According to Plato, music "gives a soul to the Universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, gaiety and life to everything.” I read this quote on a poster stapled to the door of the Chaparral Middle School band room, clutching my viola in one hand and my music in the other under the dry, squinting heat of the California summer. Surfacing and resurfacing in my mind on tides of nerves and self-doubt were memories of the past year: sitting alone at a lunch table, receiving the looks from my classmates as the only brown kid in the school that didn’t speak Spanish.
The band room was the one place where standing out was a good thing. Practicing and improving, day by day, I eventually became principal viola of the school orchestra. The band room was where, under the baton of Mr. Brown, Jesús and Kurt and Jack became some of my best friends. The band room was where I became known as a violist rather than as the youngest kid in the grade. The band room was also where I announced that I would be moving to the other side of the country, just as I had begun to find my niche.
Coming to New Jersey, my strategy was to get involved in as much music as possible like I did in middle school. However, the new school didn’t have an orchestral program, and furthermore, the level of competitiveness outside of school proved to be much higher. In contrast to the supportive, collaborative atmosphere in which I developed as a musician, the highly stratified audition processes and cold, unfriendly rehearsals of New Jersey were a cultural shock. Unspoken rivalries existed between the top players in each section, each violinist preparing short ten-measure audition excerpts for hours on end.
However, for me, music was not a means of competition but rather, competition was a way to showcase my passion for music. Embracing this passion guided me towards success, and allowed me to find the same musical community that I had been part of in California. Now, the discipline and patience required for music and its intertwining collaborative and soloistic aspects guide me in my academic pursuits, defining me not only as a violist, but as a scholar. Practicing repertoire isn’t a chore but a respite from the world, especially during the past years.