Student Conductors Add to the Festivity of Commencement

Rachel Breitweser ’03

June 19, 2017

Caught up in the excitement of the evening, many might not realize that the Commencement ceremony music is performed live by the Punahou Symphony Orchestra.

This year, several student musicians from the orchestra volunteered to conduct the pre-ceremony music, which creates a welcoming atmosphere while family and friends settle into their seats and await the graduation ceremony.


Punahou Symphony Orchestra Directors Craig Young and Jonas Carlson met individually with the student conductors Dane ’19, Sean ’18, Jou ’18 and Charles ’18 to go through the basics of conducting.

“We went over what to do, what to look out for when looking at a music score, how to use your hands and gestures, and how to give cues,” said Young. “The nice thing was the student musicians who were playing understood that it was the conductors’ first time, and they had fun and were respectful.”

To prepare for the big day, Charles, a violist, studied the piece he was conducting, a medley of songs from Miss Saigon, by watching and listening to performances of the musical on YouTube. While tempo changes are noted in the sheet music, stylistic finesse is up to the conductor.

For Dane, conducting has always been a dream, and he is considering becoming a maestro in the future. To ready himself for the performance, Dane studied the great conductors Carlos Kleiber, Herbert von Karajan and Claudio Abbado. He put his own spin on things by using his former Harry Potter wand as his baton.

Dane conducted “Josh Groban Gold.” “It was the perfect piece for me because it so flowing and expressive, and I was able to really feel and understand its beauty,” said Dane. “As I was conducting, tears even started trickling due to the emotion of the piece and the joy of conducting for many of my graduating friends.”

“As conductor, you have to make sure everyone is feeling the same beat and rhythm,” Charles explained. Conductors also control the “phrasing” of a piece of music, indicating to the musicians when to draw notes out and when to shorten them. “How you move your hands and the stick also tells the musicians to play loudly or softly,” said Charles.

The students relished the opportunity to experience conducting, especially those from the Class of 2018, as it is their last year performing at Commencement since they will be the ones receiving diplomas next year. “It was a good time for them to get an opportunity to conduct in front of a live audience,” said Young. “We all connected well with each other, and the unique and beautiful voices of every single instrument formed into such an emotional performance for the class of 2017,” echoed Dane.


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