The Student News Site of Shawnee Mission Northwest

SMNW

The Student News Site of Shawnee Mission Northwest

SMNW

The Student News Site of Shawnee Mission Northwest

SMNW

Strung Together

Sophomore Clare O’Malley worked hard to make State auditions
Sophomore+Clare+O%E2%80%99Malley+and+her+mom+stand+with+her+concert+Cello+Jan.+18+in+the+Orchestra+Room.+%0APhoto+by+Sidra+Sakati
Sidra Sakati (she/her)
Sophomore Clare O’Malley and her mom stand with her concert Cello Jan. 18 in the Orchestra Room. Photo by Sidra Sakati

The smell of rubber soles, Trident wintergreen and musky violin cases filled her nostrils. On the 13th of January, sophomore Clare O’Mally froze out of fear. Before her stood well over 300 student orchestra musicians in the poorly lit middle school gymnasium. 

O’Malley and her mother had driven three hours to Salina, Kansas for the State competition. Her nerves were nearly unbearable as she attempted to sleep in the chilly Hilton Inn suite the night before. 

For anyone else this would be a regular Saturday, fit for vacuuming rugs, sleeping in or watching the latest episode of Percy Jackson. 

But for O’Malley this was big. 

Where hours of practicing Bach, Brahms and Mozart, sleepless nights spent pouring over sheet music and days lost to the orchestra room would come to fruition. 

She heard footsteps, then the screeching of a microphone. “Basses Group D,” a woman called. 

O’Malley looked down, then took a breath.

***

A year ago O’Malley placed 16th out of 16 in District tryouts, which leads to State auditions. Though despite coming in last, spirits remained high as she was one of few freshmen to do so.

“State is one of the most competitive auditions,” O’Malley said. “So you’ve gotta go and be ready, ‘cause if you mess up there’s not a good chance of making it.”

O’Malley’s optimism was unshakable, so focused on the excitement of a state competition at such a young age and the chance to put her talent to the test. She was nervous but relaxed all the same, repeating the exact words her mother had told her, and her father, and Ms. Wasko, and friends, and professors and so many more. 

You’re gonna give it your all, and that’s pretty good for a freshman.

“I think when she has struggles, it’s usually self imposed stress,” Michele O’Malley, Clare’s mother said. “Last year we went to state and she did not place. I think she was a little disappointed for a beat and took a stride in realizing it was her first . I think she’s always been a perfectionist when it comes to academics and music, not in every , she is somewhere between being in what she does and having OCD.”

Michele practices law from a metal card table in the basement when working from home, so O’Malley can have a music room. Shawn, Clare’s dad, built a bass rack with her brother and grandfather for her, as well as helped set up five guitar stands, her library of music, mic stand, amp and move the piano. 

Both parents have been supportive every step of the way, to say the least.

At the age of nine, O’Malley received her first guitar. After mindlessly plucking at the same strings, she never saw lessons as more than a pastime. But it didn’t take long to learn a song, then another, pick up a new instrument, then another, take a class, a camp, win an award, become a part of the Kansas City Youth Symphony, fly to New York City, perform at Carnegie hall, then the Kauffman. 

At one point O’Malley “kept saying ‘mom, I’m gonna be the next Taylor Swift.’” But it was never enough. She continues to strive for improvement, in hopes of attending one of the most renowned music schools in the country, Curtis Institute of Music, then to become a professional bassist.

Sophomore Clare O’Malley can play the double bass, bass guitar, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, autoharp, cello, violin, viola, recorder, piano and ukulele.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had to tell Clare to practice,” Michele said laughingly. “In fact, there are times where I’ve had to tell her ‘please take a break because your fingers are bleeding.’”

O’Malley says that her grandparents have made the largest influence on both her life and music career. Her grandmother on her Dad’s side passed from ovarian cancer in 2020, and played a huge part in introducing O’Malley to music and offering encouragement when was least expected and most needed. Her grandfather is currently a Bluegrass Bassist, who also inspired O’Malley to make the switch from cello to bass in the 6th grade. She’s stuck with it ever since. 

“When I lost my grandma, that was probably the lowest time in my life,” O’Malley said. “Cause she meant everything to me. She got me into music. What hurts the most is that she isn’t here to see me go on and play in Youth Symphony or at Carnegie.”

