Here is my unedited story:
My earliest memory regarding Classical music was from when I was 4 years old. They had a TV ad for a set of cassettes called “120 Classical Masterpieces”. Every time the ad came on I remember screaming excitedly in my living room and dancing around to the music. I told my parents that I wanted to play piano but they replied that there was no money for piano lessons and even less room in our tiny NYC apartment for a piano. They did get me the cassettes as a consolation prize. I continued to not have access to musical instruction through high school. In my second semester of sophomore year at college I registered for the required music history course and that’s when I finally realized I could not go on living without music. I was finally learning the language for all those things I had been listening to all along. It turned out that I had favorite chord progressions and keys that I found more pleasing than others. Learning about all the different composers, their works, and the names of the musical concepts felt like I was being initiated into a secret society. It was as though I had been living in black and white and suddenly the colors had come in. I couldn’t get enough of it and switched my major to Music. As much as I enjoyed learning about theory and history, I still felt as though I had no access to performance. The preprofessionals in the program were intimidating, with all their talk of 8 hour practice sessions and their having started on their instruments in the womb. So it wasn’t until after I graduated that I finally decided to pick up an instrument. But I didn’t pick an orchestral instrument, still feeling not quite worthy of them and feeling that I was “too old” to start at 22. Instead I went on to study the saxophone and played in merengue bands for several years.
Then one day in 2004 my husband and I happened to walk into the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and the Brooklyn Philharmonic happened to be rehearsing there for an evening concert. We were free to stand wherever we wanted so rather than sit in front of the orchestra as an audience member I decided to go around and behind them so that I could watch the conductor and feel what it’s like to be in the orchestra. It was a surreal feeling. As the music soared and filled that sacred space I felt that it filled all of me as well. I realized at that moment that I couldn’t die without ever having the opportunity to make that kind of music myself. I figured that even if it took me 20 years to get decent at an instrument, that I’d still be only 50 and would have plenty of time to enjoy playing it with others. Due to the dearth of saxophone parts in the Classical repertoire, I was prepared to switch to another woodwind instrument. My merengue friends all suggested the clarinet, since the fingerings and embouchure were most similar to the saxophone. I went as far as purchasing a student instrument and even taking a few lessons, but I was terrible at keeping my fingers on the right place and produced only squeaks. One day I turned on the radio just as a new piece was starting up. Within seconds I heard the most beautiful sound I had ever heard in my life! I was transfixed by it for the entire duration of the piece. It turned out to be “Swan of Tuonela” by Sibelius. I immediately ran online to find out more about it and that’s when I discovered the English Horn. To be honest, I had never heard of it before and was barely familiar even with the oboe. Yet on that day I resolved that it would be oboe that I would study (so that I could later double on the English Horn). And so my lifelong quest to master the oboe began. It’s been a wonderful journey so far. I have learned so much about myself and have grown so much. I’ve learned about discipline, patience, perseverance. I’ve learned about beauty and awe.
I think it’s very ironic that I ended up playing an instrument that is often exposed over the orchestra, given my history of feeling shut out from the Classical world. And then even after I started studying music my ear lent itself much more easily to harmony than melody. So it’s doubly strange that I picked an instrument known for its lovely lyrical melodic lines. But now I’ve come to realize it’s actually the perfect choice. Through my instrument, I finally have the opportunity to express all the things I had been feeling from a very young age. I look forward to continuing to grow as a player and as a member of this wonderful orchestra. For me it’s truly a dream come true to finally be making the music I have always loved and an added bonus to be doing so with an amazing and welcoming group of people. I feel so blessed.