The year was 1972, and it was my first rehearsal of the New York Youth Symphony, my first real orchestral experience. I was sitting last chair in the viola section and the piece was Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. I couldn’t even come close to playing all the notes and keeping up with the rest of the section, all of whom seemed like great players. I was in tears after the rehearsal and I remember coming home and telling my parents that I would never be good enough to play with a group like that. They encouraged me to keep trying, and I was eventually able to figure out how to blend with the section, even if I couldn’t play all the notes. I was in awe when we got to perform the piece in Carnegie Hall, my first time ever on that great stage. It was a live radio broadcast, and a screw came loose on my music stand, and the whole thing came crashing down during one of the quietest moments of the piece. I could not have been more horrified. Ten years later, I joined the NY Philharmonic, and I always get a little bit of a sick feeling when we play Firebird. I can play the notes now, but I clearly remember how insecure I felt back then. Firebird is still really hard, but it no longer makes me cry. And our music stands are a little better now. The most important thing I’ve ever learned is to never focus on how much better you think other players are. Love of music, constantly striving to improve your musicianship and performing at your personal best are all that matter. And of course having fun.
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