It didn’t take long covering the arts in Lexington to realize this was a pretty good place to be an artsy kid.
There were organizations such as the Lexington Children’s Theatre, Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras and Living Arts and Science Center dedicated in whole or large part to the artistic nurture of children. Other major organizations also made education significant parts of their missions, and while I heard stories of school districts around the Commonwealth exorcising arts from the curriculum, Fayette County continued to boast schools with strong theater, music, art and even dance programs, including two arts magnet programs.
For the past five years, Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras director Daniel Chetel has been a major part of Lexington’s arts educational strength.
I’m not saying that from the perspective of an arts journalist, though the growth of CKYO has been obvious from that vantage point. This is the perspective of a parent of two artsy kids, both of whom have been in the Youth Orchestras and one who has played under Chetel’s baton the last three years, and will do so for the last time Sunday night.
I was actually planning to write this column next year, when my son will be a senior preparing to participate in CKYO’s traditional final-concert performance of Franz Joseph Haydn’s Farewell Symphony, played only by seniors who depart the stage one-by-one, turning off their music stand lights. But earlier this year we got the news that Chetel is leaving at the end of this season, which is now upon us, to join the faculty of Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill.
The man will leave a legacy, helping to launch programs such as North Limestone Musicworks, which brings music education to students at Arlington Elementary School (the group will perform at Sunday night’s concert); initiating collaborations with groups such as the Lexington Philharmonic and the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre, which has included two consecutive holiday performances of the Gian Carlo Menotti opera Amahl and the Night Visitors with an orchestra of CKYO musicians; and a general rise in the expectations the orchestra has of the student musicians and vice versa.
That’s all great. But what really struck me over the years observing Chetel is the value of having a director of an educational organization who is genuinely enthusiastic about working with students. A youth orchestra can be a stepping stone, a place for a conductor to refine skills on his or her way up the conducting ladder, and there is nothing wrong with that. But what we always got from Chetel was a guy who was genuinely excited about where he was and making CKYO the best it could possibly be.
Under his direction, the young musicians performing complete symphonies went from being a mind-blowing idea to an annual event. Putting the musicians on stage with collegiate and professional musicians, such as side-by-side concerts with the Lexington Philharmonic, was a routine way to grow as a musician. Most profoundly, Chetel’s enthusiasm for music was infectious. When I would talk to him at events, I could tell where a good part of my son’s excitement was coming from.
And parents were excited. After concerts, our Facebook feeds would light up with excited posts about the amazing performances our kids has just participated in — and in a number of cases, we are talking about parents who are knowledgeable musicians in their own rights.
Talking to Lexington Philharmonic music director Scott Terrell this week, he said Chetel has been a great collaborator and will be missed. But he also pointed out that this is part of growing a great music community in an area this size: leaders will attract attention and be enticed to move on. He also pointed out that the interim director, Marcello Cormio, has already demonstrated to local audiences that he is an outstanding conductor in his own right.
Maybe the greatest testament to a director’s skill is when he or she leaves a group in a position to thrive after after they’re gone.
Lexington is not the easiest town in which to leave a mark as an arts educator, but Chetel has most certainly done it.
If You Go
Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras
What: Performance by the CKYO Symphony Orchestra with the Alumni Reunion Orchestra, Friends of Music and North Limestone Musicworks
When: 7 p.m. May 15
Where: Singletary Center for the Arts, 405 Rose Street
Tickets: $10 adults, $6 students, seniors; free ages 5 and younger