The Long and Winding Road to Vienna

Robyn Lianne Cheng, Gr. 8C

Vienna, Austria. A place of beautiful music half a world away. I never thought I’d get to go there at this point in my life, but I did as a member of the Manila Symphony Junior Orchestra.

Official orchestra rehearsals were held four months prior to the competition, but actually, my preparation for the competition began six years before when I started playing the violin, in third grade at a campus called Adventist University of the Philippines (AUP) in Silang, Cavite. In the beginning, I thought playing the violin was just a hobby–something not to be taken seriously. My teacher, Sir Cedric Lachenal, nurtured me with patience and love so that I could grow into a good musician. He would let me join advanced orchestra performances, group recitals, music theory classes, and more concerts. They were all hard at first because those activities were for more advanced students. At first, I thought I could not do it, but with the support of my parents, especially my mom and my mentor, I was able to push myself to work harder and go beyond my level.

Eventually, Sir Cedric pushed me to have an audition with the Manila Symphony Junior Orchestra, the only youth orchestra organized by the oldest symphony in Asia, the Manila Symphony Orchestra. At my first audition, I failed because the level was not within my grasp. There were also so many things I lacked, particularly the skill of sight reading. To help me cope, Sir Cedric trained me rigorously every time I had lessons with him, which were usually after school. One day, he asked me, “Robyn, would you want to switch to the viola?”

At first, I was hesitant. What? Move from violin to viola? Isn’t the viola heavy and hard to play? There were so many questions circling in my mind, but in the end, I considered it and made the switch.

After giving me countless viola pieces to study, I auditioned for the orchestra again and passed. It felt new to me–being in a group and having to play odd sounding parts. After some time, though, I got used to it. It became a little addicting as well. When the conductor gives us new songs or pieces to play, we get so eager to know if we can play the melody or not because the melody part usually goes to the violinists.

Joining the orchestra meant I had to give up another passion–playing volleyball after school–to go to lessons. I also had to excuse myself from galas or birthday parties with friends to practice at home. Every time I go back to school, I would feel so out of place.

After five years of being under Sir Cedric’s tutelage, he signed me up for the National Music Competition for Young Artists as my first competition. This was another challenge I had to face and overcome. I remember one time my mom asked him worriedly, “Sir, isn’t the level too high for Robyn?”

Sir Cedric just smiled confidently and said, “We will make it her level!”

Thus began more rigorous training which were harder to handle particularly because I had to do it under time pressure. On weekdays, I had to go to his house to practice an hour or so while on weekends he would train me for more than three hours. It was such a rollercoaster ride of emotions. One day, I would lose self-confidence and cry while on another day, I would feel motivated to pass the eliminations. I cried so many times in frustration, telling myself that I could not do it.

To my surprise, though, I passed the eliminations and qualified for the semi-finals. Sadly, I did not make it through the final round, but despite this, I was thankful for the experience, and it encouraged me to improve my skills with my viola.

Early this year, our conductor, Maestro Jeffrey Solares, announced that our orchestra was qualified to compete in the Summa Cum Laude Youth Music Festival in Vienna, Austria. Everybody was overjoyed and excited. However, a daunting task lay ahead. We needed funds to finance our trip. Fortunately, we were able to get the support of Ayala Malls, Standard Insurance, and the National Commission for the Culture and Arts.

The rehearsals took a lot out of me. Being in high school didn’t help much because it was difficult to balance academics and music. On school days, I would be dead tired because I would come home late from orchestra rehearsals in makati. Every rehearsal was intense since it required more focus and concentration than practicing alone.

It was around this time that my relationship with Sir Cedric as his student came to an end. He left for Madagascar for missionary work. I cried for weeks, sad that the person who lifted me numerous times left. It was difficult to accept the fact that I would not be going to his house for lessons anymore, that I would not play by his side during his solo recitals, and that I would no longer see the face of the one I recognized as my second father. It was all mostly him who made me become the best that I can be. He made my light shine when I thought I was just an ordinary music student. He introduced me to another world, the world of music. To this day, I still hope for him to visit the Philippines, but because life has to move on, I focused on the competition that was drawing near.

We arrived in Vienna nervous, excited, and in awe, especially on the day of the competition at The Wiener Musikverein, one of the best concert halls in the world. I feel very blessed to be able to perform in such a great hall with amazing acoustics. Even a drop of a pin could be heard.

Performing there felt like something out of a movie. All those rehearsals I attended rushed through my head like a flipbook. I could feel everybody’s emotions as we played: happy, relieved, and grateful. We were not just representing ourselves but the whole country. We wanted to bring honor to our country because this is the first Philippine orchestra to compete internationally.

The following day, results were announced.  We all shouted and jumped for joy when we found out we won 2nd place in the strings orchestra category. Some even cried from pure happiness especially the parents who came to watch us compete.

I am thankful to our conductor, Maestro Jeffrey Solares and his colleague Ms. Sara Maria Gonzales for patiently teaching us and for making this trip a reality. I am thankful to Xavier School Nuvali, to our principal Mrs. Arlene Choo, and to my teachers. They have been supporting me in my endeavors since the day I enrolled and became part of the XSN family.

I am thankful also for all the sacrifices my parents and Sir Cedric did for me. My mom has been there for me from the moment I picked up my instrument. Without her, I would not have had the chance to be Sir Cedric’s student. Her support, along with Sir Cedric’s, is never ending.  If I could, I would dedicate a whole concert for them.

This whole journey and its numerous memorable experiences have taught me a lot. It helped me realized that you cannot expect to be instantly proficient at something you love. Expect work to be done–hard and arduous work, but all these become bearable when you surround yourself with people who will stand by you until the end.

Lastly, I am taught to always be humble and to dedicate everything to God. I am thankful to Him that I have gotten this far in my journey.

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