All-state Band musicians are all about that brass
June 25, 2020
Around three months ago, three Los Altos students were invited to play in the All-state Band: rising senior Jackson Van Vooren, rising senior Joanna Hsieh and rising junior Eve Zhang. The band is open to all middle and high schoolers in California and has an intensive application process. The Talon interviewed these attendees about their musical background and how the quarantine has impacted them.
Jackson Van Vooren
Amongst many of the other members in his third grade music class, Jackson had the challenging task of mastering the recorder. After making his startling first sound, Jackson curiously began to test out the instrument’s various other notes. Playing the recorder piqued Jackson’s interest in music and ultimately inspired him to switch over to the clarinet.
“At first, there was a lot of trial and error,” Jackson said. “I remember just trying to make a sound alone was a big challenge for me.”
Not only was Jackson faced with learning a new instrument, but he also had to cope with a difficult first teacher. Even before big performances, Jackson’s elementary school band director wouldn’t hesitate to take away the opportunity for musicians to perform.
“He would make everyone play their part individually in front of the entire band,” Jackson said. “If we messed up, he’d scold us and tell us we weren’t practicing enough, along with cutting people the day before the concert.”
While this was certainly very frustrating and intimidating for Jackson, he took this challenge head-on. After continuously playing his instrument in preparation for that test, his hard work eventually paid off.
“One day, I didn’t mess up and the band director said I sounded really good,” Jackson said. “After that, I practiced even more and I was never scolded by him for the rest of my time playing for the elementary school band.”
Since then, Jackson has become even more dedicated to learning and perfecting the clarinet pieces that he’s given. Although practicing can be extremely challenging sometimes, he always remembers his drive towards improving his own skills as a musician.
“I don’t practice because I have to, I do it because I want to,” Jackon said. “There are certain days when I’m just really frustrated and practicing isn’t worth it, but overall I’d say my dedication has grown as I try even harder to get better.”
When Eve joined her first orchestra in America, she was met by many unfamiliar faces and foreign voices. However, despite their differences, Eve and her peers had one thing in common: their shared love for music. This mutual bond helped Eve push past the initial discomfort and familiarize herself with her new community.
“Originally, the language barrier made it hard to communicate with my peers,” Eve said. “Joining the orchestra gave me a wider circle to reach out to and helped to create friendships.”
Before moving to the Bay Area, Eve began her musical career at the age of four by learning the piano. After joining the school band a few years later, she discovered her fascination with the french horn.
“Out of all the instruments available, I really enjoyed the way that it sounded, especially along with the woodwinds in an orchestra,” Eve said.
Eve used to consider music as simply an entertaining hobby that she could pursue. It was a low commitment opportunity that allowed her to develop a passion that didn’t occupy too much of her daily life.
“When I was little, playing an instrument was just something that I did purely for fun,” Eve said. “I enjoyed doing it, but it wasn’t a big part of my life yet.”
After moving, Eve discovered the California Youth Symphony in the second semester of seventh grade. She quickly met peers with a similar interest in music and this helped her feel a sense of belonging. The extra-curricular also gave her an opportunity to practice her instrument and skills.
“Youth orchestra really gave me some confidence in my playing and allowed me to meet many close friends,” Eve said. “Since many of them were much older than me, they taught me about music and life in general.”
Because orchestra has become such a big part of her life, Eve has chosen to be more diligent about practicing on a daily basis, which she attributes to her move to the Bay Area.
“I started playing in an orchestra outside of school and other chamber music groups,” Eve said. “Music has become a more important part of me, and I think this has helped me improve over the years.”
In elementary school, Joanna wasn’t sure as to whether or not music was something she would take seriously. She had experience playing piano in the past, but she didn’t seem to have a true passion for it. That was when her second grade band teacher introduced her to the flute.
“It took me a while to learn how to properly blow into a flute,” Joanna said. “But once I got it, I really began to enjoy playing my instrument.”
When she initially began learning flute, Joanna was very successful. She quickly found that her skills stood out from many of her fellow student musicians. However, as she got older, the competition also improved.
Along her journey towards mastering the flute, Joanna unfortunately experienced her fair share of poor mentorship. While many of her friends and family thought she was exceedingly talented, her old flute teacher made her feel as if she would never be good enough. That influence made Joanna question her drive towards learning a new instrument.
“My previous flute teacher would tell me that my younger friends played the flute much better than I did,” Joanna said. “I felt very unmotivated most of the time and began to dislike the flute after constantly being discouraged by her.”
Luckily, Joanna was able to restore her passion for the flute by switching teachers and gained enough confidence to begin playing competitively. Competitions gave her goals to aim for and challenges to look forward to.
What are your thoughts on quarantine as a musician?
Jackson: I’d say it’s mostly been a negative change because I can’t meet with anyone else. What’s so nice about playing with other people is that everybody comes together to make a piece sound good and complete. It’s not only fun when everyone’s parts come together, but the music itself just sounds more cohesive.
Joanna: It has given me more time to practice since my schedule is now more flexible. Before quarantine, I would be at school for six to seven hours and then have to go home and do homework for some time, which does not leave a lot of time for practicing. Now, I can spread out the time I practice, so I practice 2 hours in the morning and in the afternoon while doing schoolwork in between those times, and I even have extra time to do other things.
Eve: I would say it is neutral. I have had a lot more freedom and relaxing time during my practice sessions, however, I really really miss playing in orchestra and chamber ensembles with my friends. Orchestra and chamber ensembles really have much more space and power for musicality than a single person could do at home. I am really looking forward to when I will be able to play in ensembles again.