From his freshman year at A&M Consolidated High School, Jacob Speakman made it his goal to be a part of the National Youth Orchestra of the United States.
The 2019 Consol graduate met that goal this year.
For two weeks this summer, Speakman joined more than 100 other teen musicians as they played world-famous concert halls from Carnegie Hall in New York City to the Royal Albert Hall in London to the Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam as part of NYO-USA.
“We kind of grew up watching our heroes play at these halls and kind of just dreaming of being like them some day, and they give you the opportunity,” said Speakman, now a freshman at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music studying French horn performance.
The experience can be overwhelming, he said, so he learned it is important to take in the atmosphere and the venues before the concert so he could focus on the music during the concert itself.
Though he had previously played at Carnegie Hall through a school program, he said, it was for less than 10 minutes, and his group’s performance was one of many. This time, he was part of a two-hour concert.
“I really got to enjoy the experience more and really make more of a connection with the hall this time,” he said.
The two venues Speakman most enjoyed playing, though, were Royal Albert Hall and Royal Concertgebouw, noting this is the first time both have been included in the same tour.
Royal Albert Hall is used for everything from rock concerts to tennis matches, he said, while Royal Concertgebouw is “just the greatest hall for acoustics in the world.”
Of the two weeks of concerts, Speakman said, their best performance was in London.
“It was on radio — the BBC Radio — and the BBC national TV station for the UK,” he said. “The venue itself is just incredible. It’s huge. It seats, like, 5,000 or something like that, and all of our concerts were sold out and packed, and on some concerts there were TVs outside the concert hall with a ton of people outside. There were livestreams for most of them, and our last concert had like 50,000 people on the livestream, 5,000 inside the concert hall, probably another 1,000 outside watching on a TV that didn’t get a concert ticket. But the Royal Albert Hall — that was just such a great experience.”
With two or three days in each location, he said, the fast-paced tour helped him understand how to handle the adrenaline and, sometimes, anxiety that comes with a concert.
“I guess I just feel more comfortable. Every time you perform, you feel more comfortable than the last,” he said.
Instead of focusing on the “clout” each venue holds, he said, he concentrated more on the experience.
“I figured out more this summer in general just how to enjoy a performance and just how to enjoy every moment, even if you’re playing a big solo line, just how to enjoy it,” he said.
Reflecting on the opportunity, he said, he felt thankful and grateful to have been able to participate and play at some of the locations he did and meet the people he did in each country.
“It was a great experience. There’s a lot of great people. Everyone there was just a great person and a great musician,” he said. “You meet a lot of great people there. … The faculty were just amazing, and the experiences you’re able to have are once-in-a-lifetime and really just a really great privilege.”
He still keeps in touch with not just the other NYO-USA youth orchestra musicians, but also some of the National Youth Orchestra members from the countries they visited, especially those they met during stops in Scotland and England.
“It was really neat to kind of share an experience with other musicians from different cultures,” he said.
No matter the cultural differences, he said, the thing everyone they encountered had in common was an appreciation for music.
“Everyone enjoys music on some level, so it’s really great to put everything like politics and all that stuff from other countries, disputes and just to enjoy something like high schoolers sharing a great musical journey with other cultures,” he said.
Since picking up the French horn in sixth grade, Speakman had played in school and regional youth orchestras before joining the National Youth Orchestra. As he continues his college studies, he said, his career goal is to play in a professional orchestra.
“I have a few of my favorites, but really any good orchestra is a good orchestra, and it’s always a privilege to play in any one of them,” he said.