One of the best parts of living and working abroad this year is that I have had the opportunity to travel to different parts of Europe and visit friends from the U.S. As travel has been such an informative part of my education, visiting these friends has been a reminder of the importance that adventure and worldly perspective has in all of our lives. To know that my friends are never far away (even while I’m in Latvia) has been critical to feeling and staying connected after my undergraduate years.
These are some of the reasons that going to Vienna, Austria to see the Luther College Symphony Orchestra (LCSO) perform in the Musikverein was a distinct highlight of my Fulbright grant thus far. When I found out last spring that I would have the opportunity to move to Latvia, I immediately knew that I wanted to see LCSO’s performance in February. After all, the Vienna trip has always been a hallmark of our orchestral program.
While on my flight to Austria, I started thinking about what it would be like to see my friends from college. What it would be like to hear my beloved orchestra perform onstage. I wondered if I would miss being on stage with the ensemble. I was anticipating seeing the orchestra perform and being reminded of home. What I wasn’t prepared for was seeing the orchestra perform, and being reminded of why I am in Latvia doing the work I am doing.
Stepping into the Musikverein, also known as the “golden hall,” was a moment out of a fairytale scene. The beautiful gilded walls, ceiling, and tapestries were highlighted with soft lighting and grounded by blood-red velvet seats. Scrambling to find my chair on the ground-floor with other members of the “Luther crew,” I eagerly watched my orchestra colleagues file onto stage. As they prepared by warming-up their instruments and carefully tuning, I prepared for the waterworks.
But, as the orchestra began their musical journey in the first notes, something surprising happened. Listening to them, I didn’t feel the great sadness I was anticipating. I felt something different. Instead of being sorry that I was not playing with the orchestra anymore, I was filled with immense gratitude that I have had the opportunity in the past. Instead of feeling jealousy that such an amazing ensemble got to perform in a beautiful hall, I was intensely proud of my friends and the Luther students that were playing on stage. The process those students and the orchestra were embarking in was a process that I, too, fully recognized and realized as my own. For being a member of that orchestra has been so incredibly instrumental to my own ability to also be in Vienna this year. For me to be there sitting and watching and cheering them on.
Participating in orchestra during college was not easy by any means. Firstly, it took an incredible amount of time — anywhere from the minimum 4.5 hours to the maximum 7.5 hours it took last semester when I was part of our chamber orchestra ensemble. Of course, this was all separate from the lessons, studio time, and practicing that I did on my own while studying in the department. Secondly, it was an investment beyond time and resources. It was also a giving of myself to an institution, a dedication of my emotional integrity and morale. There were moments I failed myself and others in my commitment and the effort I put in. In these moments there was darkness. But, like times in the past, the music always pulled me out.
The lessons that LCSO taught me could not even be quantified. Furthermore, I am certain that they will come into clearer focus into the future. However, here are the few that I reflected upon while attending the concert in Austria.
I learned how to listen. I learned how to make music with others. I learned how to strive for perfection in the aim that I would find beauty. I learned life lessons from Dr. Baldwin. I learned the personal satisfaction of staying 10-minutes later to practice something just one more time. I learned what it looks like to have a severe commitment to something beyond yourself. I learned the importance of always showing up. I learned intentionality.
Orchestra was also the first community I found when I transferred colleges. It was where I met some of my bestest friends to date. I laughed with them on orchestra tour. I cried with them after taxing performances. I cheered them on while they excelled. In the meanwhile, I increased my skills and love for my instrument. I learned how to develop my own person. In many ways, I discovered the college-version of me and saw glimpses of who I wanted to be in the future.
These are just a few of the things that I thought of while sitting in the Musikverein that Saturday night. I was reminded of who I have become because of things like Luther College and orchestral playing. I was reminded of those (now seemingly long-ago) lessons and how they are still things I practice in my day-to-day here in Riga while teaching and learning. I was reminded that even when these lessons are difficult to practice, they are done because one day there will be a payoff. It might not be a concert in a beautiful hall, but there are others moments where we get to showcase what hours of dedication can produce.
I should note that the Luther College Symphony Orchestra had a truly beautiful concert that night. I was able to reunite with those that I have shared so many musical memories with. I was caught up on campus life and how others were doing. But the most amazing thing was that the orchestra simply soared on the wings they had developed through hard work and others believing in them. And, because I’m here with the help of others always having believed in me, I got to see what it was like to instead be the one believing in others.