The arpeggios of the snowflakes

by Tiffany Wong, News Editor

Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” poses a formidable challenge to the first-year orchestral harpist. From the intricate passages of inversions to the agonizing six-movement wait before the ever-famous “Waltz of the Flowers” cadenza, there’s little time for calm—and even less room for error. As a rising freshman and the newest principal player of the San Jose Youth Symphony’s Philharmonic, I didn’t have much to guide me other than washed-out music stand lights and my own sweaty hands, which twitched every three measures for a warmer pair of gloves. I didn’t dare glance back towards the pointe shoes pirouetting the night away; I’d already lost count of the ongoing rest.

But it wasn’t difficult to picture the rhinestone crowns and tulle tutus above; after all, I had played tag, skipped to class and tripped on stairwells with a dancer’s legs from toddlerhood until the end of fourth grade. A self-labelled “prima ballerina” at the tender age of five, I prided myself on my flexibility and nimbleness. Chasse, grand jete, my arches commanded as I leapt across the floor, landing right on schedule for the next eight count.

“Your daughter has an extraordinary sense of rhythm,” my parents were ecstatic to hear almost every week they returned to the studio for me, often a sweaty mush of excitement and fatigue. “I’d suggest enrolling her in pre-pointe classes in a few years.”

Milpitas’ Jensen School for the Performing Arts soon became my second home. Every Tuesday, I’d march into Room C outfitted in my blue and pink Hello Kitty backpack and Ballet Academy burgundy leotard. As I perfected my pique turns and ventured, inch by inch, closer to the ground in my splits, I climbed up the performance role totem pole. My resume grew and grew—Coppelia, Swan Lake, Thumbelina.

At one point, dance for me was solely focused on movement and technicality. “You must learn to let go of your body, to feel the phrases in your bones,” my teacher Ms. Sumiko chided me constantly. I learned to trust the oboe melody to lead my chaine turns, the clarion call of the trombone to signal the need for a sturdy arabesque. I was no longer dancing to the recordings the black boombox piped out, but inviting each swell of the violins in my arms to a journey for two. Eventually, my appreciation for music grew into a passion eclipsing my enjoyment of dance, and I traded my beige tights for a beige harp one week before I was to be measured for my very first pair of pointe shoes.

With every chord of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece, I’m reminded of the physical art form I left behind for its spiritual counterpart. Although my toes no longer point during leaps of excitement from my harp stool after a smooth play through of a competition piece and my fingers now choose to spend their time plucking a myriad of colored strings, dance remains very much in my heart as a second love.