By Olivia Hay
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When asked to write about my experience with the West Virginia Youth Symphony's European tour in June, I buzzed with excitement over sharing this journey with others but puzzled over how to put it into words. How does one describe the heartfelt music of Budapest, the breathtaking view from a mountaintop in Spania Dolina, the sorrow and solemnity of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the awe at walking in the footsteps of Vienna's greatest musicians, the treasure of friendship or the inspiration of a lifetime?
Well, let me at least try to convey the impact this trip has had on my life.
After a grueling overnight flight, we arrived in Budapest sleepy-eyed but overjoyed. After some exploration in this exciting city, we had our first musical experience: a concert of traditional music from Budapest. We finished our first day with my favorite part of the trip, at night, with the glorious architecture of the palaces and bridges brilliantly lit, we sailed down the Danube on a dinner cruise.
Following a second day of sightseeing, we gave our first concert. Though anxieties abounded, the universal language of music flowed from our instruments into the hearts of our overflowing audience. What excitement and energy flourished that evening!
Slovakia, our second destination, founded many international friendships between us and Slovakian students. There, we climbed a mountain in a coal miner's town, stayed in the homes of welcoming Slovakian families and performed our second concert. The universal connection music enlivens truly showed itself here when we joined with students from a Slovakian music conservatory to perform Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue."
In Krakow, our third stop, I spent quality time building friendships within the orchestra. We toured the city's market square and castle district together, chatting, laughing, shopping, eating entirely too much ice cream and cherishing each precious moment.
At dinner, we enjoyed a performance featuring the traditional music and dances of Poland. Afterward, the city by night shone through our starry eyes as we danced to the music of a street performer, took a horse-and-buggy ride and cheered for our favorite teams in the European Cup.
The next day at Auschwitz-Birkenau taught us to appreciate our lives as we learned about the horrors endured by those confined to the concentration camps. Though sobering, the history we learned there will doubtlessly remain with us our entire lives, reminding us to be thankful for our blessings and to show compassion toward others.
At last, we reached Vienna! After various tours of the city and surrounding palaces, we embarked on our own explorations. I found that the shopping, art museums, cathedrals and ice cream fulfilled all my greatest expectations and more. For a budding musician to walk the streets of the music capital of the world -- where Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and others found their inspiration -- inspired such enthusiasm and passion for music!
The words "life-changing" are used so often they barely begin to capture the wonder of this trip, but what other words in our language can so adequately describe it? Because now, as I stand on the brink of achieving my dream of a college education in music, when I need a picture in my mind for this piece or an idea for that paper, I will immediately look to this trip for inspiration.
My catalogue of life experiences doubled in those 10 days. Everything in my life now, from food to music to relationships, has a new flavor gained from this trip. And I want to spend the rest of my life sharing this inspiration with others through teaching.
See more photos from the WVYS European tour at wvyouthsymphony.org/tour2012/index.html