Music and the Best Parts of Living in a Small Town

By Nicholas Wan

Enjoying a summer on Long Island is really to take pleasure in variety, that proverbial spice of life. With the waterfront and parks minutes away and all the shopping and restaurants you could ever want, you might find yourself at a loss about what to do on a given day. But we sometimes forget the best experiences are of the hidden kind, the secret gems of these quaint places. These are the events that show you all the best parts of living in a small town, like witnessing a community become family or spirit blossoming into passion. For the adventurers fortunate enough to find it, they seek out the experience because it calls to them. And last week, in the idyllic town of Oyster Bay, that calling was music.

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Lauren, Pippa and Sarah

The churches on East Main Street were empty of echoing hymns when I arrived, but in their place were the classical harmonies of Long Island’s most gifted musical students. Since July 7th, the churches had become temporary rehearsal studios for participants in the Oyster Bay Music Festival, a weeklong series of concerts and events dedicated to involving the local community in the world of classical music. Initiated by three musicians passionate about spreading their craft (pianist Pippa Borisy, flutist Lauren Ausubel, and singer Sarah Adams Hoover), the program is in its second year of inspiring local enthusiasts to come together and share in their appreciation for the musical art.

Students attended intensive master classes and gave numerous recitals in the area throughout the week, endeavoring to familiarize themselves with performing in front of live audiences.

DSC_0283These students spanned a variety of instruments and ages, from nine-year old pianists like Jason Liu to college students like cellist Mohit Mansukhani. But regardless of experience, each one took away something valuable from the festival. The exposure to performance helped musicians like violinist and composer David Elyaho, who acknowledged he “didn’t have much performance experience, because [he] suffered from stage fright,” to break through his apprehensions and feel at ease in the spotlight. Yet even seasoned performers, like bass clarinetist Joseph Shy, found a gratifying opportunity to indulge in his love of playing for others. As Joseph related to me, “there’s something so magical about looking into a crowd when a performance finishes and just knowing that these people not only enjoyed it, but that you made a difference. That’s a big thing”.

As I sat listening to the students rehearsing for the first time, I was stirred by the sense of camaraderie amongst the group. Although at first it seemed to be the natural unity of artists enjoying their communal passion, I came to realize it was closer to the feeling of being part of a family. These students had hardly known each other less than half a week ago, and already I would have believed that they were all old friends reuniting after many years apart to play their music together. Like true professionals, they would critique and give each other advice during rehearsals and after recitals (often of their own convictions, without direction from their mentors) about how to improve their performances. But like friends, they also joked together and filled the venues with their laughter, becoming bonded through the experience. On what it was like to work with the students, co-director Ms. Adams notes that “it’s wonderful to have a chance to work with them outside of the parameters of the studio, to work in groups, to see them interact and form relationships, and to grow over the course of this week”.

A bridge connected everyone here, between young and old, student or teacher, and even joining performer to audience member. The composer James Cohn, now a veteran master of music at age 85, attended the festival to give a master class and impart his advice to the students. However, he is also the composer of several pieces performed by the student trios, quartets, and solo musicians. DSC_0292 I could only describe the expression on his face as he listened to his pieces being performed as one of peace, contentment, and utter satisfaction combined. It was the look of someone who internalized his emotions in paper and ink, to wait patiently for those sensations to be brought to life before finally taking them all in at once. And it was only comparable to what I saw in young composer David Elyaho upon hearing the debut performance of his own piece, the second one he had ever written, by fellow students Annalisa Welinder and Joseph Shy at a later concert. For Mr. Elyaho, it was the same look I had seen on Mr. Cohn, but with the added flavors of triumph and mortification (shocked as he was). Afterwards, although David admitted he had always thought he “would have been the one to perform it”, he believed he “couldn’t have played it better himself”.

Through the days I spent with this group, listening to them rehearse and perform recitals, that feeling of family and unity stayed with me. Being there as an older composer of the last generation gave his advice and blessings to the young composers of the new generation, it was like a father passing the torch to a son. Hearing the debut of a young composer’s piece by his peers (who created harmonies to the piece themselves), it was like brothers and sisters giving each other a gift. Yet the very bridge that connected them all, the love of music, was the same thing that removed all superficial divisions of age or appearance.

Ultimately, it didn’t matter how old someone was, or where they came from, or how long they had played their instrument. The look of satisfaction that comes from hearing music you wrote performed for you is one that can be expressed on any face, at any time of life.

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The trios and quartets that performed never consisted of similarly aged youngsters, but were always mixtures of musicians from every kind of background and year. I remember my first time listening to the group perform a recital, and being in awe of the passion invariably shown across every student. It was always the same, whether I was watching a ten year old, like pianist Maxim Lando, perform high-level pieces with teens or professional musicians accompanying college students. Swaying motions and half-closed eyes, those are the signs of one being lost in the moment and simply enjoying the sound. It was a normal sight to see, for every performer. Such is the nature of loving this art, and a major reason why local festivals like this should be held everywhere; it promotes a passion that affects and binds together anyone as long as they can hear the music.


Oyster Bay Music Festival

Last summer thirty-five talented young musicians ages 11-24 from all over Long Island and New York State gathered here in Oyster Bay to train and perform in engaging, intimate concerts, spreading the excitement of live classical music performance and practicing their craft along the way.

Join us this summer, June 24th to July 2nd, for another exciting musical adventure! Visit our Application page for 2016 audition information.

Read Nicholas Wan's blogs about OBMF 2013!

Read Maxim Lando's blog post from OBMF 2015: a 12 year old perspective.

CLICK BELOW TO READ NEWSDAY’S ARTICLE ABOUT OBMF 2015

NEWSDAY OBMF Article