Start of a Season


This past Wednesday I resumed rehearsals with the Emory Youth Symphony Orchestra, and we received our music for the upcoming concert. For the first time, our smaller chamber-orchestra-esque winter concert will include winds, which is always exciting. We are playing Leia’s Theme, in tribute to Carrie Fischer, Pavane pour une infante defunt by Ravel (in a similar vein – “precession for a dead princess”), and the first movement from the Lord of the Rings Suite by Johan de Meij, Gandalf.

It won’t surprise anyone that I almost jumped out of my skin with excitement to be playing LotR music in any form, let alone THE ORIGINAL LOTR MUSIC. Which, by the way, has a FANTASTIC viola part. Is every movement like this? I honestly don’t know, but de Meij has given the violas some amazing solos and I can’t get enough.

(I was fantasizing the whole class, as you do, of Prior somehow finding it worthwhile to ask if anyone knew anything about Gandalf’s backstory, perhaps as it might be influencing a part of the music, and I would step up all “Well, his original name was Olorin, and he was one of the Maiar, higher order beings akin to angels or minor gods, and he was among the five Istari, or wizards, sent to Middle Earth by the goddess Nienna to guard against the return of Sauron, and actually he didn’t want to go at all……..” I don’t know why I do this to myself.)

One nice moment I did have courtesy of Prior earned the viola section some laughs and some brownie points, which was wonderful. He was asking the entire violin section why their tone wasn’t unified and why they thought that was, and there was a long silence, and then I piped up in my soft-tentative-question-type-cadenced voice all “placement of the bow???” and he pivoted around and said “And the answer comes from the violas!!! Violins! What is going on!” Everyone laughed and my section looked happy, and I felt fizzy and proud. Before we started playing he said, “let’s start in the same place of the bow, thank you violas!” and as he cued us in he said “thank you, Julia,” and it was kind of great. I feel like I’ve only ever heard him call me Ms. Borthwick, before, that I can remember, but my name sounds so nice in his accent.

It continues to feel like the principal violist likes me? Which is great, because I like her. It would be really nice to be her friend. (Or more than a friend?????? Not something I’ve actually devoted thought to, but hey. Not taking it off the table.)

Because I’m on a super groovy plan to Actually Practice this semester, I hope EYSO will be more enjoyable than ever for my final two seasons. Stay tuned!



Stand Partners & Drift Compatibility

“Drifting” is a notion from the 2013 movie Pacific Rim. In the movie, the world is under attack by giant godzilla-inspired monsters, called kaiju, from another dimension. The most effective way to combat these  proves to be the construction and operation of massive robotics called jaegers. These mechs are controlled via neural uplink to two or more pilots within the body of the robot – the neural stress proved too much for one pilot alone. These pilots have to mentally synchronize with each other to operate one mech fluidly and effectively. This synchronization is referred to as “drifting,” or “the drift.”

The Pacific Rim wiki contributes the following:

“The process of Drifting is a type of Mind Meld[4] that requires the pilots to share memories, instinct and emotions. Drifting allows them to act as one and control the very movement of the Jaeger itself, one pilot controlling the “right hemisphere”, the other the “left hemisphere”. Rangers who pilot on the right side of the Jaeger are considered the dominant pilot.”

This process results in subtle impressions of personality traits transferred from one pilot to their partner, and a muted ghost of the drifting effect remains even after they leave the jaeger behind.

This is all very fun and juicy for a whole lot of lovely relationship dynamics and fun AUs taking the concept in all sorts of different emotional directions. But I am taking the time and space to explain all this because for a while I have considered sharing a stand partner for long enough establishes a sort of drift compatibility.

Playing orchestral music with your stand partner is an exercise in mutual contribution and compromise. Particularly when you sit in a front stand, in leadership positions. As I experienced for three years of high school, the assistant concertmaster must defer to the concertmaster in terms of bowing, articulation, and dynamics, just as the right-hemisphere jaeger pilot is considered “dominant”, but when the concertmaster falters, they rely on their co-concertmaster to catch them with the correct rhythm or an established fingering in a difficult technical spot. They learn how to exaggerate together, how to play with abundant and quite unnecessary flourish, or how to play emotionlessly and hunched in, in protest or despair. They establish a rhythm of page turns, of marking their music, of looking at each other when something amusing happens in another section, of exchanging confused and alarmed glances when they get lost.

Justin was my stand partner for three years, and over those three years, we acquired a musical rapport unlike anything else I’ve ever had. There’s just no other way you can get such a high level of instinctive, empathetic intuition in a musical setting with another person. I knew how to follow Justin when he sped way up as a joke, I knew how to glance at him when I messed up, or when he did. I knew when we were about to stop playing to laugh. I knew how to imitate his tone – if we were moving way more than we needed to, sliding around and elongating our vibrato, I had a setting for that, a mode for each of his modes.


I still channel him, this year now that he’s graduated – my own version of ghost drifting. I play a g major chord at the end of any scale we play to warm up as a class, because he isn’t there to do it. I slide up an octave sometimes, like we might do together, or trill when I feel like it. I channel him in my solos. I channel him in my silent rebellions against the conductor, the way I slouch in my chair sometimes, the way I call out encouragement to other people as they play.

