music was simply what we did

In my family, music was simply what we did.  It's not that every one of us played an instrument, or that our parents forced us to learn.  It was just a value in our household: the joy of creativity. I began with the violin when I was five years old.  Then I switched to the piano, and eventually added the French horn, and the flute, and improvisation, and composition…  Music was there.  I couldn’t not do it.

While ubiquity tends to breed complacency and numbness, music in my life had the opposite effect.  My fervor only grew.  I thought of music all the time.  I would go to write down the phrases in my head and forget that they weren't words, and that I needed special paper for them.  Music was a language I learned to speak early on.

Yet it wasn't until the age of sixteen, when I began playing in the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra, that I understood the breadth of what music education can be.

I learned that music is indivisible from art and history and religion.  I learned that practicing does not always require an instrument.  I learned that thinking is as important as doing, and that there is a reason for every single note in every symphony.

And perhaps most importantly, I learned that my musical life had been anomalous.  That even among the most skilled players with whom I was collaborating, there were those whose parents discouraged them from studying the arts.  There were some who would inevitably remain in their "fall-back" careers, listening to a teacher or advisor tell them that there's no way they can study music, because "What will you do with that?"

Explaining what makes EYSO unique is a monumental task.  The phrases "rehearsal as laboratory" or "non-performance-centered" are meaningless to those who have never seen an orchestra.  And yet, beyond the education terminology and musical techniques, there is a quality that everyone appreciates: that there are young artists who will never see a stage.  They might never study the music of Barber or Beethoven, and simply because they've never had the chance to listen, they will never be moved by great masterpieces.

So the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra fills a void in so many lives – the lives of students like me who longed for more intense, more detailed study, and students who wish simply to play and to enjoy themselves.  In rehearsal, neither type of student is better or more valuable than the other.  That's the joy of the orchestra: that the individual falls away and there is only music.  It is at once so complex and so primal: to collaborate.  To make things together.