With the support of Central Carolina Community Foundation, the S.C. Philharmonic is able to take the orchestra into the community and give everyone a chance to experience symphonic music from the podium. You might visit Soda City Market, the Irmo Okra Strut or the State Fair, and suddenly come upon an orchestra.
There is no conductor — just a podium, a music stand, a baton and a sign that says, “Conduct Us.” What follows is usually unpredictable and incredibly fun, as people of all ages and walks of life take their turn at the podium to Conduct the Phil.
This year we decided to extend the orchestra’s reach to those who might otherwise not have the opportunity to see, much less experience, an orchestra first-hand. Our first visit was to the S.C. Department of Juvenile Justice, and quite honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It takes courage to step onto an orchestra podium for the first time. And it takes even more courage to do this in front of your friends. Now imagine being a juvenile at DJJ. What kind of pressure is involved when you step up in front of everyone and conduct a symphony orchestra? Peer pressure is serious business, and at DJJ, I can’t imagine what bravery it would take.
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Yet not only did these kids conduct with enthusiasm, their friends supported them with lots of applause and laughter, and even a few standing O’s.“Hey lady!” I kept hearing. “He/she wants to conduct!” They would point to the person beside them, whose head would shake a vehement “no.” Everyone else would offer encouragement, and the next thing we knew, we had a conductor standing in front of the orchestra, wide-eyed, baton in hand.
The best part was watching faces transform from nervousness to excitement and joy. I could see the realization come over them that they were the ones making the music happen.
Broad gestures brought loud music. Fast gestures made it all go faster. And if they danced while conducting, the audience erupted into applause and shouts of support — and the orchestra members grinned so broadly, it was a wonder they could continue performing.
At one point, a DJJ staff member turned to me and said, “I am seeing kids here smiling and laughing that I never see smile.”
If that didn’t already make the musicians and staff feel really good about being at DJJ, here is what made it special. One of the juveniles used to play violin in an ensemble in his hometown and has really missed the chance to perform with other musicians. DJJ reached out to us with a special request, and after we sent him music to practice, he was able to walk out to perform with us.
He played beautifully. He played to the approval of his peers. And he played with the South Carolina Philharmonic. His music teacher, Ted Henderson, later told us: “The experience for Jacob was nothing short of transformative as he spent the majority of the post-performance day after vigorously reading through new challenging material with me and spoke of continuing his violin studies with a new re-invigorated focus once he returns (home). He most certainly may look back at this incredible experience one day as the one that changed his trajectory from one of an at-risk Juvenile to one of a world class musician!”
These kids have had some hard times, but many of them have bright futures ahead of them. DJJ guides them through extensive rehabilitation programs to help them re-enter society and become successful in life.
I realize that a single concert at DJJ will not solve their problems. But I do believe that for many of them, it was a chance to feel joyful at a time when this is a rare thing. It’s a day they will remember for a long time.
Ms. Hunsinger is executive director of the S.C. Philharmonic; contact her at Rhonda@ SCPhilharmonic.com.