There is something deliciously satisfying about Malaysian Philharmonic Youth Orchestra (MPYO) camps. It must be the combination of intense music-making (minimum six-hour rehearsals daily on average, sometimes even nine hours), staying in a five-star hotel, learning from world-class conductors and tutors and playing an exhilarating concert that consistently leads to what is fondly referred to as post-camp depression across the entire orchestra.
However, ten days of camp itself can be exhausting, let alone having to juggle assignments and exams in university at the same time. Students at the Institute of Music are fortunate that UCSI University supports our participation in MPYO and allows us to be exempted from lectures without our attendance rate suffering. But sometimes there are some lectures, rehearsals or presentations that you just can’t miss.
“Balancing MPYO and uni definitely isn’t easy – there are constantly assignments to do and lectures to attend. I think traveling back and forth from school and KLCC (which is where the camps are held) was one of the biggest challenges, especially facing the traffic during rush hours. Also, the MPYO camps sometimes have additional rehearsals that go on until 9pm or 10pm, which make it harder to complete assignments on time if the deadline is the following day,” says Stephen Tseu, 3rd year IMus cello major.
“Balancing both lives requires dedication and determination. It is not easy, as MPYO camps usually take up 1 to 2 weeks and they clash with many exams in uni. Therefore, after long hours of rehearsals from morning to evening, I have to stay up late at night to complete uni assignments and tasks. It is pretty challenging but it is worth it, as playing in MPYO gives me a chance to experience and be exposed to a wide range of repertoire. As long as I hold true to my responsibilities in rehearsals and catch up on uni work from friends, it is very beneficial to my learning and growth as a musician, despite having fewer hours of sleep,” says Loo Mei Hui, 2nd year IMus violin major.
Indeed, having to miss classes and still take exams is overwhelming, but Keng Xin Tian, 3rd year IMus violin major found a way to handle it.
“During the camp, I missed some classes in uni for MPYO rehearsals. However, I would ask my uni friends to update me on whatever happens in class. I would also look through the lecture notes that the lecturer uploads on LMS, to see what is included in the new chapter. The main difficulty is that you have to squeeze in some time in between the rehearsals to keep track of uni assignments. Honestly, it is quite tiring, but I think it is worth it because you are given a chance to experience something that you can’t experience in uni during the music camp.”
As exhausting as this is, it’s all part and parcel of a music student’s life, plus it’s good training for being a professional musician.
“There was a period of time where I couldn’t cope with the things I was doing. I nearly gave up, but I had to think of not disappointing my family and teachers, so I decided to try my best to complete all the subjects and other activities outside uni, like MPYO,” says Choi Shi Wei, 3rd year IMus viola major.
“Although the outcome of my results or performances was not always so satisfying, I feel that I have indisputably become stronger as a result. After that, I always reminded myself to have strong determination each and every time I encountered difficulties. I started to be more organized, I always planned ahead for upcoming events, such as MPYO camps, project submissions, juries, teaching schedule, gigs, commitment for some community orchestras and so on.
To me, these things are really important for a musician to gain experience and to be prepared for the future. After I have planned things ahead, everything I do will come in handy next time. There are definitely some periods of time where my schedule is fully occupied until there are no breaks for me at all. Sometimes I even have to burn the midnight oil in order to complete everything in time, but the feeling of completing so many things systematically is more than satisfying. Also, I start to understand my limits and I’ll schedule things accordingly and will not simply take up tasks when I actually know that I can’t cope with it.
“This is because I know that I’m no longer a student in primary or secondary school, where I can just apologise after making mistakes. I have to be responsible for what I’m doing and what I have promised to do,” Shi Wei says.
“One thing that stands out for me is that every camp the programs are very contrasting and interesting. Furthermore, playing and working with different conductors, soloists and choirs from different countries has heightened my learning, interpersonal and communication skills,” says Mei Hui.
“I’d say it’s actually worth it, because I get to work with an orchestra of talented players and renowned conductors, ” says Stephen.
The MPYO has been lucky this past season to be conducted by guest conductors who also conduct the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO). This means that our youth orchestra has had the privilege to play under the baton of big names such as Benjamin Zander, Nicolae Moldoveanu and Fabian Russell. Not to forget our own resident conductor, Ciaran McAuley, who also conducts our weekly sessions.
Performing with so many different conductors is a good learning experience, in that it is similar to playing in a professional orchestra as you having to adapt quickly to the different conductors’ various rehearsal techniques and musical interpretations.
“During the camps, I met great tutors who reminded me of my strengths and weaknesses, as well as great conductors who have taught me so many things about all aspects in music,” says Shi Wei.
At the end of every camp the MPYO performs in the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas, which is acoustically one of the best concert halls in South East Asia. These concerts, as well as getting a chance to play side-by-side with world class MPO musicians during the side-by-side orchestra and chamber concerts, is an invaluable experience.
“Joining the MPO/MPYO side-by-side concerts opened my eyes to how the professionals work.” – Lau Hui Ping, violinist, trumpeter, and IMus 1st-year student.
However, MPYO is not all stress and difficulties. The camaraderie that develops throughout the orchestra is a valuable aspect of the camps, for there’s something about living and working with people for 24-hours, 7-days a week that creates a special kind of bond. Another great aspect is getting to know people from different parts of the country, who are flown in at the expense of the MPYO to participate in camps.
“In MPYO camps, we get to stay in the provided accommodation with other musicians, which is yet another experience you don’t normally get – experiencing everyday life with other musicians is an interesting experience to have,” says Stephen.
Joey Young, UCSI alumni and violin major sums up the whole gratifying, exhilarating and demanding experience of balancing uni life and MPYO camps, “The difficult part is to give a 100% in uni life and MPYO camps – during preparation for the camp, as well as during the camp. At the end of the day, no matter how tough it gets, it’s only a question of how much we really want it. Do we really want the experience of playing amazing repertoire, learning from great tutors and playing under internationally renowned conductors? Do we feel satisfied and a sense of achievement at the end of every camp? The answer is a resounding yes and it is this that helps us to overlook the difficulties and feel excited to go through the challenges.”
** Editor’s Note: The MPYO recently concluded their season with the concert titled “MPO/MPYO Side by Side: Star Wars and Beyond “. Check out their 2016 program calendar at http://mpo.com.my/mpyo-programs/
This article was written by Andrea Sim, student of the Foundation in Music program.