Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Reflections on MYCincinnati after almost five years: Serendipity and Intrinsic Motivation

Last week, MYCincinnati performed at the opening concert for ArtsWave’s annual community campaign. ArtsWave will raise over $12 million dollars during the next few months – funds that will help keep Cincinnati the vibrant, thriving arts city that I’ve grown to love. This year, Awadagin Pratt, a renowned pianist and faculty at CCM, is co-chairing the campaign, and was performing at the concert, along with UC President Santa Ono. These two gentlemen reminded me of some moments in the development of MYCincinnati.

The first moment was at the ArtsWave Campaign kick-off at UC back in 2013, where a few MYCincinnati students performed. It was the first time we met Santa Ono, who hosted the event at his (then) house. After the kids played, Ono asked to borrow the cello from Keyonte, one of the students who had just performed. For the rest of the event, he sat “jamming” with the kids. Keyonte looked on with amusement and just a hint of irritation, as the President of UC monopolized his cello for the next hour.  It turns out that Ono had barely touched the cello in the past (many) years - and the MYCincinnati kids had inspired him to pick it up again. Now, he plays frequently around the city, including a concert with the MYCincinnati Ambassadors last year, and at this 2016 ArtsWave Kickoff Concert that just happened – exactly three years after we first met him.

The second moment I want to mention is the first meeting I had in Cincinnati about starting MYCincinnati, back in March 2011. It was with Awadagin Pratt, at the Lackman in OTR (his choice). He was very encouraging, and this of course led to many more meetings, and eventually the founding of MYCincinnati. Now, five years later, it is exciting to have finally had the chance to collaborate with him at the ArtsWave Kickoff concert. The concert took place on February 1st, exactly one month after winter break ended. In the middle of winter break, I had a funny conversation with current MYCincinnati Director Eddy Kwon. Keep in mind that MYCincinnati was founded four and a half years ago, and that most students in the top MYCincinnati Orchestra (the Chamber Orchestra) have been playing between two and four years. The conversation went like this:

Eddy: “I just met with Awadagin, and the MYCincinnati Chamber Orchestra is going to be performing at the ArtsWave Kickoff Concert at CCM.”

Me: “Cool! What are you guys going to play?”

Eddy: “Well, we’re going to play the Scherzo from the Brahms F minor Piano Quintet.”

Me: “……..what?”

Eddy: “And the concert is on February 1st.”

If you are a classical music aficionado, you probably know that this piece would challenge any professional musician, and four weeks, with potential for snow days, was not a long time. I was not sure how they were going to pull it off. If you want to know what I mean, check out this YouTube video of the piece.  But Eddy had decided to go for it, and I’d seen him work miracles before, so I figured it would be fine. What impressed me most over the last few weeks at MYCincinnati was the need the students felt to play this piece well. Despite being way over their head they worked at it harder than I’ve ever seen them work on another piece. Here’s another conversation I overheard. This happened right after the first rehearsal with Awadagin, just two days before the concert:

MYCincinnati student, to Eddy: “Did Professor Pratt say anything about how bad the violas sounded at that one spot?”

Eddy: “Of course not. He said he had a great time playing with you. He knows this piece really well, and that spot will be fine.”

Student: “I know, but I can’t play that one part. Well, I can play it, just not up to tempo.”

Eddy: “Well, you have the weekend – spend some time practicing.”

I wish I could convey the tone in this student’s voice, and how desperately she wanted to succeed. If MYCincinnati is instilling that hunger for achievement in the students, it’s definitely doing something right.

Seeing the student’s hard work throughout the month, and the result (we’ll have the video soon), inspired me. Okay, so it might not have been a spotlessly perfect interpretation of the Brahms Quintet, but it was really good, and it did have energy, passion, and dedication. It was a reminder of how important it is to be challenged, to work hard, and that no matter what, everything we do is still a work in progress. What I can say, though, is that if I could have seen forward in time five years from my first meeting with Awadagin, right up to this concert, the knowledge of what we would achieve would have made the last five years way easier!

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