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Making Friends by Borrowing Pencils: Guest post by Liam Sullivan

"'Never forget your pencil,' I was warned, 'or you will die in rehearsal.'"

I’ve been a member of ESYO for almost two years now.  I never would’ve thought that it would make such a difference in my life.  It’s given me opportunities to dive deeper into being a musician and encouraged me to take my instrument more seriously.  What I’m most grateful for, though, is the friends and invaluable memories that I’ve made through it.

I often think back to my thoughts on the organization upon first joining, and I laugh at how ridiculous they were.  Prior to joining, I hadn't been involved in much music outside of my school’s orchestra.  I had heard of ESYO and knew what it was, but I didn’t really.  Sure, I knew that it was some sort of youth orchestra, but the rest were assumptions.

The drama I heard didn’t help.  My inside scoop came from two seniors I often saw in school.  They told overdramatized tales that fed even further into my misguided view of ESYO.  

“One time, a kid kept messing up”, one of them described, “and the conductor grabbed his bow and snapped it right in half!”

I know, it seemed far fetched, and I knew that it was at the time.  Even if they were unrealistic though, horror stories like this still fed into my unease about joining.  

On a separate occasion, I was informed about the kid who was supposedly scolded in front of the entire orchestra for forgetting his pencil.  “Never forget your pencil”, I was warned, “or you will die in rehearsal”.  

I’m not sure why they shared such exaggerated stories.  Maybe they were passing on silly rumors, or maybe they just embellished their experiences a bit too much, like we all do from time to time.  Either way, I wasn’t sure what to make of the things I was hearing.  On the one hand, what I was being told was clearly exaggerated, but on the other hand, why would somebody say these things if they weren’t grounded in at least some sense of truth?

Well, regardless of the stories, I ended up auditioning for an ESYO ensemble anyways.  I needed to involve myself in something beyond simply a high school orchestra.  I didn’t expect much of it, so when I found out that I made it into the top orchestra, I was very excited, but even more nervous.  I mean, I had zero experience in a serious youth orchestra, so I had no idea what to expect.

Towards the end of the summer, I took advantage of a casual sight reading session that ESYO had held.  I signed up in hopes that I would get some sense of what rehearsals were actually like and get to know some people before the season started.  

While on my way to the session, I realized that I had forgotten my endpin strap.  I figured I’d get scolded if I had to ask the staff for one, so in a panic, I stopped at the nearest music shop and ended up buying another one right there.  I had just blown fifteen bucks, but atleast I would be prepared and make a good first impression.  I laugh thinking back on how anxious I was over a simple sight reading session, how I was in dismay over such a small matter.

I arrived feeling uneasy, as if I were walking through the doors to audition for a panel of judges.  I mainly worried that people would judge my playing ability or act cold and pretentious.  As I walked in, I went through my mental checklist of materials.  I had my instrument, music stand, rosin, tuner, and yes, my endpin strap.  I had even brought more pencils than I would possibly need, keeping the seniors’ story in the back of my mind.  

The atmosphere was not at all what I had anticipated, though.  I expected to walk into a room full of expressionless musicians glued to their chairs.  I found that it was, in fact, quite the opposite.  The room had a warm atmosphere as kids were chatting with each other, whether they were catching up from the previous season or making new friends.

Shortly after unpacking my cello and getting situated, a violinist popped up next to me.  “Hey, do you happen to have an extra pencil I can borrow?” she asked.  

“Yeah, of course,” I said as I fished one of several from my bag.  “You can keep it.  I bought like five.”

“Oh, don’t worry, that’s okay.  I’ll give it back after, thanks!” 

She took the pencil and headed back to her seat as I found one in the back of the section (I was safer in the back).  For the first few minutes of the session, I played very timidly so nobody could hear my mistakes.  But, after a while, I became no longer concerned with that, and began to relax and enjoy myself.  Yes, I was making mistakes, and lots of them, but the conductor didn’t snap my bow because of it.  Everyone around me messed up at some point too, but nobody scolded them for it either.    

At the end of the session, as I packed up my cello, I was tapped on the shoulder.

“Here’s your pencil.  Thanks again.”

“Yeah, no problem.”

“Oh wait”, her voice rose with excitement “What ensemble are you in?”

“Symphony, what about you?” I asked.

“Me too!”

We agreed that this was fantastic news, and ended up walking out together.  We chatted a bit about music, school, and my favorite, how much we hated people who steal pencils.  It was relieving to have clicked with somebody so friendly that I shared so much in common with.

We eventually got to the parking lot and headed our separate ways.

“See you at rehearsal,” she said as we waved each other goodbye.

“See you!”

An hour ago I had walked into a simple sight reading session full of anxiety that I would be judged or wouldn't fit in, yet I walked out laughing and smiling with someone who would become one of my closest friends to this day.  

22 23 Young Leaders

Liam Sullivan (center) is an ESYO Young Leader and a cellist in the ESYO Symphony Orchestra.