Dan Chetel has a motto that serves him well in dealing with young people: "If you are going to do something," he said, "you might as well do it with a smile."
Chetel, music director for Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras, likes to say that he wants his young players to be "present, with a big P, a capital P." In the course of making that point, and many others, he emphasizes the words with a wave of his hands, as if he's conducting the conversation.
"If they are coming to rehearsal, I want them to be glad to be there," he said.
Chetel is wrapping up his first season in charge of CKYO with Sunday's annual Mother's Day concert. Before being in the top job, he had been assistant conductor for the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, UK Opera Theatre and CKYO.
Robin Morrill, a CKYO board member and parent, said Chetel has a way of relating to the young musicians that's hard to describe.
"He has a passion for young people," she said. "He's so in tune with what is going on, and that is very important.
"I am totally on the Dan bandwagon."
The 300 members of CKYO's three orchestras range from third-graders to high school seniors and come from an 11-county area. Chetel said he recognizes that when a child signs up for the program, the child's family does too.
To that end, he has sent weekly emails detailing rehearsal times and other details: "Bring a music stand" or information about fund-raising or how to buy concert tickets.
He also hopes to expand the orchestras to serve more families, announcing this year the creation of a fourth group, a repertory orchestra.
It takes a lot of organization, along with fund-raising and a fair bit of office work, to get the job done, but Chetel lives for the music.
"I love the moment when we change the perception of what we can achieve," he said. He recalls one point this season when he had been working with the Concert Orchestra to play softly enough that they and the audience could hear the opera singers they would be accompanying while performing a selection from Mozart's Così fan tutte.
"All of the sudden," he said, "you could hear the singers in a different way."
There have been a lot of moments like that."
He said he appreciates what a youth orchestra can mean to a student. It meant a lot to him to be among like-minded peers when he played in a youth orchestra while growing up in the Boston area.
Chetel said he knows that not all of his charges will go on to professional music careers. Some might study something unrelated to music. But, he said, he hopes they will go on to be supporters of music in their communities and people who enjoy music in their own lives.
On Sunday, he said, he expects his players to be relaxed. They have had months to work on the music. He'll be working to make sure that everything is in place to make them shine.
He has given them the musical tools. That day, he'll focus on the physical, making sure the chairs are set up just so, the music stands are in place, the lights are coming up at the right time and everyone's name is spelled correctly in the program, so players and audience alike can sit back and enjoy the show.
He hopes everyone is present with a capital P.
He said, "It should always be about the people in the room."