My Mexico City Experience
By Alivia Carter
Sixth year double bassist at the Atlanta Music Project
On February 28th I traveled to Mexico City, Mexico to play alongside young musicians like me from all around the globe, in an orchestra festival under the direction of Gustavo Dudamel and Arturo Marquez. When I first found out I was going to Mexico, I was very excited. I was excited to learn the high-level music and have the out-of-country experience. I was excited to learn about a new culture and the Mexico City way of living. I was excited to interact with people who speak differently than me, and I hoped to learn some of their language. I was excited to compare the way other students play with the way we play in the U.S.A.
When I got there, one of my first surprises was that during our rehearsals, most of the directions were given in Spanish, and the translators were not translating as much as I had imagined they would. I could never understand what the conductors and leaders were saying because they were speaking fast and in Spanish. They did not appear to be worried about the language difference; they would go through entire rehearsals without translating anything for those of us who couldn’t understand. The only way I knew what was going on was that after we began playing, I was remembering the rehearsal numbers by how they sounded. It was a great challenge and a bit of a culture shock, but at times I actually found it fun trying to understand and keep up with what was going on!
We had four pieces to rehearse and play together: Alas (a Malala), by Arturo Marquez, dedicated to Nobel Peace Prize Winner Malala Yousafzai; Adagio for Strings, by John Williams; the fourth movement of Dvorak’s New World Symphony; and finally, Conga del Fuego Nuevo, also by Marquez. I learned a lot in the process of playing these pieces in sectional rehearsals – for example, about the bow speeds needed for slower pieces. Our sectional teachers were very engaged in teaching us. I also learned skills from watching my fellow double bass players during the rehearsals, when they were getting instructions from the conductor. The teachers, conductors, and young musicians combined had a major impact on my playing abilities.
One difference I noticed between the U.S. players and the Latin American groups was the way they moved with the music, and the way they were kind of free and being themselves. This made me wonder why we didn’t move with the music and play so freely. Perhaps they were taught and encouraged to play that way?
Something else I noticed during our rehearsals was the way the conductors differed from our conductors here in the U.S. They were more energized, more involved, more enthusiastic, and more exciting. Even though we were all given the music and had to the opportunity to practice it before going there, we had never played with each other before. When we played together, Maestro Dudamel and Maestro Marquez didn’t know us, yet we came together and played as if we had been playing together for a long time. They didn’t underestimate us; rather, they pushed us and held us to the same standards as any other orchestra.
My favorite part of my trip to Mexico was the concert day. Everyone was so happy and excited. We were all taking photos with each other and sharing contact information. Everyone was also a little sad that it was our last day together. We all said our goodbyes on stage after the concert ended; we were all hugging and shaking each others’ hands. Our performance made me feel proud and accomplished.
Participating in the Mexico City orchestra changed the way I view my musicianship. The new people I was playing with were “advanced” players, so it felt good to be able to prepare myself alongside them. Participating showed me that I am capable of playing on a higher level. It showed me that I have nothing to worry about when I play overseas with little preparation.
When I began playing with Atlanta Music Project, I never thought that I would be in an international orchestra. And I never thought I would fall in love with playing a musical instrument. Even though I was excited when I learned about the trip to Mexico, it didn’t click in my mind that this meant something important for us. It wasn’t until I was in Mexico that I realized I was doing something big that could definitely lead to something even bigger.
Being in an international orchestra opened my eyes to the many great opportunities and experiences that playing music brings. It was proof to me that I am doing something right by playing my instrument. I realized I am really good at this and that I should stick with it. Also, it showed me that playing music could bring me opportunities to travel, and to learn about many different cultures and many different languages.
After my trip to Mexico, I can’t ever imagine myself not playing music. I feel my performance was great, better than I thought it would be. And if I ever had the chance to go to Mexico again, I would completely be up for it!