ST. CHARLES – St. Charles East High School senior Alex Carroll admitted that he was somewhat nervous before stepping onto the conductor podium at Orchestra Hall in Chicago.
But he used that nervousness to his advantage in making his conducting debut. On May 19, Carroll led the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras’ world-renowned Symphony Orchestra through a performance of Aaron Copland’s "Hoe-Down" from the 1942 ballet "Rodeo" during the orchestra's spring concert.
"I turned from my nerves about to shatter me into a million pieces to a feeling of excitement that really helped me do my best and really focus in," said Carroll, in talking about the experience.
And conducting the piece had its own set of challenges.
"What was especially challenging with this piece in general was making sure the ensemble was really together on it," Carroll said. "What Copeland does is he'll write parts that don't land on the beat – we call that syncopation in music. And so there was a lot of that going on. And it's something to really keep track of, because you want to cue the orchestra and give them the best set up that you can possibly give them."
Carroll said he was pleased with how he did.
"I really kept working hard on how I wanted to be at Orchestra Hall," he said. "It went great and it was an awesome time."
Carroll was the recipient of CYSO’s 2018 Doug and Sharon Carroll Conducting Fellowship (no relation). He was chosen as conducting fellow by CYSO Music Director Allen Tinkham after an application process last fall. Throughout the season, he met with Tinkham to complete an independent study curriculum focused on developing his skill as a conductor.
"He did an awesome job preparing my skills," Carroll said. "When I was first starting, it was really daunting, because here you are in front of all these fantastic musicians who are at least at your level. Everyone is very capable and could easily serve in the same role. And to get in front of them and be the one that is now conducting them was something that was very daunting at first."
Carroll, who is graduating from St. Charles East on June 2, plans to attend Northwestern University for a degree in double bass performance. He has been a bass player since he was in third grade.
He is a big fan of the instrument.
"The sound of the bass is just awesome," Carroll said. "The thing I really love about this instrument is that I'm not limited to any genre. This instrument goes everywhere. I play a lot of jazz as well. I can play any genre of music that I want to, because it crosses over into practically every genre that you can name."
In addition to serving as co-principal bassist in CYSO’s top ensemble, Symphony Orchestra, he is very involved in the performing arts at St. Charles East, including being part of the school's chamber orchestra, jazz workshop, chorale, vocal jazz workshop and wind ensemble, as well as being involved in musicals and plays. Carroll is also an Eagle Scout with Boy Scout Troop 1 in St. Charles.
After getting a taste of conducting, he hopes there will be more opportunities to conduct in the future.
"This experience was so amazing that it made me want to do more with music," Carroll said. "This is something that I would love to pursue."