'I learn something from every musician'
In his three years with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, associate conductor Sameer Patel has become an increasingly familiar face in the community. Beyond the Philharmonic’s own season schedule, he can also be seen conducting performances with other organizations, such as the recent production of “Romeo & Juliet” with Fort Wayne Ballet, or working with the Fort Wayne Children’s Choir. In a relatively short time, Patel has distinguished himself as a unique and popular addition to the Philharmonic family.
As a piano student in Michigan, his plan had always been to study music at University of Michigan, which he did, earning undergraduate and graduate degrees there. In doing so, he put together a degree in conducting, which didn’t actually exist.
“A couple of people before me had put together that degree so I rode their coattails and put something together for myself. I knew in high school that I wanted to conduct, and I had an extraordinary high school band teacher who had shown what good you could do in a position like that. It just seemed a natural direction for me to take my musical career.”
He concedes that a degree can only prepare someone for a career in conducting to a point, that much of what’s needed is learned by doing. “School can teach you how to study the music and the technique of conducting. It can’t teach you the leadership skills that are needed to lead an orchestra. But I’ve been very fortunate in my three years with the Philharmonic in that every rehearsal I learn something from every musician in the orchestra.”
That sense of collaboration, one which he defines as a “partnership,” is where Patel reveals his passion for the music itself, which he sees as key centerpiece of each performance.
“It’s important to embrace what the musicians bring to it, their experience and ideas, so that you’re shaping the performance together rather than me imposing my will on them. The audience doesn’t see the rehearsal process where the orchestra and I work together to create a mutual vision of the music that will be performed.
Patel begins studying the music months in advance – by February he was already deeply involved with music for an October guest performance with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra – and it is there where the vision begins. But he always looks forward to his time with the other musicians, which often include the Fort Wayne Philharmonic but can also include any number of other orchestras where he appears. Still considered a young conductor (“You’re generally always considered a young conductor until you’re in your 50s”), he savors each opportunity to work with his colleagues and to take that music to an audience.
First appeared in the May 2014 issue of Fort Wayne Monthly.