Last year was the first ever Youth Orchestra of the Middle East (YOME). For me, anyway, it had a completely different feel this year than last year. Maybe it was because I was first oboe. Maybe it was because we played such a wide range of music. Maybe it was because of the people I was with. Maybe it was because of the way God led our conversations. Maybe it was because I was different this year.
I know I complained too much last year, so it was one of my resolutions not to complain about it this year – whether it was complaining about the music, teaching styles, people, food, whatever. I reminded myself each day to be joyful. And by God’s grace, I think I was much more joyful this year.
YOME began after Church on April 2. Mr. Curtis, the oboe tutor, had me playing first oboe that day, and that’s how it stayed (which made me both happy and terrified!). We had a quick introduction to the teachers and course, then started off sight-reading. I was quite happy with the way my sight-reading went – my timing and counting has gotten so much better since last year. I was still really shy about coming in, but throughout the week that changed as I became more comfortable with the music, and trusted my counting and the conductor, Mr. Currie, more.
April 3rd we started off with sectionals. We worked through all of the pieces before our second sectional was over, and so part of the second sectional was spent in individual practice (a relief from last year, when we had no time on our own!). After lunch we had two full orchestra rehearsals, with a break in between. I don’t remember much else from that day – no exciting conversations or notable events, just practice.
April 4th was Easter. We got up to go to the sunrise service on the beach. Mr. Welkner spoke about seeking the living among the dead, and we sang a lot, then played on the beach for a while. After a quick stop at the Neals daddy drove me over to Dubai College. I took a box of Resurrection rolls with me, and after the oboe sectional I gave one to the oboe tutor and other oboist, explaining their meaning. That led to a discussion on world religions, which only confirmed the fact that the devil has no stories.
Overall it was a very interesting day. I became frustrated and did poorly in full orchestra. After lunch Lucy and I played on the pianos in a practice room. Then we had some individual practice time. But the next break is where it became very interesting. We discussed lent, being a good Christian, and other holidays, like Christmas and Halloween.
We had full orchestra after that and I failed miserably… it ruined what little false pride I had…
April 5th I realized that there were at least 2 other Christians on campus, which was refreshing in the midst of all of the swearing and other worldly things. I don’t think I ever remember a time during which I’ve felt more different from the people around me than this week.
We had a pizza dinner after a long day of sectionals and orchestra. I played foosball and helped with a game of Chess, but other than that nothing exciting happened… until I was waiting for mom to come pick me up. A group of us were standing outside waiting for our rides. The only person of note was Ewan, a bassoonist. One guy came up to us and asked “the great question of our generation – which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Of course, I said the chicken, but everyone else said the egg, so it led to a discussion on evolution, which died away quite quickly.
April 6th. Rehearsals went well. we had a full woodwind rehearsal which was a blast. I think it was this day but it may have been another day, but the percussion teacher led it and gave us a long speech about feeling the rhythm. It sounded kind of strange most of the time, but he explained that he was “as serious as a heart attack.”
We had an early lunch and then got ready to head out to Abu Dhabi to watch a London Symphony Orchestra rehearsal. Before we left I finally got to talk with Mr. Szymanek, a composer who was there. One of the pieces we were playing was a commission, and he wrote it – and we played the world premiere. He’s so very kind, and his tips on composition were most helpful.
After a long bus ride, we finally arrived in Abu Dhabi and journeyed into Emirates Palace – through the lobby and part the guests see, not the rag-tag backstage we were in last year. LSO was practicing, among other things, the symphonic dances from West Side Story. It was encouraging for me to see that even the professionals can’t always play it perfectly…
Back on the bus I was going to sit with my friend Charmaine but Ewan came up to me and said “So you don’t believe in evolution, but do you believe in magic?” He was referring to card tricks, because he, Mark, and Braxton were all doing card tricks. I said no, but plopped down right in front of him. Charmaine sat across from me. Behind her was Keenan (important later). I talked a bit more about evolution with Ewan, and told him I had a few articles I wanted to send him. We lapsed into teasing, card tricks, and humming for a time, but then Ewan asked to see my Bible. I handed it to him and he flipped through it for a few minutes before holding it up and saying “so, tell me the story.”
Charmaine and I quickly went through from Creation, the fall, the promise, and the fulfillment. When we finished, Keenan started bringing up different arguments against Christianity. Ewan had questions of his own as well, so for the next hour and a half we did our best to answer them according to scripture. Braxton joined in defending scripture.
As we pulled into the parking lot in Dubai College, Braxton, Charmaine, and I put our heads together and in more quiet tones reminded each other that it’s not us but the Spirit who convicts – we’re just the messengers.
Wednesday the seventh we didn’t go in until noon, but then we had three relaxed rehearsals followed by some time to hang out. Charmaine and I played foosball and sang Les Miserables. Then we had to be backstage and ready to go. The first concert went pretty well. We screwed up Party Piece pretty badly, but other than that there weren’t any major issues.
The 8th we spent the morning at the Cousino’s house, swimming and eating lunch. We got to Dubai College about 12:45 and then loaded up on the bus. Braxton, Mark, Charmaine, Keenan and I sat near each other again, and the three of us Christians were praying for more opportunities to share Christ with them, but we spent the ride doing card tricks, and talking about vaccines, Boy Scouts, and strange instruments.
At Emirates Palace we had a final practice, changed, ate dinner, had a photoshoot, then headed back upstairs for about an hour. Ewan, William, and another boy were in the elevator, providing “elevator entertainment” for everyone who entered – William would push the buttons, the other boy would play the violin, and Ewan would do a card trick.
Then we tuned up and went downstairs to wait in the wings. The first half went very smoothly, except people clapped at all the wrong times… near the end of intermission we were waiting in the hallway talking about glass instruments. The second half went pretty well, then we rushed upstairs to pack up and say farewells. I wasn’t taking the bus home, so I went down to the auditorium and found my family and we went home – getting home at about 12 instead of the 1:30 the bus arrived at the college.
I’m quite glad to have time back now, but I will miss playing a lot, fellowshipping, and sharing the gospel. I know it sounds really silly but I think the biggest thing that I learned musically was just realizing how much better it sound when you actually play articulations as written. It doesn’t make a big difference when it’s just one of you, but when a whole orchestra changes articulation, it sounds so different. I also have come to think of rhythm in a completely different way, thanks to Mr. Malanga.
Overall it was a good time musically and relationally – and I’m so thankful for all of the chances I had to share the gospel.
For anyone who’s interested, these are the pieces we played:
The Emirati National Anthem (which is a really splendid anthem, though not very Arabian… our arrangement was very different from this, though).
Hungarian March – Berlioz
L’Arlisienne Suite No.2 – Bizet (this was my second favorite, especially the Menuet) (Two sections, here and here)
Fatma’s Journey – Szymanek (this was my favorite)
Party Piece – Bennet
Our Town – Copland (this was my third favorite. We played a much longer version of it but I can’t seem to find it anywhere).
Little Suite No. 2 – Arnold
— much clapping and bowing and sitting and standing then sitting again then standing again…. —
Encore – Broadway Tonight! – arr. Chase (we had so much fun playing this one… )