Behind the Scenes on Concert Night

Concert night for musicians is all at once nerve-wracking and endlessly exciting. Symphony Orchestra co-principal flute player Jenny Wang wrote about her experience behind the scenes as she prepared for the fall concert at Orchestra Hall.

At the end of November, we had our Orchestra Hall concert, playing pieces by Tower, Shostakovich, Roustom, Boulanger, and Britten. I’ve been through a lot of CYSO concerts. This is my account of the steps I go through to prepare on the day of the concert.

Concert days are completely different from any others. From the minute you wake up, you sense the difference in the air. Though concerts can creep up faster than anybody expects, once the day has arrived, you never quite believe it. Everything feels unreal, after spending months rehearsing and practicing and knowing that there’s still time to improve and fix things. Now, there is no more time.

Knowing that the Big Day has finally arrived is definitely intimidating. Yet as a musician, it’s less fear that I feel and more excitement to finally share what we’ve accomplished.

Playing music, up until now, has been a very private affair; only we, in the orchestra, know all the work that’s gone into learning the music, auditioning, rehearsing, and practicing. Only we know the frustration, the satisfaction, and obsession of preparing for a concert. After particularly long rehearsals, the music stays in our heads, running back and forth and repeating itself until the only relief is that fellow orchestra members feel the exact same way; hum a few bars, and a friend will know exactly where you are and jump in.

The day of the concert is spent waiting. I wake up waiting to pick up my flute; I eat breakfast waiting to change into concert attire; I spend the car ride to Orchestra Hall waiting to step onto the stage and look up into the expectant audience.

Finally, we arrive at Orchestra Hall. And then there is… more waiting.

Playing at Orchestra Hall is always exciting. The hallway leading to the rotunda where we meet is lined by portraits of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians, and they watch as you clack past in heeled shoes, wrapped in black with instrument strapped to your back.  The rotunda has a bar shaped like a gigantic violin. There’s a room with a ping-pong table (that we don’t use), a room where CSO musicians get massages, dressing rooms for principal players– there’s a ton backstage to see and do and marvel at and aspire to be.

Jenny (front) and other members of Symphony Orchestra backstage at Symphony Center

The two-and-a-half hours we have left before the concert starts seem both endlessly long and ridiculously short. Backstage, it’s superficially quite calm; it seems like there’s enough time to chat with friends, do some schoolwork, and warm up leisurely.  But in an instant, it’s time to go onstage for the soundcheck.

Even during soundcheck, sitting onstage in our concert attire an hour before the concert, the performance doesn’t seem real. If you squint, soundcheck is like just another rehearsal, but we’re reminded that it’s not when we inevitably go over time and must stop playing.

Now, there really is no more time.

It’s usually at this moment that I realize the next time I play this music will likely be the last for a very long time, perhaps forever. But backstage, there isn’t time to dwell on that. I work with another member of the social media team to take section photographs, and running back and forth from the rotunda to the dressing rooms eats up any time that would be spent worrying.

It’s hard to be nervous, anyway, surrounded by so many other musicians who are feeling exactly the same way. On one side of the hallway are groups of people practicing the repertoire; people getting in some dinner; people laughing, studying, talking, on all accounts relaxed and enjoying the experience of sitting where some of the best musicians in the world have been. The other side of the hallway is covered in artsy pictures of those musicians. My friends and I are discussing how vibrato originates for different instruments. Kids just being kids, musicians just being musicians.

Finally, walking onstage once the empty audience chairs are filled is a unique feeling; there are so many eyes on you, with nowhere to hide. But there’s no reason to hide; instead, we raise our heads high and smile into the crowd, sit down, and get ready to perform.




Jennifer Yu Wang is co-principal flautist for CYSO’s Symphony Orchestra. She has been playing flute for eight years, and with CYSO for five. She studies with Susan Levitin, and her solo achievements include winning the Society of American Musicians and Chicago Flute Club competitions, as well as performing on WFMT Introductions. Jenny is active in chamber music and played in CYSO’s Zephyrus Winds woodwind quintet. Jenny is a senior at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools.

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