Back in London: NYOGB meets NYOUSA

Yesterday, several NYO members had the great pleasure of meeting our sister orchestra – the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America! We were invited to watch the rehearsal for their Prom, which took place that evening, and then to lunch.

Us Brits would say we had a very lovely day. Americans apparently prefer to use the word:


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Apart from the older age range of 16-19 and smaller size of 120 members, NYOUSA is pretty much built on the same musical principles as NYOGB. Teenagers, music, unforgettable concerts and amazing people.

Normally auditions are held in one location, but because of the size of the USA, musicians have to audition for NYOUSA by uploading a video of themselves performing their programme. The membership is based purely on those several minutes. Seating is decided during the first few days of the residency after further auditioning in front of tutors.

They also have different two seating plans! After the interval, players on back desk move right to the front, the violins swap between 1 and 2, and principals change completely -a totally different system to NYOGB.

The members came from 42 states, from Hawaii to Alaska to New Jersey. Crazy.

In the hall we sat behind the orchestra, so close to the percussion you could read their music. With two hours of rehearsal time (before Daniel Barenboim showed up to do Wagner: Das Rheingold) they sped through their programme: Magiya, Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, Shostakovich Symphony No. 10. Soloist: Joshua Bell.

Valery Gergiev on the rostrum! photo 58E8A5A0-3C75-4FEE-A158-70310472EAB1-308-00000046BC6F171B_zpsa130c749.jpg
Organised lunches for orchestras are usually modest meals. At the most you get a slightly squashed (or worse, soggy) sandwich, a beaten-up apple, a packet of crisps (often used to decorate boring sandwiches) and, if you’re lucky, a chocolate bar.

Yesterday’s lunch was a three course meal at a Mediterranean restaurant only a couple minutes walk from the Royal Albert Hall.


Lunchtime chat included topics such as Harry Potter, fashion, stereotypes and music, of course. I was particularly fascinated in the differences in the classical music terminology between our two cultures.

For example, British musicians work with crotchets, quavers, semi quavers and so on. However these words are like a foreign language to our American counterparts who deal with quarter-beats, eighth-beats etc.

Desk partners are ‘stand partners’ – the Americans have adopted more logical name on this occasion since we share music on music stands! I wonder where our ‘desk’ came from?

NYOUSA were rather fond of our British accents. If one of us were to say “Harry Potter” or “Dumbledore”, they’d respond in full delight – big smiles and…

“That’s so cool!”

I feel ashamed to say I have no photos from our lunch! That probably shows we were fully engrossed in our conversation: a good thing.

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That evening they played an incredible concert to a fully seated Albert Hall. They looked fantastic from where I sat, up in the Gods of the upper circle. (The temperature up there more or less resembled Hell. It was SO HOT.)

iPhone zoom is really great, isn’t it?
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My friend Elmo and I stood up at the end to applaud them. Woooooooo!

The night still wasn’t over after the Prom. There were two important things I still hadn’t done:

  1. Mingle again with our new NYOUSA friends
  2. Submit my own NYOGB application for next year

So I ended up at another friend’s flat, on the rooftop terrace under a full moon, completing my NYO application on her phone (technically a hand-held TV screen). Thank god for her guidance in my tired, ‘delicate’ condition.


In the last month I’ve travelled to London thrice, all for NYO activities, and stayed in completely different places each time. (I might as well move here now!)

Kings College London, East Finchley, Buckingham Palace (lol), Queen Mary University, Newbury, Finchley Road, High Barnet… About seven in total.

And I have been very fortunate to crash at the homes of my friends up, down, and beyond London. The hospitality and patience in every home has been second to none. Never, ever would I have imagined lying on a rooftop, getting a plateful of dumplings, a free ticket to a BBC Prom, sleeping in double beds and having delicious meals. Especially since their guest straggles in, sporting the ‘London look’ (not Kate Moss in Rimmel adverts): underground grime adhesive for hair on face. My tiny suitcase also causes major disturbance on quiet mornings as it shudders along the concrete. Thank you for putting up with this crazy girl.

No, I’m 18, so technically I am a ‘woman’… No, not yet. Perhaps a wogirl? (Cue: Britney Spears)

Off I go back to Edinburgh where I will suddenly deflate. Nowadays I try to be a proactive individual, you know, making the most of my life. When I’m travelling on my own and living independently, I feel quite mighty and determined. I am able to survive outside the nest. Yes.

But home? Going through the front door strips me of all my good qualities and renders me a pitiful, scabby creature that crawls on the floor aimlessly until something interesting comes along.

Like a wriggling larva. Blind baby bird. Crippled spider. You have no idea how tiring it is. Ugh.

This is evidence that shows I am ready to leave.

Up next:

  • Turnage, Vaughn-Williams and Beethoven 9 with NYO.
  • Teaching my last piano lessons.
  • I also have some thoughts on the BBC Proms, following a dramatic experience I had prior to the NYOUSA performance. But I shall save that for tomorrow perhaps.

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