Nov. 9 may have been another day in music class for most of the fifth graders at Irving Elementary School, despite the impromptu assembly at the end of class.
Meryl Pawlick knew she was the reason for the gathering when she saw her parents, Rosemary Burton and Alan Pawlick, younger sister Eva, Bozeman Symphony Maestro Matthew Savery, and a bunch of balloons.
"I pieced it together," she said. "I told my friend, ‘I think I won the conducting essay contest.'"
Savery, who was also joined by Superintendent Kirk Miller, Bozeman Schools' Fine Arts Supervisor Reneé Westlake, and Symphony Executive Director Sherry Linnerooth, presented Pawlick, 11, with a new baton, inviting her to conduct the traditional opening piece, Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride," for the Bozeman Symphony's December concert at the Willson Auditorium this weekend.
"I'm excited, but don't really think I'm ready yet," Pawlick said early this week.
Pawlick's turn in the spotlight actually began in November of last year, when Connie and Hugh McFadden purchased the "Moment as Maestro" at an auction fundraiser for the non-profit symphony. The Moment as Maestro auction item typically brings in between $1,500 and $3,000 for the symphony, according to Linnerooth.
After supporting the symphony with the winning bid, the McFadden's declined the opportunity to actually take a turn at the conductor's podium. Instead, they opened the honor to a person of Savery's choosing.
"Personally, I would love it if the winner would donate it every year," he said, but acknowledged that such a scenario is not the norm.
In conjunction with the schools, Savery decided to offer the unique prize to one of the more than 500 fifth graders who took up an instrument in September to join orchestra or band.
Each was asked to write an essay on "Why I want to conduct the Bozeman Symphony."
"Over 60 students turned in essays and 12 students were chosen as finalists," according to Westlake. "The essays were judged by English teachers, music teachers, the district's instructional coaches and the director of the gifted and talented program."
Pawlick, who plays oboe and piano, thought the competition would be fun when her band teacher, Jennifer Murphy, first announced it. Then Pawlick forgot until the night before.
Still, her essay, reprinted here, is lively and stood out enough to give her the honor.
Pawlick has been practicing her posture, keeping her arms high (she's quite a bit shorter than the statuesque Savery), and cuing in pretend sections from her living room table.
"I imagine where they would be and look at the air," she said.
She got a conducting lesson from Savery, working on tempo for the initial downbeat.
"From there, I can pretty much do whatever I want," Pawlick said.
The ballerina, who will perform a couple dances in this season's "Nutcracker in a Nutshell," has been practicing special twirls and other moves to spice up her turn on the podium.
The whole family has been listening to a recording of the song to help Pawlick prepare.
"I think all of us could conduct it by now," Burton said with a smile.
The family has also been helping Pawlick gain confidence as a conductor - watching videos online.
"It intimidates me to be the only kid in a room full of grownups," Pawlick said. "At the beginning, everybody is looking at you."
Her mother, citing Pawlick's other performances through ballet and Camp Equinox, said she is certain her daughter will rise to the occasion.
"She's been on stage enough," Burton said.
Pawlick has also seen the symphony and other orchestras perform for operas and plays.
"It's important to me to expose the kids to all kinds of stuff," Burton said.
In her essay, Pawlick mentioned that she will be conducting Irving orchestra teacher Chandra Lind.
"I think it would be fun to be in control of a teacher," she wrote. "I like feeling in control of everybody, it's very nice to have every sound following your lead."
After a rehearsal Tuesday, Savery was reconsidering his decision to have "Sleigh Ride" open the concert.
"I'm sitting here kicking myself because now I have to follow her," he said.
And where does one go after conducting the symphony as a fifth grader?
"I'll probably be in it," Pawlick said.
Rachel Hergett may be reached at email@example.com or 582-2603.
Meryl Pawlick will conduct "Sleigh Ride" in the upcoming Bozeman Symphony and Symphonic Choir Concert at the Willson Auditorium Saturday, Dec. 10, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 11, at 2:30 p.m. The concert will feature special guest vocalist Catherine Savery, soprano, and the Montana Association of Symphony Orchestras' Young Artist Competition winner Andree Werner on cello and works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Antonin Dvorak, Francis Poulenc and Johann Strauss Jr.
Tickets are available online at www.bozemansymphony.org or by calling the Bozeman Symphony office at 585-9774.
The restless crowd silences as the lights dim. The instruments start tuning to one solid note. As it becomes dark, a spotlight shines toward the wings. The crowd expects Matthew Savery to come walking out into the light, but no! A small figure steps onto the stage, the spotlight lowers and everyone is still. The persona walks across the stage to the conducting stand, raises a baton and music fills the air. Who could this be? It's a girl; she looks like she's in elementary school. But, who? And that answer is, it's me.
My first thoughts on conducting a symphony are, that it would be so much fun! I think it's great that they are sharing the experience of conducting with one 5th grader. I'm a fifth grader and I like to stand on our coffee table and pretend to conduct a symphony. But conducting a real symphony, I wouldn't miss the opportunity.
The reasons I want to conduct are numerous. First of all, I love music and I love the arm movements the conductor makes, they're so wild and big. Next, it would be fun to conduct as a 5th grader. I like standing in front of people, it's empowering to have them look at you and only you. Next, I'm sure that most people won't be able to say they conducted an orchestra at 11 years old. Hopefully, I'll be able to say that one day. Plus, I would be conducting our orchestra teacher, Ms. Lind. I think it would be fun to be in control of a teacher. I like feeling in control of everybody, it's very nice to have every sound following your lead. Lastly, I love the Bozeman Symphony. It is so creative; they keep coming up with great themes. I loved last year's "Tuba of Doom" theme. I especially liked the phantom or the bubble gum face. That was hilarious!
So what do you think? Will that spotlight be highlighting this young musician? I hope so.
- Maryl Pawlick, 11