or may not be living in the city that we were gawking at.  And when the church of St. Basil came into view, it seemed like something out of Candyland or one of those cheesy animated movies from the same people who created the Rudoph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Christmas special.  It would have seemed surreal and fantasy-like, had there not have been a McDonalds (although it was cleverly disguised by the Russian alphabet).  It was certainly a nice start to my first night in Europe.

So, it is certainly cool to be living in the future.  There aren’t any flying cars yet, but I’d say the architecture makes up for the hover planes and daily space travel.  So, I assume by now you’d like to run and tell all of your friends on Facebook about your inside information on the George Zimmerman case.  Maybe tomorrow, I’ll tell you in advance what the Royal Baby’s name is.