It was an honor to conduct an orchestra. But with about 600 eyes staring at you, it’s a wee bit frightening but very exciting. At first it felt like I left my stomach at home – not to mention my brain – but on stage, it felt like the musicians and I were connected.
– Sam Lighthart-Faletra, guest conductor
Last Sunday night at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland, OR, fourteen-year-old Sam Lighthart-Faletra made his conducting debut with the Metropolitan Youth Symphony Orchestra. The son of our dear friends, poet Annie Lighthart and medievalist Michael Faletra, he is an 8th grader at the Waldorf School in Milwaukie, OR. He is also a percussionist with MYS’s Interlude Orchestra and was chosen to conduct “O, Sole Mio” with the 102-member Symphony Orchestra.
After receiving coaching from Raúl Gómez, MYS’s Music Director, and practicing diligently by himself, Sam had only two run-throughs with the orchestra before the performance.
When he walked on the stage in front of more than 500 audience members (that’s 1000+ eyes, Sam!), he exuded poise and confidence. Bowing to the concert mistress and the orchestra, he raised his baton and the classic Italian song soared to life.
I sat there in awe as I watched a boy I’ve known for four years transform into a young man who had internalized the technical score; used broad, confident gestures to lead the musicians; and thrilled his parents who were sitting near me.
I asked Annie what it was like to see her son up on stage. She said:
Sitting in the dark audience, I swear time both stopped and ran forward simultaneously. As I watched Sam, my mind flashed back to the day he was born – his tiny, tiny face and serious eyes. I registered that image with such surprise because there he was in front of me too – tall on the stage, all in black like a symphonic Johnny Cash, lifting his arms with such bold movements, calling out big amazing music. I really felt struck by lightning, by time, rooted to the sight of him, feeling the truth of the old quote about parenthood: that to have a child is to let your heart go walking around outside your body – or in this case, standing up far away, waving a baton, bringing music out of the air.
Leave it to a poet to collide the past with the present and to describe her son as “a symphonic Johnny Cash”!
Would Sam like to conduct again?
“I would love to conduct again,” he said, “especially Holst’s The Planets. ‘Jupiter’ is one of my favorites. When you conduct it, there would be lots of gesture in the baton!”
Here’s to all the young people in our lives who enjoy our support for their creativity. Whether their “gestures” are made in the service of music, writing, art, theater, cooking, designing, whatever … They are walking outside our bodies to bring joy to themselves, us, and the world. Bravo! Brava! for them and us.