Jason’s Summer Full of Music

Hi my name is Jason Soto. I am 16 years old and currently a Junior in high school. I have been playing bass for  about 5 or 6 years. I originally started playing music in the 6th grade at The People’s Music School’s Albany Park site. I instantly fell in love with the instrument and it has opened so many new doors for me in my life the past couple years. It has given me these two amazing, once-in-a-lifetime, experiences that I had this summer and will never forget. This summer I had two opportunities to travel the world. I went to the National Take A Stand Festival (NTASF) in Los Angeles,CA and I went on tour with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra (CYSO) across Central Europe.

This summer I was given the incredible chance of going on tour with CYSO. It was only my 3rd year at CYSO when I finally made it to their top orchestra. I was lucky to make it in my 3rd year because they told us that we were going on a tour of Central Europe. We went on tour to Hungary, Serbia and the Czech Republic. The cities we visited were Belgrade, Budapest, and Prague. I was ecstatic when I found out about the tour because it would be my first time on an international plane ride and only my second time going out of the United States. It was my first time out of North America and the farthest I have ever been away from home. That made me worry a little bit because I wasn’t with my family and it would be hard for me to contact them since I was in foreign countries and cellphone calls back to the United States were expensive. Europe was very different from life back here in Chicago.


Europe is very different from Chicago because their cities are built on mountains and on rivers. The roads are cobblestone instead of asphalt concrete like they are here. Most of the buildings aren’t made of metal or glass like the skyscrapers here too. In Europe buildings are so much smaller and older. Almost every building or road or monument has some historical significance. I know that we went as an orchestra but I know that I made a ton of new friends. During the school year at CYSO you don’t really have a lot of time to socialize at rehearsal because we are hard at work trying to alway improve on the music and you don’t really get to meet everyone. On tour we all made some new friends because we had hours of free time where we could go around exploring the cities we were in in big or small groups.

I learned so much from this tour. I learned how to be responsible for myself because when we had free time our only “limitations” or “rules” that we had were that we needed to meet back at the same spot they dropped us off at by a certain time. Also that we needed to be in groups of at least 3 people. It was so much fun and different and I loved it. If you were to ask me of one thing I would never forget from the tour it would probably be the time I fell asleep at the dinner table. The dinner was in Belgrade, Serbia. It was a 12 plate meal type thing where they put a bunch of food one at a time in the middle of the table and you could grab what you want. But what I remember is that we got there and I saw the first plate come out and I ate some food. But the next plate took a while to come out and it was a long day so I was feeling tired. I was struggling to stay awake. All I remember is that I closed my eyes for a second and next thing I know they are serving cake as a desert. I asked the person next to me, “why are they already serving cake as the second course?” and he laughed and said “You slept through all the food man”. I was confused until I looked outside and saw that the sun had already set and the moon and stars were out. I will never forget the night that I fell asleep sitting in my chair at the dinner table of a restaurant in Europe.


I was also given the chance to audition for a summer music festival in Los Angeles. I was extremely lucky to get into this summer orchestra because it was composed of some of the most talented musicians from El Sistema based programs all over the United States. They only picked 101 students out of the more than 500 students who auditioned. We were given the incredible opportunity to go spend a little more than a week in California. We got to watch concerts that the Los Angeles Philharmonic was playing at the Hollywood Bowl. We got to work along with some of the LA  Phil players too! I had to work a lot to get this opportunity. Checking online for an update on deadlines and due dates for forms,practicing my scales and the audition excerpts and preparing a solo for the audition too! Finding time and a space to record all the excerpts and scales and solos to send in was hard. In the end it all payed off though.

I know that I personally made many friends at this festival. Many of them I still talk to and will hopefully get to work with them again soon. I worked with some amazing coaches and conductors like Maestro Thomas Wilkins and Maestro Gustavo Dudamel. Both of these amazing musicians gave me new perspectives on not just music but on life as well. They showed me that music or art of any kind isn’t tied down to any one artist or musician. That as musicians or artists we are servants of the art. We are delivering these pieces of art to the audience as best as we possibly can. The art controls us and gives us the ability to share the art with others. They called it “being a servant musician”. Hopefully I will be given the chance to do something as incredible as this sometime soon in the future. I am really thankful for all the opportunities I was able to have this summer. This summer was honestly filled with so much music and joy. It was the summer to remember.

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