16 May, 2023
The lights dim and the curtains open to reveal an orchestra containing students from all across the country who are hundreds, maybe even thousands of miles away from their home. They sit proudly on Carnegie Hall’s stage in New York City. Despite the rigorous national selection process, not one but two Atholton students surpassed hundreds of other competitors across the country and were accepted into the NYO2 2023 summer program.
Cellist James Obasiolu and bassoonist Samuel Lee will be traveling to New York City for a residence at Purchase College at SUNY and participating in performances at various locations, such as Carnegie Hall and even the Dominican Republic, throughout July.
“It is a prestigious orchestra program for teens. They tour, they work with some of the best musicians and conductors in the country. It’s a very rigorous audition process,” said band teacher Mr. Posner.
NYO2’s goal is to shed light on young musicians from ages fourteen to seventeen from communities underrepresented in classical music. Students who participate get to work closely with professionals from American orchestras and music conservatories during the residency.
Due to the orchestra only containing about 80 students, it’s very rare to see two students from the same school get accepted into the program. However, some states, like Idaho and Colorado, did not have any students selected. It is also a lengthy process for getting into the program, despite it being free. According to Carnegie Hall’s website, a student must have a nomination from an adult involved with music. The student then must submit a video of their audition, and after that a personal essay. On top of that, the student must then submit letters from two or three people for recommendations. After that, it is up to the program to decide whether they are a good selection. According to Doug Beck, Director of Artist Training Programs at Carnegie Hall, about 650 students from across the country applied this year, yet about 80 students were selected.
“It’s quite an impressive accomplishment, no matter what the statistics show because we tend to attract from all corners of the country some of the most dedicated and high achieving students, so you’re also up against a national pool,” remarked Beck.
Atholton’s selected students, sophomore James Obasiolu and freshman Samuel Lee, have been friends through school and the Baltimore Symphony Youth Orchestra (BSYO), which both are members of. Obasiolu started playing cello at the end of 5th grade, which is later than most students in Howard County, making this quite a remarkable achievement and a testament to his rapid learning.
Obasiolu explained how getting into BSYO helped boost his confidence. He decided to audition because he wanted to expose himself to new experiences by auditioning. He explained how his drive for auditioning was mainly through Atholton’s music department.
“Howard County has the best music education for any public school county in the state. The attention of the music educators, like Mr. Posner and Mr. Woomert– they really invest in the students and make sure they’re having a great music education. I think I look to them, as well as my other mentors,” he explained.
Out of all of this, Obasiolu’s main reason for applying was NYO2’s mission statement. “They sell it to you: you’re an international ambassador. You’re on a mission to other countries to help spread culture and artistry, and also connect with people. At the barebones of it, at the very core, music is an expression of emotion. Of desire and feeling. It’s to communicate. I really thought about that when I applied for this.”
Samuel Lee, a freshman who plays bassoon for the BSYO and in the all state orchestra, also got accepted. He first heard of it through the conductor of the BSYO, Mary Poling, who pushed for him to apply. According to him, she also has played a big part in helping him prepare. He explained how it was not a hard process, since he already had pieces prepared from other auditions.
Samuel Lee, the other acceptee, is a freshman who plays bassoon for the Baltimore Symphony Youth Orchestra (BSYO) and in the All State Orchestra. He hopes to improve as a musician and to have a fun time. “I think it will be a cool experience to be with so many great musicians.”
He started playing bassoon at the end of fourth grade, so he has only been playing for four years. He started when he heard the “Grandfather” theme from the musical composition, Peter and the Wolf, which features the bassoon.
According to him, his roots for bassoon playing started in his youth. “In elementary school, we went on a field trip to see Peter and the Wolf, and this bassoon player who plays for the Minnesota orchestra was playing there, and he played the ‘Grandfather Theme’. I really liked the sound of it.”
Lee then fast-forward 5 years: “I was just chilling at school, doing my normal thing. Then I get a text from my mom, saying ‘you got into NYO2!’ It was unbelievable.”
Lee explained that there are many challenges, yet he is still excited for the opportunities. He said he still plays bassoon because “It’s cool that I can make such cool sounds on something like that.” He also explained how he has many friends through music, and how he hopes to make more through NYO2.
Mr. Posner explained how he felt about his students getting in. “Any time students do something like this, there’s a lot of pride, and I am proud and happy for them. This is not a school accomplishment; this is their accomplishment. I’m proud of them and proud they have Atholton next to their name.”