By Annie Zhang
The New York City Ballet, Metropolitan Opera, New York Philharmonic Orchestra, and a select few high school students all have one thing in common: the opportunity to perform at Lincoln Center’s renowned concert halls. Every year, thousands of high school students create chamber music ensembles in order to participate in the Young Musicians Program, a competition hosted by Lincoln Center’s Chamber Music Society.
Although there are no written prerequisites for the competition, according to Mr. Michael Schwartz, the music department chair at South, “The students who are very serious about Lincoln Center are the higher level musicians in the program.” However, students can’t rely on their talent alone: They must also be passionate. Mr. Schwartz said, “They [make music] a priority and invest in the amount of time it will take to learn their individual parts as well as to practice together as an ensemble.”
For many student musicians, making music a priority also involves participating in outside music programs. Therefore, it is not uncommon for serious high school musicians to spend their weekends attending private lessons, orchestra rehearsals, or music academies. Sophomore Michelle Xing, a student of Juilliard’s pre-college music program, said, “It’s a big time commitment. Most people have Saturdays off, but I wake up at 7 am to go to the city until 7 pm, [where I] take ear training class, music theory class, and private lessons.” Many student musicians devote their Saturdays to enhancing their understanding of music through private music lessons and extracurricular music programs, which can accumulate to a total cost that rivals college tuition.
Most advanced high school musicians practice for several hours not only during their weekends but also during their school week. Xing said, “I try to practice one and a half hours a day, but even that is considered on the skimpy side since there are devoted people who practice for four hours.” After seven hours of school, student musicians must find additional time to dedicate to music. Consequently, student musicians are often faced with the difficult task of balancing their academic lives and music lives. Senior Angela Chi, a clarinetist for the musical’s pit orchestra, explained, “During pit practice for Into the Woods, I had to let my grades slip because I didn’t have time to study, but you are only as good as how much you practice.” Many serious high school musicians sacrifice their time and grades in order elevate their music ability.
The tremendous amount of time and commitment necessary to develop music careers as well as the inherent competitiveness of the music field explains why some students stop seriously pursuing music. However, why do so many still continue to participate in music programs outside of school?
While some are motivated by their parents or college prospects, most successful musicians have a genuine passion for music. Students who truly enjoy playing music often seek outside programs for exposure to more challenging music and the unparalleled experience of playing in a full-size orchestra. Xing said, “We all make sacrifices to follow our interests. It’s worth it, getting to play music [at Juilliard], especially with people who have the same interest. The atmosphere is amazing, and I get chills at my concerts there.” Although being a musician can be a difficult thing to do, it can also be one of the most fulfilling things to do.
For all the serious student musicians, perhaps those stressful late-night practice sessions, missed birthday parties, and nervous butterflies before a performance are worthwhile. After all, the ultimate goal is not to play at a renowned concert hall to appease your parents. The ultimate goal is not to obtain a college scholarship. The ultimate goal is not to impress others with your musical talent. The ultimate goal is to let passion drive you to create something you are proud of.