By Alyssa Pry
For most people, it’s difficult to recall the exact moment you decided what career to follow. Perhaps it was a gradual discovery of something you liked doing. Or maybe you fell into something for the practicality of simply having a job and paying the bills. But for a lucky few, there is an “A-ha!” moment when you discover exactly what it is you were meant for. And for an even fewer number, they actually go on and do it. Laurel Stinson is one of those people.
Now a conductor and music educator at Grand Street High School and with the Grand Street Community Band, it was an early experience with a band piece that inspired a career in music and has led her to the Carnegie Hall stage, where she will be making her conducting debut with the GSCB on June 6.
Stinson will be conducting Procession of the Nobles by Nicholas Rimsky-Korsakov, a piece that has captivated her since she first played it her 8th grade wind ensemble.
“I remembered the melody,” she said, singing the first few bars. “And just being fascinated by the different sections of the piece—the fanfares, the very articulate fast moving notes, and then these beautiful lines in between,” she said.
For Stinson, it opened up the possibility of making music into a career.
“I was like, ‘Ok, music is kind of cool,’” she said. “All of a sudden this world of music just started unfolding. And Procession of the Nobles was kind of the gateway.”
But just months before, Stinson had been close to giving up on band, after her family moved from Texas to Pennsylvania.
“I was going to quit playing the clarinet because band was not as challenging as it was when I started playing in Texas,” Stinson said. “My parents made me stick it out with the new middle school band director.”
Her director encouraged her to continue with band, and after a successful high school music career performing in various honors ensembles, Stinson attended Ithaca College, where she once again encountered the piece that started it all.
“I came back to Procession of the Nobles when I was in wind ensemble at Ithaca College, [and to see] it from a beginner light, like, ‘what is this?’ to [then] really delve into it as a piece of music, it was cool” she said.
Now, making the transition from playing within the ensemble to leading one on the Carnegie Hall stage has given Stinson the opportunity to experience the piece in an entirely new way.
“Making that transition, from a successful ensemble member, of being like, ‘O god, that’s a lot of notes’; to college, ‘O, that’s what’s going on the other side of the ensemble!’; to now, on the podium, I have an idea of what it should sound like, all parts together,” she said. “My job is to make sure I wave my arms or use the expression on my face to make sure all that sound comes out,” she said.
Bringing that energy and passion to the podium is something Stinson relishes about her job as a conductor.
“I’m a conductor through and through,” Stinson said. “I like being the prism. That’s what I consider the conductor’s job. You are taking all this energy that’s in front of you [and] synthesizing it so you can get it out to the audience.”
With the Grand Street Community Band performance approaching quickly, Stinson said she’s ready and excited for the opportunity to conduct at Carnegie Hall.
“[I’m] honored to be able to tell people that I’ve been able to lead an ensemble on that stage and [have] put in the work,” she said. “That’s the beauty of live performance. We will do everything we need to do to make sure it’s prepared so once we get on stage we can just press play.”
But could Stinson have imagined she would be raising her baton at Carnegie Hall to the same piece of music that inspired her so many years ago?
“Life hands you these doors and my mother taught me just to walk through them,” Stinson said. “Just to see where it goes.”