“When I played in front of people, I would get so nervous, and my right hand would shake so badly. How it used to be, every note I played would shake,” CHS junior and violinist David Corbo said.
When Corbo first began playing violin at Glenridge Elementary School in fourth grade, a combination of nerves and monotony made the experience underwhelming.
“I didn’t particularly enjoy playing the violin. It was just a daily thing that I really didn’t want to do,” Corbo said.
That all changed when Corbo attended a summer program for musicians two years ago. There, he played the first piece of music that truly made him love what he was doing: Dvorak’s 12th string quartet.
“I listened to it again when I got home, and suddenly everything felt so different. Then I started listening to more symphonies, and I really got into classical music,” Corbo said.
Shortly after developing a passion for music, Corbo began playing for Webster University’s Young People’s Symphonic Orchestra. In an effort to play even more, he also auditioned for the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra, SLSYO, more commonly referred to as YO. But as he mounted the stage of the otherwise empty Powell Hall to play for the judges sitting behind a drawn curtain, the nerves that had previously made it so difficult for him to play music in front of people once again settled in.
“I struggled the most with playing in front of people. One of the reasons I failed the YO audition that first year was because my hand started shaking and making the notes sound all weird,” Corbo said.
Although he did not receive a place in YO that first year, Corbo went back to audition earlier this year.
“I definitely wanted to be a part of YO, so I immediately knew that I would audition again,” he said.
When he went back to Powell Hall for a second audition, he was no longer nervous.
“I had gotten a lot more practice playing in front of people, and a deep breath before I start always goes a long way. I think that second audition might have been the best audition I’ve ever done,” Corbo said.
The YO judges agreed, and Corbo now plays with the other first violins in the orchestra.
“YO can seem really intimidating and high pressure from the outside, especially during auditions, but once I got into it, I was most surprised by how chill it was,” Corbo said. “The first rehearsal was really intense, but once I got to know everybody, it’s really relaxed. It doesn’t feel too competitive. We’re all in the orchestra, and no one really needs more than that.”
Although the musicians in YO do not feel competitive toward one another, most of them are motivated to get as much practice as they can.
Like most of the other YO musicians, Corbo also auditioned for and received a spot in the Webster University Preparatory Program, a community music school designed to augment the music study of string musicians anticipating a future career in music. Because the Preparatory Program consists of far fewer students than YO’s 100, the instruction feels more intimate for Corbo.
“Each cycle, the organizer puts together small chamber groups. We practice with and get coached by St. Louis Symphony Orchestra members, which is always an amazing experience, but Preparatory Program also makes me a bit more nervous. When you’re playing along with fewer people, it’s easier for everyone to hear everyone else,” Corbo said.
As Corbo learns to become more comfortable playing in front of others, he also grows more accustomed to teaching himself the pieces played by both groups.
“It’s important than people learn the piece by themselves so that rehearsals can be devoted to getting the right musicality. Rehearsals aren’t really for getting the notes down,” Corbo said.
In the process of becoming more self-reliant, Corbo has found a practice system that works for him. Everyday, he practices an average of 1.5 hours. During that time, he uses a practice mute which makes his violin quieter, and he then plays along with audio recordings of the pieces.
“When I get to a specific part that I struggle with, I look at it more closely and figure out the fingering and bowing.”
For that, Corbo does receive help. He recently started working with a new private teacher, a first violinist in the St. Louis symphony.
Just recently, Corbo actually got to play alongside his teacher at Powell Hall when the youth orchestra spent their Saturday rehearsal working with the full St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.
Although he certainly enjoys rehearsal, Corbo’s favorite aspect of YO is the performances.
“Before becoming a part of YO, I’d never played in front of so many people. In the first cycle of YO, we played Dvorak’s 8th symphony, and Powell Hall was completely full. I was so nervous, but when we finished the last chord of the symphony and everyone was clapping, it was just so new and so… good,” Corbo said.
When he’s not playing in Powell Hall, it is likely that Corbo is sitting in the stands, watching the adult orchestra play. He attends most performances with his mother, who received formal instruction in playing the flute.
Although Corbo’s father never received formal musical training, he is equally interested in music. Self-taught on guitar and bass, Corbo’s father loves discussing classical and pop music with the rest of his family.
“One of my favorite aspects of David playing classical music is that I have been able to experience and enjoy it all vicariously,” Joseph Corbo said. “Watching David go through all of this has given me a second chance to experience and enjoy music. I love the passion David brings to his music.”
Corbo’s family has also noticed the impact that music has on other aspects of Corbo’s life.
“I think the study of music has taught David self-discipline and what it means to be intensely passionate about a subject,” Joseph Corbo said. “Once you learn that feeling, you can apply it to other subjects in your life. For example, David’s interest in classical music has ignited a related interest in audio equipment. He can talk endlessly about the different electromagnetic mechanisms involved in headphone design and the various acoustic merits of different headphone types. I love the fact that one passion has engendered another in him, and I hope this process continues indefinitely.”
Although Corbo does not plan to major in music in college, he is considering pursuing a minor in music.
“I strongly believe that finding something you love and are truly passionate about is the surest route to sustained happiness in life. Since I want David to be happy in life, it truly pleases me that he has discovered a passion for music,” Joseph Corbo said.
As Corbo plays more and listens more, his passion for violin only grows.
“Ever since I played that first Dvorak quartet, I’ve been excited to practice and improve. I think it was just a matter of finding the right music. And after hearing that quartet, I think I finally started to appreciate how much work true professionals put into their music. I realized that, if I ever wanted to be even close to that level, I had to work a lot harder,” Corbo said. “That was the moment I started loving classical music.”