Orchestra has ‘intangible’ experaince while at state festival

Sophia Comas, Sports Editor

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Within Manhattan High’s West Campus lies a classroom over in D Hall, a classroom with a wide doorway and thick walls. Inside this classroom is an array of black chairs sitting in the shape of a “U” that surrounds a raised platform for a director to stand. Behind that platform is a neat row of three large trophies and two plaques sitting on a whiteboard that says “Not playing today. Reviewing judges scores.”

Rather than getting out their instruments to play like they usually do, the MHS Chamber Orchestra sits in their seats empty handed, providing sound not through music but through their discussion about the State Orchestra Music Festival where they performed an entire suite by memory.

“This group is definitely set apart and we’re doing some special things,” Nate McClendon, director, said. “I would even go as far to say nationwide we’re achieving things that high schools don’t achieve and do.”

McClendon is referring to the unconventional nature of the group’s performance, which according to him was necessary in not only advancing them as musicians but also needed for them to reach beyond printed sheets of paper and adult leadership. That process began with not only eliminating the use for sheet music but also in trusting the students to be self-directed.

“I definitely felt more into the music instead of staring at a sheet of paper,” Tarryn Lancaster, senior, said. “We can actually look around and you can feel more.”

Not having music or a conductor added an element of fear for the group when they realized they would essentially have no backup plan if they messed up. When asked how many of the students were scared, six hands went into the air. However, even more of the students raised their hands when asked if they were excited.

“My heart was pounding really hard before we played and then we started playing and the focus was shifted from being able to feel afraid to being able to feel the joy,” Peter Yan, freshman, said. “When that focus shifts, the music improves and the nervousness just goes away because we don’t care about what other people think about us anymore.”

With that revelation the group was able to see just how much they cared for each other. Before their performance, they didn’t care about anything else but lifting each other up and wanting to succeed not for themselves but for everyone else who was relying on them.

“It was interesting because I feel like right on that stage we threw everything away like our pride or our individual thoughts or how we thought we were going to do,” Andrew Suh, senior, said to McClendon. “We played not for you … or the judges. It was for each other, to show each other that this is us, this is what we can do and that’s how it’s supposed to be.”

By putting that trust into their fellow musicians, the group experienced what very few high school orchestras can say they’ve had the privilege of experiencing: a perfect score from every single judge. One judge in particular had never given a perfect score until their performance.

Even better than the scores was the connection they made to every single person in the room when they played, something that they had trouble putting into words.

“What it is that you experienced that felt so good was called human connection,” McClendon told the class. “The common thing that we share that we’re all putting into what we’re feeling is what it’s like to actually be connected to other people. Another word for that is love.”

To them, that love was better than anything they could’ve ever experienced. The scores didn’t matter. The comments from other schools didn’t matter. The thoughts that they couldn’t succeed didn’t matter. Nothing else mattered because of the love.

“What happens as this way of thinking seeps down into the middle schools and into the elementary schools?” McClendon said. “What could happen? I don’t know. I’ve never seen that, but I’m excited to see what could be.”

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