New York— The day before our New York performance, one of my friends from the orchestra (from El Salvador) told some of us violinists that he knew the concertmaster of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra—the orchestra that was going to perform at Carnegie Hall that night. At first we thought he was joking, but that night we all met the concertmaster. Not only that, he invited us (a group of violinists) for dinner and we heard some amazing stories.
I have finally made it to Carnegie Hall, I thought. But it was not because I practiced 10 hours a day for many years—I just got lucky. That week we were going to accompany Joshua Bell, one of my all time favorite violinists.
A week in New York with old friends plus “my debut” at Carnegie Hall made for an unforgettable experience. I was playing last chair second violin—but who cares, I was there, where Heifetz played.
To this day, I don’t think I have a story that can beat this one. It was one week of perfection. Playing with famous soloists, plus gathering with old friends, meeting extraordinary concertmasters, playing in one of the best halls in the world, free time to enjoy NYC. Can it get better than that? I am super grateful to have experienced one of the best weeks of my life already.
China—In the summer of 2009 I applied to a bunch of music festivals. That summer I got a bunch of rejection letters; but I still got two positive responses from The World Orchestra and the Youth Orchestra of the Americas. Thanks to that effort I traveled to many countries and experienced new cultures, new people, new ways of life. This time The World Orchestra invited me to their winter session/tour. Only problem was, I just graduated from a bachelor degree and was transitioning to get my masters in the USA—money! I had none, and this orchestra requires you to pay for your transportation (a roundtrip ticket).
While in China, the orchestra was going to pay for everything: transportation within China, hotels, food, etc. It was a pretty sweet deal given that I only had to pay a plane ticket and live “for free” a whole month. I was also going to level up as a violinist, but as a young person you think of party first. Well, at least I did.
China! I mean, when am I going to have an opportunity like that? All I have to find is 1K for my plane ticket and then have a blast for a month. I explained the opportunity to my parents and what an incredible “learning” experience I was going to miss if I didn’t go. They helped me sell my car and with the money I booked my flight.
After the trip I was going to have China forever.
We did go to the great wall, but at the time I didn’t really take it seriously. I regret it.
In China we played in beautiful concert halls and some of the biggest and also smallest cities. I have many memories of China, here are two:
1. I remember how one of the percussionists went through security with a lighter hidden in his shoe. Nobody noticed it. He just went by through security like a clean man, no beeps, no alarms, no nothing. All clear. Holy crap! That meant my airplane could be full of people with lighters. I felt unsafe.
Some girls from the orchestra also argued about needing their shampoos and creams/liquids and even though they carried way more than what’s allowed, the Chinese say YES after you argue with them for 2 minutes. You confront them a little and they yield.
2. One night in the middle of the tour I got called by the orchestra manager. I knew what it was all about. “Meet me downstairs in 5” he said through the phone. I did.
“What happened today?” he asked.
“I know,” I replied avoiding eye contact, “I misunderstood the schedule and I have no excuse for you. I know I messed up badly.”
I’ve arrived 20 minutes late to the concert. He lectured me and I took it without defending myself, I knew it was my fault. I promised him I’d be more careful. It didn’t happen anymore.
China opened my eyes to things. I saw how someone bought puppies for dinner and how they looked at blond girls (from the orchestra) like they were gods. The pollution, the people and the culture makes you feel on a different planet—you basically are if you come from the Americas. But being able to see it with your own eyes, right there, live, means you will return back home as a different person. You’d seen a different part of the world. You’d seen different people and lived with them for a bit. In my opinion that’s the coolest way to grow as a person, even if I have to sell my car to make it happen; or even if I have to save 1$ everyday for 3 or 4 years. The experience will make you a bigger person—and you’ll have amazing stories to tell.
South Dakota— I lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico for 3 years and loved every second there. Those 3 years were full of learning, growing up, adventures and incredible opportunities. One of the top adventures I had was when an orchestra in Colorado invited us to play a gig. We played this gig a couple of times a year so we planned the adventure carefully.
Instead of driving to Colorado the day of the rehearsal, we left the day before and made a detour. Mount Rushmore! That’s a 15 hours drive from our apartment in Albuquerque. We filled the cooler with red bull (very healthy) and followed our GPS for what seemed like an endless drive.
When we arrived we forgot about tiredness and sleep, you get pumped when you’re about to cross out something from your bucket list. After a couple of hours and a lot of pictures it was time to realize that red bull was not doing its work anymore. We slept in a motel from 1pm to 11pm and at that time headed back to Colorado for our gig; super stressful but so worth it.
You see, once you do things like that you can’t go back. You want more. That’s the reason a became a travel addict, even if I have to take red eye flights or crazy buses or not sleep or eat good food for a while—you want the adventure and stories to tell your grandkids, I guess.
Anyway, if you’ve never taken a crazy trip before give it a try. Save money for a Carnegie Hall performance and explore the city of NY. Stay in hostels if you have to; bid on Priceline (hotels and flights). Read about travel hacking and forget about being comfortable at home. When you get uncomfortable on the road, amazing things happen—in the end you’ll be glad.