My name is Jeanine Markley and I am a Violinist with the New World Symphony. This is the first of several columns that I will be writing so that the public can learn more about the orchestra from the perspective of someone who plays in the ensemble.
The New World Symphony is located on Miami Beach and presents performances every year from September until the beginning of May. The concerts feature a variety of combinations of instruments, from full symphony orchestra to string orchestra to concert band to solo instrumental performances. In addition to the traditional 2.5 hour classical concert program, NWS also puts on educational concerts for children, $2.50 mini-concerts, and, coming this spring, late night club concerts. There is a different conductor every week for each concert cycle and our artistic director, who conducts the orchestra many times throughout the year, is ten-time Grammy Award winner Michael Tilson Thomas. As you can see, the diversity in programming at the New World Symphony is intended to welcome all people to become audience members by presenting exciting and cutting edge performances.
The New World Symphony (NWS) is not only an orchestra, however. It is also a learning environment for the 86 young members of the orchestra. NWS is a stepping stone from music school into the professional world of music. All members of the orchestra are called Fellows and we are given 3 years to grow at the NWS before we are expected to move on to other professional opportunities. A majority of the Fellows have completed a Bachelor ‘s and Master’s Degree in Instrumental Performance, but there are also some who have received just a Bachelor of Music or those who have gone on past a Master’s to get a Doctor of Musical Arts degree. Fellows are within the ages of 22-32 and have studied at such schools as The Juilliard School, The Yale School of Music, The Cleveland Institute of Music, The New England Conservatory, The University of Michigan, Northwestern University, and many more. Not all Fellows have come straight out of school. I, for instance, free-lanced in Hartford, CT and St. Louis, MO before coming to NWS. Almost all of the fellows have had professional performance experience outside of school (in regional orchestras or playing as a substitute with a nationally recognized orchestra) and many have taught private music lessons. Each Fellow is unique and has a great deal of previous performance experience and knowledge.
Fellows are given a stipend and housing at a renovated hotel on Miami Beach for the duration of the fellowship. We generally rehearse each week from Tuesday through Saturday, and perform Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. We perform a new concert program every week, similarly to the way professional orchestras do. Professional development opportunities abound for Fellows at NWS and perhaps one of the most important is the audition training. In order for Fellows to land a spot in a long-term professional orchestra, we must win an orchestra audition. An orchestra audition is the orchestral musician’s equivalent of a job interview; an extremely stressful job interview! The NWS Musician Advancement staff brings in musicians and coaches from around the music world to help us improve our instrumental skills and, specifically, to help us become good at taking auditions. We also have the option to attend lectures on optimal performance training (so as to increase our ability to perform at our best), The Feldenkrais Method (to help us learn how to move our bodies with the most ease), interacting with the media, how to engage and speak with an audience, and understanding the musicians’ union (the AFM). We have the opportunity to hone our teaching and audience engagement skills through the NWS’s Community Engagement program, as well.
An incredible enhancement to the NWS experience will be the new campus that is we will begin performing in by the end of January. It was designed by Frank Gehry and is a revolutionary new performance hall.
Specific elements of the program that attracted me to NWS are the focus on orchestra audition preparation, the chance to work with great conductors and to play in an orchestra with colleagues that are young and can really play their instruments, and the camaraderie I knew I would have by working and living with fellow musicians who have roughly the same life goals and challenges as myself. Of course, living in Miami Beach didn’t sound like such a bad idea, either. ;)
The NWS immerses Fellows in music and gives us the opportunity to improve ourselves as musicians without having to worry about making rent or getting to the next gig halfway across town or taking regular classes. However, the intensity of the experience also presents a challenge: how does one strike a balance between music-making and the rest of life? Since Fellows are living and breathing music, an amazing position to be in for any musician, it can make us feel like we’re living in a bubble that is far removed from the rest of society. In addition, since Fellows work AND live together, the boundary between professional and personal life can easily become blurred. For instance, we see each other in rehearsal almost every day; we also see each other in the hallways and main areas of our living space; and we hear and see each other practicing all of the time (to be specific, from 9 AM until 11 PM). Each Fellow deals with these challenges differently, but we manage to strike a fine balance and are grateful to be members of the NWS.
In the coming months, I will be elaborating on specific aspects of life in the New World Symphony and Miami Beach. I hope you enjoy!