by Ron Oshima
Autumn Lee, the principal clarinetist in Senior Symphony and Chamber Orchestra, is graduating from MYSO after seven years with us. She told an interesting story about herself when she switched private teachers as a rising freshman. In her first meeting with her new teacher, she admittedly went in with a high opinion of herself, having played solos as an eighth grader and qualifying for state WSMA Solo and Ensemble.
The first thing he asked her to do was play a C major scale…but he stopped her midway. “It’s not working,” he said. “You need to correct your embouchure, the way you’re holding the clarinet, and your fingering. I’m afraid we need a hard reset.” It was a difficult pill to swallow.
He handed her a simple half-page sonata in 4/4 time, with only quarter notes, saying “you’re going to play this until you get it right.” She took home the piece and practiced it in the way one would conduct speed dating. Imagine her surprise when she went back the following week and played it for her instructor. He said “you really did not practice this the right way. You need to see each note and phrase and figure out what the music is trying to tell you. You need to focus and pay attention to what you’re doing.” She ended up practicing that simple sonata for a whole month before moving on!
While the first few sessions were extremely humbling, Autumn has remained with that private teacher to this day.
This newfound humility served her well when she got into Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra as a freshman. Despite being placed in the very last chair, she realized she was very fortunate to be there. It was awkward at first playing with juniors because she did not know how to socialize with older kids. She quickly realized that they were all working just as hard as she was, and that took the edge off her competitive streak. Her private teacher coached her to accept her role in supporting the other clarinets with her harmony and in service of the music. She emphasized, “It’s all about the music.”
Autumn and Senior Symphony bassoonist Presley Hansen often have animated and humorous conversations while marking notations in their scores during rehearsal breaks. Autumn said, “we connect with each other when we play. It feels like we’re singing together or conversing. I’ve learned to appreciate the small moments. In this Sibelius piece we’re preparing, there’s this part that’s just two measures long, but when we’re so in time and in tune, I get physical goosebumps and a freeing, lifting feeling that carries me throughout the whole piece.”
Beyond MYSO, Autumn plans to major in English at Fordham University. She acquired a deep love of reading at an early age and took up writing to fulfill the joy she found in reading. She won two national gold medal writing awards from the Scholastic Writing Competition and the American Voices Medal for Sci-fi/Fantasy in 2020 and 2021. Her goal is to become a college professor in English where she can pass on her love of reading and writing to her students.
In high school, Autumn saw herself as the best clarinetist. In MYSO, there were many excellent clarinetists. “Looking back,” she says “my ego stemmed from living in a smaller musical world. At MYSO, all those smaller individual worlds are brought together to create a larger world, and it’s a beautiful thing…for everybody.”
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