My name is Nathan Krebs, and I am a senior music major and history minor here at Whitman. I am in my second year of working with the Walla Walla Symphony Youth Orchestra (WWSYO) as a guest conductor and percussion coach, and it continues to be a rewarding experience. The WWSYO is an audition-based group for musicians in grades 8-12 that does not require a fee for entry, providing an opportunity for students to hone their music and leadership skills at no cost.
A typical WWYSO rehearsal for me begins in the percussion section, as I help our two percussionists learn the intricacies of orchestral percussion. Whether we are discussing tricky rhythms in certain pieces, the position of mallets when performing a roll on the timpani, or ensemble balance, I try to provide feedback that will improve their skills and confidence. Both of them have made significant strides in these areas over the past few weeks, and working with them has been wonderful. It certainly helps that they tolerate my attempts at making jokes during rehearsal, which makes the learning environment much more fun.
Next, I move to the conductor’s podium and gaze upon a sea of middle and high school musicians, which is a surprisingly intimidating experience. My primary responsibilities as a conductor are to draw out the best possible sound from the group while ensuring that all members of the orchestra understand stylistic and technical elements of the piece. In order to get musicians to play in a specific style or with a certain inflection, I use prepared gestures in my conducting. This semester, I have worked on becoming more comfortable with larger and more expressive gestures, including larger arm motions, smiling, and making prolonged eye contact with musicians. Training oneself to stare at people might sound odd, but it is one of the many ways that conductors can help convey information to the orchestra.
This internship is proving to be immensely valuable in my own development as a teacher and leader, and I enjoy helping the students in the WWSYO develop their musicianship and mature as young adults. I am grateful to the Walla Walla Symphony for their willingness to let me take over the podium so that I can gain more conducting experience, as well as to the musicians for being so welcoming. I am excited to continue working with the group in the spring, but I cannot look too far ahead; our concert is in less than a week.