CYSO Tour: Unity Through Music

As we plan the experiences students will participate in on tour, allowing them the chance to engage with peers from the country we’re visiting is always high on the list. Violist Xinru Li writes about two experiences from our 2017 Tour of Central Europe where CYSO students had the opportunity to meet other young musicians from Prague and a fellow touring youth orchestra from California and the musical connections she was able to make.

Xinru (far right) poses with fellow students David Johns, Kevin Meaux, Olive Loentz, Jennifer Wang and Allie Mangel in front of Prague’s St. Vitus Cathedral

As of last Thursday night, CYSO’s Tour of Central Europe was officially over. When the plane landed, many students were conflicted between recounting adventures to our families and hoping our trip lasted at least twice as long. From where I sat, I could hear shouts of “We’re flying back to Belgrade, guys!” and “We’re doing the tour over again!” It was obvious that even though we’ll no longer be physically in Central Europe, this tour will remain in our hearts for a long time.
From picturesque villages to glass water bottles, Central Europe is filled with cultural and scenic wonders. During this tour, we were exposed to beautiful concert halls (the Béla Bartók Hall was my favorite), fun European musical traditions such as encores and synchronized clapping, and had the opportunity to meet with our peers at while attending a concert by California’s El Camino Youth Symphony who happened to be in Europe at the same time we were, and our joint concert with the Music High Schools of Prague.
CYSO students participate in a standing ovation for ECYS at Prague’s Smetana Hall

We attended El Camino’s concert on our first night in Czechia. Having already been acquainted with the synchronized clapping tradition, we eagerly participated in this fun way to ask for an encore at the end of the ECYS concert, and the orchestra didn’t disappoint. ECYS ended their concert in Smetana Hall with Bernstein’s “Mambo” filled with choreography and shouting. After getting over our initial shock, CYSO students excitedly joined in the rhythmic shouting, too.
After the performance, we were able to further connect with these musicians at a reception held in the Smetana Hall Foyer. I talked with four violinists from the ECYS who described spending countless sectionals getting the choreography just right for their finale. Unlike CYSO, where joining the Central Europe tour was optional, every member of the ECYS is required to participate in tour. The good side to this was that ECYS musicians continued to play in the same ensemble during the tour as during their school year season, while CYSO students adjusted to new stand partners or the occasional new part while preparing for tour (I had to constantly remind myself not to join the top viola entrance in Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony after I switched to the bottom part!) Just like CYSO, some ECYS students will continue their music studies in college. And even though we live on opposite ends of America, some of our recent graduates realized they’ll be going to college with ECYS students this fall!
CYSO violinist Carling Hank (right) met El Camino Youth Symphony’s Bella Fong at a music camp last summer. The two were excited to realize they would get to meet up in Prague a year later!

On our second day in Czechia, we visited the Music High Schools of Prague, with whom we later played a joint concert in the Dvořák Hall of the Rudolfinum. We were warmly welcomed with pastries on our visit and watched an amazing recital featuring a variety of soloists and ensembles. A violinist played the Bach Sonata that I’m currently learning, and hearing the familiar music played by someone who lives in a seemingly different world from me, I was struck by the notion that we’re all bonded through music.
Indeed, even when we speak two completely different languages, it feels as if music transcends verbal communication. CYSO sat in the balconies behind the stage during the Czech students’ half of the concert and at that moment it felt like our verbal and geographical differences seem minuscule compared to our unity in music. As we stood for our fifth curtain call at the end of CYSO’s portion of the concert, we were surrounded by the audience in front of us and the Czech musicians behind saluting not just the hard work and practice, but also the unity that only music can bring.
Standing ovation at Dvořák Hall



Xinru Li is a violist for CYSO's Symphony Orchestra. She has been playing viola for three years, and with CYSO for two. She studies with Nan Zhou, and is active in promoting music education. In her spare time, she enjoys drawing and reading. This fall, Xinru will be a senior at Hinsdale Central High School.

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