Looking East From Eastman

[Originally posted by Josh Yarden at AllCityPhiladelphia.org, January 24th, 2017]

Q & A with Danielle RomanoDanielle Romano

We know Danielle as a former member of the All City Concert Choir and Principle Viola of the All City Orchestra, when she was a student at GAMP. She is now a vocal perfomance major at the venerable Eastman School of Music, at The University of Rochester, in New York. The semester break gave us an opportunity to find time for an interview.

Q: First things first. How was your first semster at Eastman?

A: My first semester studies at Eastman as a vocal performance major were the most challenging four months of my life. I’m not exactly sure how I made it through, or why I’m crazy enough to go back…but hey, musicians are crazy, and I know for a fact that I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else with my life!

Between rigorous theory classes, endless hours of practice, Italian language studies, and choir rehearsal attendance, I felt mentally and physically drained. Still, every once in a while I found ways to recharge and enjoy my surroundings.

Q: Thinking back on your high school years, what stands out about All City?

A: I remember how All City gave me the little pushes and bursts of inspiration to help drive me to become the best musician I could be. All City exposed me to a world of music that has helped me create new friendships, and grow closer to old ones.

One thing that made All City unique was the compressed rehearsal time allotted before the big concert. In four months, there were just five or six rehearsals. Every student was expected to be on top of their part.

As a freshman in High School, the difficult level of music and expectations were new to me. This challenging music led me to make extra time to practice, despite all the demands from other musical activities and academics waiting for me each day. I had to learn how to use my time much more efficiently in order to meet the expectations of the orchestra, not to mention my own expectations.

Q: Do you think being an All City musician helped prepare you for college?

A: It was All City that helped me to develop time management from that early stage of my freshman high school life, right up to that last concert 4 years later. I would have been completely lost in college without this base.

Personally, I believe it is extremely important to reflect on and appreciate your experiences, and when you are constantly busy, it is easy to forget about the experiences that brought you to where you currently are.

Q: Do you have any insights to share with the current All City musicians about what you have discovered at Eastman?

A: If I had one piece of advice for anyone out there who is thinking about pursuing music, it would be to find the motivation inside yourself. Don’t do it for your teachers, or for your parents.  Do it for yourself. Because at the end of the day, you’re going to have to be the one to find the discipline to wake yourself up at the crack of dawn to prepare for a performance. You have to be the one to force yourself to practice aural skills for countless hours when all you want to do is sleep. It has to burn from inside of you, and you have to want it. You have to want it more than anything in the world, and sometimes you need to make sacrifices. But the hardest thing is, no one else can teach you what you have to discover for yourself.

Q: Now that you are a voice performance major, do you think it was worth spending so much time in the orchestra?

A: Even though I am at Eastman studying voice not viola, what I gained from playing viola in All City helped me form deeper understanding of my voice as an instrument. Throughout the first semester, I noticed the many similarities between the two fields. At Eastman, students are expected to come to their lessons with a full musical and lyrical understanding of their assigned music. Lessons are a time to work with the professor on technique, artistry, and emotion, just as a conductor works with the orchestra. I soon realized that singing, like a bow stoke, it is all about the breath. You need to prepare the right amount of breath just as you need to use the right amount of pressure and length with the bow. While practicing breath control, I often pictured myself playing the viola and thought of each phrase as one long bow stroke.

Q: Do you ever miss playing in an orchestra?

A: At least once a week between classes I climbed the steps to the balcony of Kodak Hall to listen to the Eastman Orchestras rehearse. I sat down in those squeaky red chairs and let the music transport me through my memories to a place far away. I got excited while listening to Eastman’s Symphony Orchestra play Finlandia because I played it in All City!

Sitting down and listening to the Eastman orchestras play always draws back the curtains in my mind that remember the one crucial orchestra that helped mold me into the musician I am today. Many of my friends at school laugh because at some point, every time I listen to an orchestra play, I cry. I never know in the moment if they’re tears of sadness, or tears of joy, but I do know that the trigger always comes from my unforgettable experiences of playing viola in the Philadelphia All City Orchestra. Whenever I listen, I see Don Liuzzi raise his baton, and I hear him call us “dear ones”. I see Joe Conyers enlightening smile, and the sight of rosin dust clouding my view of old friends making goofy faces. I see the wetting of reeds and the final bow lifts. All City is one of the most special and transformative programs that Philadelphia has to offer. I am so thankful for the big and small meaningful ways that the All City experience continues to help me as a developing musician and person.

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