Now that we’re a month into school, I feel a renewed sense of energy and motivation to make this year—my last year—the most productive one yet.
I’ve been looking back on previous years and comparing myself to where I am now, and I can’t help but feel proud of how far I’ve come. It’s common for college-aged musicians to attend festivals or other musical intensives over the summer, so I felt unsure at first about my decision not to do so this summer. Would this summer be a waste if I wasn’t at a festival? I hadn’t had a summer “off” since early high school, and I didn’t know what this would mean for my senior year. But I also knew that I wanted to spend this summer working and traveling, so I pushed on through. I spent a few weeks in June and July traveling solo across Europe, and I found so much inspiration and insight from being in a totally different place.
My summer break plans would have me away from home for nearly two months, and I would be flying a good bit, so to save on baggage fees, I double-challenged myself by only allowing myself a single duffle bag to contain all my worldly possessions! At the beginning of the break, I joined some other Juilliard friends to participate in a chamber orchestra for a cello festival in Beijing, China. We spent just a week performing cello concertos and exploring Beijing on our off days. Since I had been fortunate enough to have visited Beijing previously, at a summer festival in high school, this was my first time revisiting a foreign country. I found myself comparing my high school and present self almost every day and was surprised at how much I had grown without even realizing it. At 16, I had felt totally lost in a country where I didn’t understand a single street sign. Now, I was navigating the subways--without a phone or map!--and exploring the city with no itinerary or tour group. I never think about it much while I’m in New York, but college has made me much more independent and curious about the world.
After the cello festival, I returned to Michigan to be a camp counselor for a few weeks and then I set off to Europe for my first-ever solo-traveling adventure, city-hopping across Spain, France, Germany, and Austria. With no cell service, no friends, and only the most basic of French phrases to guide me, I somehow spent several weeks by myself in Europe! Relying only on pre-downloaded Google Maps of each city and screenshots I had taken before my trip of self-guided walking tour suggestions, I set off each day with no expectations in mind, just seeing what each city had to offer. Especially with my newfound minimalist lifestyle, everything was a new experience for me. I stayed in hostels, made friends across language barriers, got on trains going in the wrong direction, became a typical tourist and obnoxiously took photos, ordered unfamiliar food, and allowed myself to not follow a set schedule.
Being completely out of my comfort zone and experiencing so many different cultures helped me to see the world from a new perspective as well as reflect on who I am as an individual and an artist. It was an absolutely incredible experience, and even though I wasn’t at a festival, I still found myself surrounded by music in the most unexpected ways. One of my favorite things to do in such historically rich countries was to visit any and every church I came across as many are now tourist attractions or open to the public. I loved marveling at the architecture and the artwork and spending some moments of solitude and reflection in such spiritual spaces. Even in total silence, I could still hear the hum of prayers in the air, even the distant echoes of past composers who had performed in some of these churches. At one church, I listened to the sound of a distant chorus reverberate across the walls. Near another, I walked through a courtyard while the bell towers across the city cacophonously tolled the hour. There was sound and music wherever I went, even though I was far from being in a music festival.
Traveling across Europe was extremely humbling and eye-opening. I’m so lucky and privileged to be studying classical music at a conservatory, and getting to be in the birthplace of Western classical music gave new meaning to the history classes, and pieces I have studied before. After returning home for the rest of the summer, though, I found myself with a new motivation for music—all types of music, not just classical. I got to spend this summer seeing the influence of music in many different cultures, and, as cheesy as it sounds, it truly showed me how universal the language of music is. Even without us noticing it, it surrounds us everywhere, whether it’s the white noise of New York City even at its quietest to the unexpected harmony of train whistles in Paris to the sounds of a busker wafting down the streets of Madrid. Now that I’m back in New York, one of my goals for my last year is to become as fluent in music across all genres as possible. I want to leave Juilliard able to share my music with all types of people from everywhere in the world. There’s so much possibility for communication and human connection through the music we get to perform, and I’m looking forward to the possibilities this year will offer.
College applications for fall 2020 are now open.