by Rhonda P. Hunsinger
With the support of Central Carolina Community Foundation, the SC Phil is able to take the orchestra out 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 SC State Fair, and suddenly come upon a orchestra. There is no conductor – just a podium, a music stand, a baton and a sign that says, “Conduct Us.” What follows next 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. First up was the SC Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), and quite honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It takes a fair amount of 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 when you are a teenager. 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? You might embarrass yourself. They could make fun of you. Peer pressure is serious business, and at DJJ, I can only imagine what some of these kids have been through, and what courage it would take to step forward and conduct that orchestra.
Yet not only did these kids conduct with enthusiasm and excitement, but their friends supported and encouraged them with lots of applause and laughter, and even a few standing O’s.
“Hey lady!” I kept hearing, and I would turn and they would say, “He/she wants to conduct!” and would point to the person beside him. This person would then shake their head no quite vehemently. Then everyone else would encourage them, and the next thing we knew, he/she was standing in front of the orchestra, wide-eyed, with a baton in their hand.
The best part was watching each person’s face transform from nervousness to excitement and joy. I could see the realization hit that THEY were the ones making the music happen. Broad gestures brought loud music. Fast gestures made it all go faster. Stopping suddenly made the orchestra stop. And if you danced while conducting, the entire audience erupted in applause and shouts of support and laughter – 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 some kids here smiling and laughing that I never see smile. This is amazing.”
And if that didn’t already make the musicians and staff feel really good about being at DJJ yesterday, here is what made it exceptionally cool. There is one juvenile at DJJ that plays the violin. He used to perform 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 we couldn’t have been happier to oblige. The music was sent to him advance and he practiced hard. And at the beginning of the performance, he was introduced and walked out to perform with the SC Phil to the sound of great applause from juveniles and staff alike.
He played beautifully. The support for him in the room was clearly there, and I can only imagine that this will be a day he will always remember. He played to the approval of his peers. And he played with the South Carolina Philharmonic.
These kids have had some hard times, but many of them have bright futures ahead of them. DJJ guides these juveniles 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 in their life where this is a rare thing, and it will be a day they will remember for a long time.