Aaron Lipsky feels that he didn’t choose to play clarinet as much as he simply went with the flow of life. Now, after riding that wave for seven years and dedicating his life to music, he’s about to attend one of the top university programs in the country and has earned a spot in the prestigious NYO-USA, Carnegie Hall’s National Youth Orchestra.
The recent A.C. Reynolds High School graduate knew as a fifth grader that he wanted to be in sixth grade band but wasn’t sure what to play. When word of these aspirations got to his grandfather Phillip Rhodes, the elder relative and still-active composer sent his grandson his old clarinet.
From there, Lipsky credits his Cane Creek Middle School band director Clif Dodson with pushing the young ensemble to be great. Two years later, Dodson tapped Lipsky to solo during the band’s performance at the N.C. Music Educators Association annual convention in Winston-Salem — an experience that the clarinetist identifies as a key moment in his musical journey.
Other standout accomplishments include performing his grandfather’s composition “Following Picasso” with Rhodes in attendance and, more recently, winning “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band concerto competition in February 2020. But while each highlight has played a major role in his development, Lipsky feels that his decision to pursue music professionally has been a gradual, organic progression, rather than one resulting in a singular, Hollywood-style epiphany.
“Whatever you put into it, you can get in reward back from it,” Lipsky says. “It’s sort of like you’re competing with yourself a little bit to see how good you can be. I find that exciting, but it’s also just enjoyable to play with so many other people, learning a different language, basically.”
That passion paid off this spring when, after auditioning the past two years, Lipsky became one of four clarinetists, ages 16-19, chosen for NYO-USA. The highly selective group typically plays at Carnegie Hall and goes on tour, but this July, due to what its website calls “the ongoing effects of COVID-19,” the players will gather at Purchase College, State University of New York, for a monthlong program capped by digital performances. Though Lipsky is somewhat disappointed to not partake in NYO-USA’s usual perks, he acknowledges that the compromise is “nothing on the scale of what people have lost this year.”
“‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,’” says Lipsky in regard to the power of perseverance. “It’s pretty surreal to be representing the whole United States as a collective group of young artists and individuals.”
Following the summer program, Lipsky will attend Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, where he plans to study clarinet performance. He hopes both experiences will forge lasting connections with fellow musicians, and he’ll also continue to pursue his interest in political science while keeping up with regular exercise.
“I find running helps me sometimes with music,” Lipsky says. “It’s sort of like meditating. You’re totally in your own head and you can think about what you want to do with music or planning concerts or thinking about a piece.”