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Laurie Niles

August 19, 2003 at 12:02 AM

I received a newsletter from the Denver Young Artists' Orchestra the other day, and it was like getting a letter from an old friend.

The Young Artists' Orchestra, as it was named then, was the greatest solace of my adolescence. No matter how ugly, awkward, out-of-place, out-of-style or out-of-touch I felt during those days, I always knew I was part of something greater than my teenage angst: I was in the orchestra.

Granted, the YAO did serve me my first dose of rejection. I tried to get into it as a seventh-grader, and that was rather young for an orchestra that also included college students. But I wanted to be in it with all my heart. I had seen Eugene Fodor play the Tchaikovsky concerto with the YAO, and I was exhilarated: I could be in that orchestra! I could play in Boettcher Hall!

For that first audition, I played Mozart Concerto No. 3. Carl Topilow, then the conductor, was kind but dismissive. I received the rejection letter in the mail.

I spent an entire year thinking about that lost opportunity. At first, I was utterly dejected and wanted to quit playing the violin. I also wanted to burn my copy of Mozart 3. Then I decided that I wouldn't stand for it. I switched teachers. I practiced. I marked my calendar. I was determined to get in next time.

Of course, this would become the pattern of my life. Any musician must live with rejection.

With quite a bit of instruction from James Maurer, I got in the next year. At the first rehearsal with the new conductor Charles Ansbacher, we played through Brahms Symphony No. 1. What a piece to sight-read at a first rehearsal. I felt at sea, clinging to a tiny raft there in the back of the seconds, drowning in this murky piece.

It did get easier.

I was among the youngest members of the orchestra then. A much older trumpet player named Scott Wendholdt drove me to rehearsals, blasting the radio so loud that I tried to roll down the windows to let out some of the sound. He was mad at his mom, I think, for making him drive this kid to rehearsal. When I later ran into him at Indiana University, he apologized for "terrorizing" me, much to my amusement.

By the end of my five years in the orchestra, I was one of the older kids, driving the younger ones downtown every Saturday to rehearsal.

Perhaps my fondest memory was not of playing, but of driving with everyone in a big school bus to the YMCA of the Rockies for a retreat, which we had at the beginning of each year. Someone had brought a boom box, and this bus full of teenagers unanimously agreed to blast Beethoven 7 at full volume. We all listened, humming our parts, as the old bus chugged through the Rocky Mountains.

Clearly, these were my brethren.

My friends in the YAO have scattered far and wide. Trina Struble is the harpist for the Cleveland Orchestra -- go girl! Her sister, Larisa, is a violinist in the Colorado Symphony. I hear flutist Monika Vischer every morning on KUSC National Public Radio right here in LA. When I lived in Denver, I turned on the T.V. to find harpist Aimee Sporer the anchor for the Channel 4 Evening News.

An entirely new crop of talented kids is keeping the music going there in Colorado's Mile-High City. They are even going to Austria next year. I wish them all the best.

To me, we are all on that same old bus.

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