Every concert, O’Malley makes sure to wear her string of pearls, gifted by her grandmother. Every year, she would give O’Malley two to add to the string, one every birthday and Christmas. O’Malley even believes “it brings luck.” 

As of now, she has 30 pearls.

As of now, she’s played in over 400 concerts.

“Last year I started in the incorrect place on my excerpt, ‘The Elephant,’” O’Malley said. “That was my nerves taking control, causing me to mess up on my scales going up and coming down. All in all it just wasn’t a very good audition. My tempo was even off, and my intonation wasn’t what it usually is.”

Two weeks ago, O’Malley made the three hour trip to Salina, Kansas. Her skills were stronger, posture straighter and mind sharper. She’d taken more lessons, put forth every effort with orchestra teacher Brittany Wasko, taking all criticisms and molding them into strategies. At that point, everyone in O’Malley’s line of sight was competition.

“I think she’s improved a lot,” Wasko said. “She’s took that as a she knows exactly what she needs to practice, what she needs to focus on and, you know, after you’ve done everything for a year it’s easier to go into that knowing what you need to do. She still takes lessons with the same teacher and they’re working on more things together. It’s been good for her.”

O’Malley waited in line at the middle school gymnasium when a woman called from the scratchy mic “Basses Group D.”

 O’Malley watched as those around her began packing up, it helped and frightened her to know that she was surrounded by next to 400 others who were going through the same thing.

She was ready. 

***

O’Malley laid back on her eggshell bedspread, reading chapter five of “Lord Of The Flies.” She had washed her face, showered, paced back and forth and stared at the array of corsages and scholarship certificates taped to her bedroom wall. O’Malley did everything to ignore her phone.

*Ding.

She couldn’t help it. – Message from senior Julian Jones.

The results are out.

She read it twice, mentally pinching herself while remembering the prank senior WolfGang Sell had played a week prior using that same line.

O’Malley took a fast breath, grabbed her MacBook, switched tabs and searched for the official KMEA website. She clicked on 2023-24 KMEA All-State Instrumental Ensembles and read the publishing date in tiny print.

January 16, 2024.

This wasn’t a prank.

O’Malley found String Orchestra and started swiping through the finalists.

Violin I.

Violin II.

Viola.

Cello.

She kept scrolling. 

Bass.

O’Malley shut her MacBook and walked to the living room. Her mom was busy in the kitchen and dad and brother in the basement.

She took another breath, and out flew her next words.

“I made it.”

That night O’Malley lay awake, a smile plastered on her face as a feeling of pride and residuous anxiety swept her mind. But O’Malley couldn’t help feeling sad as she ended the facetime with her boyfriend. 

“I just think my grandma would be so proud of me,” O’Malley said. 

O’Malley’s family and friends congratulated her, overjoyed by the news of second place. 

“She has this gift that she was born with,” Michele said. “We like to joke that she got all the musical talent in the family. She just understands music in a way that with the musical notes, that there’s, I don’t really know how to explain it. She kind of just has it.” 

Playing her cello, sophomore Clare O’Malley practices Jan. 18 in the Orchestra Room.
Photo by Sidra Sakati (Sidra Sakati (she/her))
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About the Contributors
Sofia Ball, Writer
Hi! My name is Sofia Ball and I am a writer for the Northwest Passage. Writing started out as a hobby for me. Something I never imagined I would be good at until about 7th grade after taking a creative writing class with Dr. Van Zant. I just started out as a freshman, and already, I've come to know and love many of the classes, teachers and students here at Northwest. I’d like to think of myself as an extrovert, but most of my freetime is spent either reading, writing or watching Netflix in my bedroom. I used to watch The Office all the time before it got removed. The only time you'll ever see me out and about is probably at Cross Country or Track practice. You may even see me handing out our latest newspaper issues around the school.
Sidra Sakati (she/her), Assistant Photo Editor
Hi I’m Sidra Sakati, and I’m going to be the assistant photo editor for 2021-2022. This will be my second year on photo staff and my first year on Newspaper. A fun fact about me is I hate running but I tend to do it anyways.

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