Reflections on an International Experience, Part I

by MYSO’s Marketing Team

Enjoy conversations with three members of the 2023 Belgium and the Netherlands Tour Orchestra (and watch for more in our next issue!).

Marrying Jazz and Classical

by Ron Oshima

Lucas LaBeau, a high school senior and talented jazz pianist at MYSO, was surprised when tour music director Carter Simmons asked him to consider joining   the orchestra to play some jazz pieces. What many people don’t know is that Lucas played the violin for a long time, and he joined the tour as a violinist also upon Carter’s invitation. He is extending his summer stint as a violinist into Senior Symphony this season.

Lucas soloed on the opening of Duke Ellington’s “Lake“ and on the bridge between “Lake“ and “Giggling Rapids,“ movements from the ballet The River. He played different improvisations on his entry and on his bridge in each of the three European concerts! When asked how he prepared for his improvisations, he said, “just like classical, I read the music sheets to learn the music. And then I listened to other jazz pianists to get ideas of the kind of chords and scales they introduced and how they were able to pace themselves.” And he smiled as he remembered that during soundcheck rehearsals before each concert, he would play funny tunes during the bridge as a joke, like a tune he picked up from the Musical Instruments Museum in Brussels, and his fellow musicians would laugh.

Lucas said, “I listened to a lot of Scriabin (1871-1915) during my downtime on the tour. He’s a Russian classical piano composer who is one of my favorites. Lucky for me, Scriabin did a ton of jazz chords before jazz was even a thing. He gave me an example of how to pace myself, harmonize things, and play the melody.”

Prior to joining the tour orchestra, Lucas thought that jazz and classical musicians would be very different. He said, “I really enjoyed not only playing the music and playing in these beautiful halls, but also meeting new friends and understanding how similar we are in what we do. We’re all trying to figure out what we want to say or how we want to perform.”

Expanded Horizons, Treasured Memories

by Michelle Hoffman

Violist Akilah Muhammad began their MYSO journey as a fourth grader in Progressions in 2015. Today they are in Senior Symphony, a testament to the hard work put in as they ascended the different orchestra levels of MYSO.

A highlight of their journey was their experience on this summer’s Belgium and the Netherlands tour. At first, Akilah was apprehensive about the inevitable social interactions on the tour. “I honestly didn’t think I would get that close to other musicians who were on the trip and even worried that it might even be a little awkward.” Initial doubts quickly vanished, however. “Just being in all these new situations—and being in a foreign country together—seemed to bring all of us closer.” Surprise—and relief—followed.

Initially, Akilah was also a bit anxious about the music. However, the camaraderie felt with other musicians quickly calmed these fears. “Everyone was so supportive. Musicians were always sharing ways to enhance our playing. Everyone around me was so talented. It was amazing, and I loved that part of it so much!”

Expressions of joy dance across their face as they describe the tour’s musical highlights. “Even the concert we played here before we left the U.S. was one of the best I have ever been a part of. The pieces were difficult, but the way Mr. (Carter) Simmons conducts…he is just so easy to follow.”

The level of performance only got better as the tour progressed. Akilah remembers, “Our last concert [at the Royal Concertgebouw] was amazing. You could just feel the energy. I usually never smile when I’m performing because I’m really focused, and I feel like if I don’t focus, I’m bound to mess up. But the energy of the audience and the musicians around me was just so powerful…I couldn’t help but smile.”

The tour ultimately changed their image of self both as a musician and an artist. “I’ve always seen myself as a viola player rather than a violist. But seeing how much these musicians around me care about music, even if it isn’t something they want as a career, made me want to care about it more. Now I have a different perception of music and art in general.”

Today, Akilah enthusiastically acknowledges that music is now an even bigger part of their life. “Before the tour, I thought the biggest things I would ever do musically were MYSO‘s Community Concerts.” The tour broadened their musical horizons. “Up until this point, I hadn’t branched out too much in music, but getting to perform on the tour has made music a higher priority. I’m definitely going to keep music close to me.”

Over the days of the tour, Akilah had fun teasing Music Director Carter Simmons. As they tell the story, “I kept telling Mr. Simmons ‘you should just give me a shout-out from the stage…come on, Mr. Simmons! Shout out to Akilah!’” With the realization this request was aspirational (at best), Akilah persisted. “I kept joking with him about how funny that would be.”

The lighthearted banter paid off at the Royal Concertgebouw. When Mr. Simmons received flowers onstage, he knew just what to do. Giving Akilah the surprise of their life, he strolled to the viola section and presented them with the 4-foot bouquet. Akilah proceeded to jump up and down with glee, a treasured memory they and their fellow musicians relive to this day.

The Power of Music and Travel: a Journey of Self-Discovery

by Erica Mendoza

Traveling for the first time outside of the U.S. can be life-changing. For Valkyrie Ladd, traveling to Belgium and the Netherlands through MYSO was nothing short of extraordinary. This trip not only bolstered their confidence but nurtured their independence. “The tour taught me valuable lessons about myself. I discovered my love for traveling and experiencing new cultures, my adaptability to different situations, and an ability to easily make friends.” Performing at the iconic Royal Concertgebouw, and exploring the Castle of the Counts in Ghent, Belgium, evoked profound joy for the self-proclaimed fantasy nerd. Valkyrie never imagined ever having the opportunity to perform on such a prestigious stage, let alone at age 16.

Constantly rehearsing during the tour helped the orchestra significantly improve their music skills and build camaraderie. “As an orchestra, we felt lighter and no longer felt the pressure to impress anyone. Instead, we focused on enjoying ourselves and having fun.”

Prior to this trip, Valkyrie often questioned whether pursuing music was the right path. Sacrificing social outings with friends and family for rehearsals and performances left them feeling uncertain at times. However, being overseas and immersing themselves in the world of music affirmed that they had made the right choices all along—they were meant to pursue their passion for music.

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