Bolt for a Buck

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I’m a frequent rider on the Bolt Bus. For ten dollars a pop, I travel between NYC, where I go to school, and Philadelphia, the city where my family lives. I ride the Bolt Bus at least two dozen times a year, traveling for performances and holidays, but also whenever I’m desperate to get away from the pressures of school and unwind in my cozy, childhood home.

Unlike the dark, smooth ride of the Amtrak trains that run on a parallel, but far more expensive route down the northeast corridor, the Bolt Bus is unpredictable. You can trust that you’ll probably make it to New York or back within a few hours, give or take a restroom that’s filled with vomit. But you could get stuck in traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike for a couple hours. And Bolt Busses sometimes break down. You get what you pay for.

Bolt Bus drivers range in disposition from jolly and enthusiastic to grim and silent. I remember a garrulous driver who broadcast her personal philosophies on discipline and child-rearing over the loudspeaker for an hour, as well as a surly driver who demanded to know if my friend and I would be “yelling with each other the whole damn ride” because we were chatting happily in the seat behind him before the bus pulled out.

I’ve had a delightful assortment of seatmates. I’ve met fellow musicians and enjoyed inspiring conversations about art. I’ve sat next to all sorts of people who want to reminisce about growing up in Philadelphia. I’ve met bevies of college students eager to share tales of their night of mischief in the big city. Once, I played Scrabble on a laptop with a banking intern all the way to New York. Another time I sat next to a mysterious person who held a conversation beneath the privacy of his or her enormous winter parka throughout the whole ride, never coming up for air—I never even got a glimpse of my seatmate’s face.

When I don’t have a colorful neighbor to keep me company, I fall asleep. I can fall asleep very quickly, no matter where I am and how noisy it is. I sleep especially deeply on bus rides, lulled by the hum of the engine and the feel of the road. More than a few times, I’ve been poked awake by a little old lady after falling asleep on her shoulder.

On a recent trip home, I was awakened by a loud bang, certain my violin was tumbling out of the overhead compartment. My reaction to this terrifying possibility was to emit a spectacular gasp, which startled everyone around me, particularly the guy roughly my age sitting next to me. (I realized later that my fellow riders probably didn’t know I had been asleep, which would make my reaction seem quite odd.) The noise turned out to be a loose armrest falling into position. Struggling to explain myself, I babbled to my seatmate about my violin, and tried to apologize. He murmured some acknowledgement and went back to trying to beat his high score on Temple Run. About twenty minutes later he took a phone call, and told a friend in what he thought must have been a quiet voice that “the girl sitting next to me is really nutty.” I was thrilled when the bus finally pulled up beside Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, and I could escape with my violin and backpack, into the anonymous bustle of my home city.

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A Gift for Map

Most of the emails that swamp my inbox daily are deleted immediately, though occasionally there is a free ticket offer or a chance to make friendship bracelets out of chocolate. (Thanks, Office of Student Affairs!) But the best news I’ve heard lately came from a Juilliard administrator. The subject, in all-caps: $5 MILLION GIFT FOR MAP.

MAP is the Music Advancement Program, the Saturday music program at Juilliard where I’ve been teaching for the last two years. MAP serves to represent the under-represented in the American classical music scene – which means most of their students are black and Hispanic, and the tuba player is a girl!

The program came close to ending in 2009, when it lost major funding. But thanks to Harriet Heyman and Michael J. Moritz, MAP, which was started in 1991 by Juilliard president Joseph Polisi, has become so much closer to becoming fully endowed.

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I’ve been coaching Claudius and Juliet in the Bach Double. Their accompanist is Hongsup Lee.

As a MAP Fellow, I work with students in chamber music and in private lessons. Herbie, my 9-year-old student from Queens, is perpetually bouncy and enthusiastic – even at the dreadful hour of 8:30, when we have our weekly lessons. Herbie is working on the second movement of the Handel violin sonata in D major, and is preparing it for a recital this month.

Herbie recently left school because, even though he had skipped two grades, the work wasn’t challenging him. On his iPad case, he has written in sharpie: “I am home-schooled, not a truant”, next to a drawing of the 1 train. He likes the subway system very much.

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Me and Herbie

I invited Herbie and his mother to one of my orchestra performances at Juilliard this year (Mahler’s 1st symphony, with Edward Gardener conducting). Herbie sat on the edge of his seat throughout the concert, taking careful notes. At the end of the symphony, he leapt to his feet and clapped his hands over his head while jumping up and down. He was probably the only 9-year-old in the audience, and certainly had as much enthusiasm as the rest of the audience combined.

Students in MAP receive weekly private lessons, take theory classes, and play in an orchestra. Most of the MAP parents are very supportive, but some determined students make it there every Saturday morning without much parental involvement.

Claudius has a LOT of music to learn!

Claudius has a LOT of music to learn!

Attending a program at Juilliard is a big source of pride for the students and their families. The program has an extremely dedicated staff and faculty, and in spite of all the bleak news in classical music, it’s comforting to know this program will be educating and nurturing young musicians for years to come.
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The Music Advancement Program application for the 2013-2014 year is available online at http://www.juilliard.edu/map. The deadline is April 1st.