Conducting a path

Philharmonic's new assistant followed winding road to Fort Wayne

Caleb Young, photography by Yupeng Gu

Caleb Young, photography by Yupeng Gu

The Fort Wayne Philharmonic has been very fortunate in its leadership over the years, with Maestro Andrew Constantine beginning his eighth year as musical director and with a series of rising stars serving as assistant conductor. The latest of these, Caleb Young, was recently hired after a large search brought the young conductor from Dallas, though his long and winding road has brought him through Indiana before.

Young was born and raised in North Carolina, but his father is a native of Franklin, Indiana, which meant long car rides to the Hoosier state when Young was a child. Already a musician like his parents, Young played piano but by high school had become serious about the euphonium, which led him to start considering serious training and his college plans.

“It was during my senior year in high school when I had that ‘a-ha moment’ and decided to stop playing the piano and really focus on the euphonium,” Young said. “I knew then that I loved music and couldn’t see myself doing anything else.”

He begged to take lessons with a renowned euphonium teacher in Montgomery, Alabama, which in turn led to his decision to apply to the University of Alabama – and only the University of Alabama – for his undergraduate studies.

“It was the dumbest thing, really, to only apply to one school like that. But I loved Alabama and had a true undergraduate experience there.”

Although he began as a music education major, Young was encouraged to pursue his euphonium studies more, which allowed him more time for rehearsal as well as more options for electives. It was then he discovered conducting, something his euphonium professor, Demondrae Thurman (himself a conductor) encouraged. After he graduated from Alabama, he began applying to schools for graduate studies.

“I did the exact opposite of what I had done in applying for undergraduate programs, and it’s kind of a tragic story, but one I think is good for people to hear. I applied to 14 schools and didn’t get into any of them. I was heartbroken. This was my dream, and I was absolutely lost and panicked for a minute.”

But only a minute, because in a surprising development, even to Young, he was able to persuade the conductor of the Atlanta Symphony to allow him to attend rehearsals. Young essentially took a gap year, during which time he parked cars to earn money and watched how Atlanta’s orchestra worked and rehearsed. He began putting together his own players, just as he’d done as an undergrad at Alabama, and working on his conducting until he was able to apply again the following year. That time, he applied to 12 schools and was accepted to five, including IU’s prestigious Jacobs School of Music.

His new role with the organization officially takes off at the Philharmonic’s Family Series Halloween Spooktacular concert Oct. 30.

“At some orchestras, there aren’t as many conducting opportunities for the assistant, but that isn’t true here, so I have so much work ahead that I’m really excited to do,” he said.

First appeared in the September 2016 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.

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