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Howland grad’s love of music travels to Prague

Submitted photo Victoria Lewis, 19, of Howland, right, poses with fellow World Association for Symphonic Bands and Ensembles Youth Wind Orchestra members from left, Anya Restivo of the U.S., Grace Terry of the U.S., Jonathan Forster of Germany, Sean McGinley of France, and Roisin Ni Dhonabhain of Ireland. Lewis, a 2020 graduate of Howland High School and incoming junior at Slippery Rock University, recently played in the international wind ensemble in Prague, Czech Republic.

HOWLAND — Victoria Lewis, 19, recently returned from five days in Prague, Czech Republic, where she joined young musicians from around the world to play with the World Association for Symphonic Bands and Ensembles Youth Wind Orchestra — a big adventure for a lover of music who endured many canceled performances and missed chances because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You never know when an opportunity is going to present itself, and if you don’t take the ones presented, you might not ever do it again,” Lewis said.

Lewis began playing clarinet at a young age because her parents are woodwind players — her father, Timothy Lewis, plays the saxophone and her mother, Valerie Lewis, plays the flute, she said.

“I wanted to be different with the clarinet, and I just fell in love with it,” Lewis said.

A 2020 graduate of Howland High School, Lewis’ senior year was marred by the effects of the pandemic — long-awaited final concerts and performances were canceled, including the spring 2020 Stambaugh Youth Concert Band performance. Lewis had played with the band since eighth grade and won the coveted solo performance spot at the concert before finding out the show would not go on.

“That was what I was looking forward to for, like, five years, so to have it canceled kind of sucks,” Lewis said.

Still, a pandemic couldn’t stop Lewis from pursuing music at Slippery Rock University, where she is now an incoming junior studying to become a music teacher.

“For me, that looks like learning every single instrument so that I’m able to teach all the instruments to all different kinds of students,” Lewis said. “It’s been a rude awakening because I never expected some of the instruments to be so difficult.”

She said the hardest instruments to learn have been string instruments, which involve a different type of dexterity, and the French horn. Her new favorite — besides clarinet, of course — is the euphonium, a brass wind instrument similar to, but smaller than, a tuba. She sometimes plays the euphonium in her college bands.

Of course, learning instruments over video chat hasn’t been a cakewalk. Students can’t play with teachers because of the delay, and the feed sometimes cuts in and out, Lewis said.

When wearing a mask or practicing over video, teachers also can’t see the way students are moving their mouths, which is an integral part of learning some instruments.

“COVID has been hard on the kids, and she made the best of it,” said Lewis’ longtime private clarinet teacher at home, Nancy Moore, who retired as a Howland High School band teacher in 2009.

She said she is “very proud” of Lewis.

“She is very talented and she works hard,” Moore said.

She noted that when Lewis was in sixth grade, she always wanted the last teaching slot of the night. Moore realized that was because Lewis wanted the extra time to practice without another student waiting.

With the world of music slowly getting back to a pre-pandemic way of practicing and performing, Lewis was excited to find out about the opportunity to play in Prague. She auditioned and was accepted into the wind ensemble.

Around 80 musicians ages 18 to 26 from some 18 countries and four continents performed in the wind ensemble, Lewis said.

“It was amazing to see all the cultural differences and how everyone is related through music. We all spoke the same language.”

When not practicing, Lewis explored Prague with her new friends. She had never been to Europe before the trip.

“The city is so old and has so much history. It is so beautiful and just calm. It’s amazing,” Lewis said. “I had some of the best memories in Prague, but I was terrified to do it. I almost didn’t go because I was so scared.”

Her advice to anyone who loves music or gets a big opportunity is “just go for it.

“Especially teaching music — everyone needs music in their life. Why not be the person to inspire young minds?”

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