I still remember my PYS audition the May before my eighth grade year. When I stepped into the waiting room, the escort ladies asked me what symphony I was coming from. MYS? Symphonette? I just stared back blankly. I had no idea what they were talking about; my violin teacher had encouraged me to try out, and all of these odd acronyms and terms were entirely foreign to me.

That first experience definitely portrayed my nonexistent experience in symphonies. After I was miraculously accepted into the Youth Symphony, the real struggles began. As a pianist since age 5 and solo violinist since age 10, I was unaccustomed to playing music around so many other people. I was timid, shy, and unbelievably self-conscious—things that would soon place me at a large disadvantage among the older symphony members. I found myself lost 99 percent of the time during rehearsals, swallowed up among 35 other violinists with horns blaring and piccolos whistling ceaselessly in the background. It seemed impossible to follow along.

Year one with the Phoenix Youth Symphony was without doubt one of the greatest challenges I have ever faced. But it also proved to be the year of change; the year I would finally break out of my timid little shell and fully embrace the musical world. For once, I finally felt like I belonged.

I carefully watched the section leaders and learned from them. “If you’re going to make a mistake, make it loud and proud.” This bit of advice practically governed my life for the first couple of years. I found myself making mistake after mistake, but my attitude towards these blunders began to change. Rather than shrinking back, I began to laugh them off and make mental notes to prevent them from reoccurring. The music made more sense, and I began to foster an appreciation for the symphonic works that I had only observed from an audience member and pianist’s perspective.

With each progressive year, more and more friends entered the symphony. By my sophomore year, I realized musician friends are for life. We communicate in a language devoid of words; a language in which melodies have the ability to penetrate the soul, conjuring old memories while simultaneously creating the new. We share experiences making music together during the late hours of Wednesday night rehearsals. And we undertake the challenges placed before us together; feel the frustration of learning a difficult piece together; share the joys of defeating an obstacle together.

The Phoenix Youth Symphony is my family. It is where I feel like I belong the most; I can be who I am, among others who similarly hold music close to their hearts. Many people have been to symphony concerts before, but being a part of the music-making is an entirely different story. The unparalleled feeling of sitting among dozens of other extremely talented musicians is something few are lucky enough to experience. I feel the vibrations of the drums and the brass players rippling through the stage floor. To the left and the right, I hear the sound of bow hairs on strings. I anticipate each cue, each entrance. I know exactly when the second flautist enters and how long each grand pause must be before the baton strikes downward once more. Being a part of the Phoenix Youth Symphony shaped who I am today, and I wouldn’t have dedicated my high school experience to anything else.