Often the most simple and unassuming demonstrations of life are the ones to be the most treasured. This weekend our Youth Orchestra travelled to Thunder Bay, Ontario, to perform in a Valentine’s Day concert alongside the Thunder Bay Symphony Youth Orchestra (TBSYO), Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra (TBSO), and the Thunder Bay Symphony Choir (TBSC).
The journey was born on clear roads and a blue sky of gray gradients. There was a quiet optimism in the air, but often the sleepy haze of Friday morning washed down any heightening frenzy. With a stop at Dryden, we filled up a Subway in quite an impressive manner, and then quickly set off again to fulfill our eight hour drive through naps and sunny conversations.
We were welcomed at Thunder Bay with a Ceilidh, a Gaelic social gathering complete with great food, dancing, and music. With a live band swinging their fiddles and guitars with vigour and smiles, we set off dancing under the instructions of one of the hosts. We danced in pairs, little groups, and everyone together. At one point, we spiralled ourselves towards the centre of our own circle, and clipped laughters rung as we pulled on our partner’s a little harder to compensate for the quickening pace of the person pulling us with admirable centripetal force. There was a sweet delay when you looked into your partner’s eyes as you spun in circles, their smile shifting into a grin in one blink. The evening stayed alive with us, and only took to bed when we manifested our own fatigue.
Saturday began with conversational breakfast and a few late risers. We set off to Hammarskjold, a Thunder Bay high school, to begin working on the music. Morning was reserved for sectionals, and we began warming up with interval-ed scales that created incredibly intimate harmonies within the small room. After a lovely lunch at a nearby church, the whole orchestra filled up the school’s gym with cases, folders, and anticipation for the music. Our rehearsal was met under a tight schedule but the product was done with quality and a taste of appreciation.
Saturday evening, we were invited to a party at one of the TBSYO musician’s house. The house overlooked a toboggan hill and a frozen river. The fresh snow and wood was a being of wonder. Here again, we were greeted with the incredible hospitality and compassion of the many volunteers. As the night dipped a little lower into darkness, I set off into the snow with my friends. There was a trampoline, and a crackling bonfire, and making my way down the tube, a sight of transcendence: lying on the frozen river, I was showered with speckles of stars and a dark forest lining the river, stretching into a greater horizon. Winter had opened up its magic to me.
And so Sunday rolled in. As quickly as we had unpacked our luggage, they had to be squeezed back into their compartments. Breakfast was wrapped in a sense of familiarity and lightness. Morning was spent running through pieces and polishing sections in the Auditorium. Lunch brought another opportunity for small and large conversations; such is the result of simple, but considerate, food.
Afternoon gifted us with our last leg of the journey: the Valentine’s Day Concert. The flavours were distinct and dynamic. Climatic swells found life in the conductor’s passionate expressions and the beads of sweat travelling down his face. The hundreds of lights provided us with practicality and awareness. The audience responded to our art with liveliness and gratitude, and vice versa. To be present; and to surpass. To live with and within music.
The rush of post-concert carried us back into our bus for the last time. Our luggage was stacked in the bottom tier, placid and and complying. Cellos and basses received their own seats, violins and such placed securely on the top shelves. We left Thunder Bay with gratitude in our hearts, and integrity in our stances. We were proud and brimming with completeness.
I am humbled by the honesty and simplicity of this trip. I am humbled by the power of communication through art. This trip no longer became a question of met expectations. It became an answer whose purpose I shall trust instead of seek.