Free Tickets? That’s Music to My Ears!

An interview with Conor Bybee, a cellist in the chamber orchestra.

Conner Bybee participating in Orchestra class.

Conner Bybee participating in Orchestra class.

We’ve all looked for tickets to our favorite professional orchestra, only to find they were too expensive, too far away, or too professional. Luckily, Woodford’s musical programs present a solution to all of these problems. I have had the privilege of sitting on the back-stairway steps with Conor Bybee and discussing their orchestra experience, how it’s differed from past years, and what to expect for their long-awaited Winter Concert.

Below is our conversation!

How did you get into the orchestra in the first place? 

I had already seen some videos of people playing the cello online, and I thought it sounded gorgeous, so when Mr. Marsee toured the elementary schools, I was first in line to try out the cello. A very kind high schooler walked me through the basics of playing and, while I obviously didn’t sound any good, I became determined to change that. So I signed up to be in the 5th-grade orchestra and have been struggling my way through it ever since.

How has your experience in the chamber orchestra this year differed from previous years?

This year has been different in a lot of ways, coming back from Covid-19. I was virtual last year and I know several other people were, so we couldn’t practice as an ensemble at all. For me, this has been the first time I’ve been playing the cello at all since the start of quarantine. I think we’re all struggling and trying to catch up in our own ways, but everyone’s really pulling together, and it’s really great to see everyone kind of awkwardly fumbling around the process, but making so much progress. 

Do you think the ensemble works well together?

I think we work well as an ensemble. We have really great principles, who lead each of the sections. So one for the first violin, second violins, violas, cellos, and then we have only one bass. But they do a fantastic job at communicating with us and passing down information. They are really what allow us to grow and work together as an orchestra. 

How have you grown? 

I’ve been really out of touch with my musical side, and that’s really new for me. Since 5th grade, being a cellist has been an essential part of my identity, and it’s been really weird to live without that for a year. This year has definitely been kind of like self-rediscovery, remembering why I fell in love with the art form and getting my muscle memory back. 

What do you enjoy most about orchestra/cello?

I think I really enjoy the cello because it allows me to express myself in a nonverbal way. You don’t need to be able to verbalize what you’re feeling, or even know what you’re feeling, you can just feel and react to each note. You can really surprise yourself with what you feel, you never know what will resonate with you. The best part about playing in an ensemble is hearing all the work that you, and your peers, have put into their craft. In any other class, the work you put in is lost on worksheets you’ll probably throw away. But in orchestra, it’s in the music you hear every day. 

Is there a specific song you think that the ensemble is especially good at? 

I think our collective favorite is probably the Danse Macabre. Almost everyone has a repertoire of classical pieces in the back of their head that they don’t know the name of but can hum along to, and I think this is one of those for a lot of people. I love seeing people in the audience start to recognize the piece and start to bob along to it. Who knows what memory it could’ve brought up for them? Seeing people really engage with the performance like that is a deeply rewarding experience. 

How would you describe the feeling of playing in a concert?

It can be kind of emotional because you’ve prepared so much for this one moment and when you make any mistake you know all the preparation for that part is now basically pointless, so it’s tough. I personally feel totally trapped in time, hyperaware of every detail I can juggle in my head at once. But when it goes well, and all the pieces fall into place, it’s a fantastic experience. That’s not to say that mistakes can’t make for a fantastic experience, either. At one concert, a piece ended with us all screaming in unison. I miscounted and accidentally screamed two bars early, making for some fantastic videos of me, completely unprompted, screaming with conviction during our performance. 

Are there any other opportunities for people to come see you guys play?

We have a Christmas-themed concert coming up, December 10th; the high school will be playing starting at 7:30, but the middle school will be performing before then, so definitely don’t go earlier than 7:30. We also might be having an opportunity to play in the Kroger foyer for Salvation Army donations, but we don’t know if that’s even happening yet.

You really get attached to your instrument and get to have a lot of appreciation, even for the cheaper school instruments, there is a sort of spirit that we attribute to them. Not a ghostly spirit, but a metaphysical idea of what, or who, an instrument is. No matter where it comes from, it allows for a deeper appreciation and understanding of the instruments. ”

— Conor Bybee