1 in 2,568: Erica Hwang

She takes a deep breath. In, out. In. Out. She reviews the piece mentally, ensuring that her solo piece is memorized, the notes ingrained in her mind. She then steps onto the stage. While everything is memorized, it will not stop her from doubting her every passage.

Erica Hwang (11) was accepted into the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America, or NYO-USA, a youth orchestra organized by Carnegie Hall Weill Institute, in February. For now, she waits for July 1, when she will arrive at the residence hall at the State University of New York, or SUNY, at Purchase, where she will practice the pieces she will play with NYO-USA on a two-week tour in Mexico and parts of South America. 

For Hwang, stepping onto a stage and becoming the focus of a crowd’s attention, has always made her blood flow faster. Her adrenaline rises, more than what she needs to stay alert for a good performance and now her anxiety rises with it. She waits in anticipation for the mere possibility of a memory slip. 

“It’s really difficult to perform onstage live with the fear of having memory slips because you constantly tell yourself that you’re going to forget the notes,” Hwang said. “It has happened [before] where I do end up forgetting the notes.”

Stage fright is a challenge for Hwang today, despite having played since she was six years old, but she continuously works towards overcoming her performance-induced anxiety.

Breathe, just breathe. A few notes into playing her piece, Hwang realizes that the audience before her represented some of the most supportive people in her life, and her goal had changed so she was no longer completely focused with impressing her audience.

Outside of her stage performances, Hwang participates as a mentor and the regional director of the of the “Back to BACH” project, which introduces classical music to elementary students and works to encourage young students with classical music and recognizes that not all children may not have had the same opportunities to play music. 

“My favorite part about volunteering and helping kids is seeing their enthusiasm for classical music,” Hwang said. “That’s always encouraging because it dispels the saying that classical music is dying.”

Hwang is also the Jeffrey Dan Sollender Co-Concertmaster of the San Diego Youth Symphony, meaning she earned a scholarship for exceptional merit. Hwang did not earn her seat without practice though; each day, Hwang practices the violin for at least two hours.

At one point in her life Hwang became exhausted by the repetition of practice and started to doubt the importance of music. After a few bad performances, she was not inspired by playing music. 

Now, she knows that music truly is an expressive art, in which the notes and the rhythm work together to create an artform. Now, she knows that music is not strictly determined by or limited to the notes on a page.

Tonight Hwang’s performance was a good one and by the time she played the last note, the audience recognized that too. Before she had the chance to leave the stage, the audience greeted her with loud applause, standing with amazement.

“I realized that we musicians play the same [notes] but it’s not the same music because we’re all telling our own individual stories,” Hwang said. “[Music] is something greater than [the notes] because it’s about empathy, humanity and connection with other humans.”

While becoming apart of NYO-USA could be considered a peak performance, Hwang would not have achieved it without some bad performances too.

The application for the NYO-USA required a written essay and several video portions: a three-minute excerpt from a solo piece, orchestral excerpts and a video essay. 

Hwang’s dedication to playing the violin manifested itself in becoming apart of the NYO-USA, a prestigious program she is excited to start.

“I have been wanting to do this camp for a long time,” Hwang said. “[This is] what I wanted to do most this summer, so I’m really excited.”

This summer, after three weeks of practice at SUNY Purchase, Hwang will travel Mexico, Ecuador and Columbia.

Hwang, while unsure of what she will major in, still plans to play the violin in the future.

“I’m not sure if I want to make it my major in college, not only because of financial insecurities but also because I don’t want [making] money be the reason I play music,” Hwang said.

Perhaps even after college, Hwang will continue to play, although for now she is happy to focus on the NYO-USA summer program.

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