This year, I’ve been concertmaster. Which means that I only follow the conductor, and the other section leaders. It cannot be my responsibility to mold my playing against the shape of my stand partner’s. I have to set the tempo, I have to set dynamics, I have to be bold and confident. I have a responsibility to lead, and to compromise, but in the midst of playing it is their responsibility to follow me.

And so I miss that sensation of having my drift partner alongside me, of being able to read someone else’s signals and surf on the wave of their musicality. All this to say, my music is a collage of impressions from other people. Sometimes I channel Uzuki in my movements and my intensity, sometimes my Dad, often times other players in a present chamber music engagement, but most of all, in orchestra at school, I find myself synchronizing in accordance with Justin’s impression on my music and my memory.



5 Relatable Songs of the Semester

1. I’m Not a Good Person by Pat the Bunny

This song came to me at a time when I was feeling a lot more depressed and generally useless, like, all the time. It was kind of amazing listening to a song that was just like “I don’t know why I suck so much at everything, I just do, I never follow through on anything I mean to commit to.” The tone helped? It wasn’t overly dismal or anything, just kind of an “eh, fuck it” sort of vibe, but with a really raw, honest desperation in it.

I’m not a good person
No matter what I do
My exhaustion will consume me, and – I’m too tired for the truth
I’m not a good person
I’m sure you’re not surprised
It must be pouring out my sweat glands, it must be someplace in my eyes
I don’t know why… I am this way. It’s been like this since I can remember.
I try to keep up with everything I know I should do, but then I – fall to pieces, anyway.
I don’t know why I am the way.

              I don’t actually believe that I’m genuinely a bad person, but there were a looooot of individual lines here that really hit home.

2. Dream by Imagine Dragons

Existential angst! Oh boy! This expresses a similar kind of hopelessness and confusion, but put in a different light. It’s more of a sort of “I don’t know what I’m doing, I thought there’d be more by now, aren’t I supposed to be doing great things by now? There was supposed to be more.”

And I watch from a distance seventeen
And I’m short of the others dreams of being golden and on top
It’s not what you painted in my head
There’s so much there instead of all the colors that I saw

             It’s more than that, though – there’s a general sense of sadness and loss in the world around us, just how numbing the world can be sometimes? Unlike the previous number, this song is built like a release of tension. It’s a much gentler, more graceful cathartis. I like listening to it when driving around at night, and just kind of letting it wash over me.

3. Eet by Regina Spektor

           So I first listened to this song like five years ago and I was like “This is so vague??? And I’m so confused??? Literally just tell me what you’re singing about I don’t understand what’s supposed to be implied here at all and it’s making me sad and frustrated.” And then like last year I listened to it again and it was like WHOA LOOK A SONG ABOUT DEPRESSION right off the bat. I don’t think it was meant to apply strictly to depression, like, at all, and it could probably apply to a tooon of stuff about just growing up in general, and other issues that develop as Life Progresses, but this song is 500% my vibe.

It’s like forgetting the words to your favorite song
You can’t believe it, you were always singing along
It was so easy and the words so sweet
You can’t remember, you try to feel the beat

4. I’m a Ruin by Marina and the Diamonds

           So… this is my breakup song. It basically perfectly described a lot of my feelings regarding the whole matter? About how I wasn’t doing enough, even though I probably could if I just tried harder, and how I still cared very much about my partner but all in all it would be a release to be free of the pressure altogether.

I played with your heart
And I could treat you better but I’m not that smart
You still mean everything to me
But I want to be free

And I’ve tried to say
Babe, I’m gonna ruin you if you let me stay
You still mean everything to me, to me
But I wanna be free

It doesn’t feel right and it doesn’t feel fair
When I’m planning to move on and you’re still standing there
Don’t wanna keep a secret but I don’t know how to keep it fair, yeah

           And of course there are individual lines like “It’s difficult to move on when nothing was right and nothing’s wrong” and “It’s difficult to say goodbye/And easier to live a lover’s lie.” Not only did the lyrics resonate with me intensely, but the vibe of the song was perfect to help me regain confidence. It’s a release – there’s a mournful quality to it, and a pensive somberness, but the chorus is fast-paced and vibrant, and it just felt like I was shedding anxieties to listen to it.

5. Why Worry by Set it Off

            Ending on a happy note! Why Worry is about anxiety, and how stupid it is, and how paranoid we all are all the time. I relate highly to both the descriptions of anxiety itself and the reflections on how pointless and awful it is. This is a really helpful song to listen to! Like it’s actually helpful steps. Therapeutic and a total jam. A lovely confidence boost for any occasion!

           I suggest you give the whole song a listen, but here’s a really solid chunk of relatable, encouraging lyrics to close out!

Why do we insist,
On crossing bridges that do not exist?
Let’s take these issues
Step by step by step, to work it out,
Day by day by day we’re falling down,
But life goes on.
I’ve got some questions,
Are you sick of feelin’ sorry?
Uh huh,
And people sayin’ not to worry?
Uh huh,
Sick of hearing this hakuna matata motto,
From people who won the lotto,
We’re not that lucky.
Have you noticed that you’re breathing?
Uh huh,
Look around and count your blessings,
Uh huh,
So when you’re sick of all this stressin’ and guessin’ I’m suggestin’ you turn this up and let them hear you sing it.