Musician Nora An finds happiness and community with Maine Youth Rock Orchestra
“It’s taught me to become a different person. I become very sassy on stage. I become Beyonce,” says Nora An, a violist with Maine Youth Rock Orchestra. An, who’s 16 and a student at Baxter Academy, started playing viola nine years ago. “I was asked to choose (an instrument) in third grade, so I picked viola,” she says. “I liked that I hadn’t heard it before.”
She started playing in the beginner MYRO ensemble three years ago, but director and founder Kevin Oates quickly pulled her aside. “He asked me if I minded staying after to play with the actual rock orchestra, so I began attending rehearsals,” An says.
While An is now “in the happiest place I’ve ever been,” her path has been fraught with personal challenges, including an ongoing struggle with deep anxiety and depression. “From eighth to tenth grade, I was obsessed with people’s thoughts about me,” she says. However, MYRO’s emphasis on performance and musicianship has given her “something to focus on. The music isn’t incredibly hard. The real work is in training to be a pro musician.”
Pro indeed. Maine Youth Rock Orchestra has toured regionally with groups like The Ballroom Thieves and recently accompanied Daniel Bernard Roumain at Merrill Auditorium in Portland. In addition to encouraging the development of a stage persona through which she can step outside of her troubles and exist in the moment, MYRO has given An the gift of community. “They are the most accepting people I have ever met,” she says. “I love them so much.”
An’s anxiety can rear its head during periods of intense activity and stress, but she credits the support of her MYRO community and her experience with self-soothing to get her through. “I definitely had bad moments on tour,” she says. “But I’ve been doing this a long time. I know how to handle it now.”
What does the future hold for this promising young musician? “I’m very interested in science. I’m going to continue being a musician—it’s an integral part of who I am—but it’s not something I can do for work.” She plans instead to study zoology.
As someone who has learned to manage her difficulties through art, An offers sage advice to anyone seeking a healing outlet: “If you want to try painting, paint something. Don’t expect to fall in love with something right away. Have fun with it. If you love it, keep doing it.”
Chelsea Terris Scott is a writer based in Portland, Maine. She is deeply inspired by the incredible girls she has been able to speak with for this issue.