Last summer I visited the United States of America and Canada, with an MPW Travel Fund in hand. Over two months I explored New York, Boston, New Hampshire, Vermont, Montreal and Washington DC.
My trip began at the Classical Saxophone Institute at New York Summer Music Festival in Oneonta, New York. Here I spent an intensive two weeks living and playing with other young musicians. On the 4th July, one of my saxophone ensembles went to play the national anthem, the Star Spangled Banner, at the Oneonta Outlaws baseball game. This experience was only slightly marred by the torrential downpours and the crushing defeat the Outlaws unfortunately suffered, but accompanying the hundreds of baseball spectators to proclaim their patriotism and freedom from the British remained a very surreal honour, whatever the weather, whatever the score! Other performing opportunities included: a student recital competition, in which my rendition of Pièce en forme de Habanera by Ravel was highly commended; playing in several groups; and singing in a choir made up of all of the NYSMF musicians. My teacher, Dr Paul Cohen, was a great eccentric, with the single largest collection of saxophones in the world. His passion for, and knowledge of, the instrument was formidable and inspiring, and my understanding of the saxophone and its extensive American repertoire has been much improved.
Even having left the music festival, live music remained a very important feature of my trip, and I was lucky enough to see two of my blues heroes, John Mayall and Buddy Guy, performing in New York City.
Live music was everywhere in the city, from buskers on the subway and in Central Park, to free concerts almost every night that allowed me to see artists from Parliament-Funkadelic to Little Dragon in some of New York’s most beautiful and unusual outdoor spaces.
I also pursued my literary interests wherever possible, not least because I’ll be studying English with Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham from September. Whilst in New York, I spent time at Janklow & Nesbit’s Park Avenue office. They are the biggest literary agency in the world, with a full-time legal team and providing agents for writers such as Bernard Schlink and Malcolm Gladwell. Exploring literature as a business as well as an art has always been of interest to me, and in the age of Amazon, ebooks and internet publishing, the representation of authors, as well as knowing what sells and how to sell it, is more important than ever. I also attended readings hosted by the Academy of American Poets, and heard contemporary poets – such as Araselis Girmay – read and discuss their works.
Having studied for my French A level at MPW from September 2011 to June 2012, I was very excited to get to Montreal and showcase some vocabulary. I’ll admit the Quebecois accent took some getting used to, and the remarkably bilingual locals would often revert to English if I ever looked at them too blankly, but I always persevered and almost always succeeded in making conversation, or asking for directions at the very least!
Whilst in Washington, I was lucky enough to have a private tour of the Capitol building from a friend who had been working for a congressman all summer. With ‘Obamacare’ a hot and heavily contested topic, the appointment of Mitt Romney to head the Republican Party and, of course, the upcoming and close-run election, America’s political future was on everyone’s minds during my stay. It was fascinating to see the settings in which the country is run.
I am extremely grateful to MPW for their generosity in awarding me a travel grant. I have always wanted to go to America, and the fund enabled me to travel further and see more. During a very immersive two months, I feel I was able to explore America on cultural, commercial, political and musical levels, meeting with unfailing enthusiasm and hospitality along the way.