It’s hard to put into words how inspirational the past few days have been.

I had the privilege of serving as Guest Conductor for the District 7 High School Honors Orchestra of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association at Cumberland Valley High School from Thursday through Saturday, and these students were some of the most delightful, intelligent, thoughtful, artistic, dedicated, and hilarious people with whom I have ever had the pleasure of collaborating. They mastered Copland’s “Hoe-Down,” Kevin Puts’ “Millennium Canons,” Hanson’s 2nd Symphony, and a Tribute to John Williams, but when the entire string section of nearly 100 played Barber’s Adagio, it was a level of sublime that was quite overwhelming from the podium.

As if that weren’t enough, during breaks, the students began leaving me “gifts” on my conductor stand, beginning with a dinner roll (from their lunch) with plastic forks and knives protruding from it like rays of light. I embraced this with joy, which motivated them to create a shrine — one that grew during every break, resulting in quite an elaborate array of artifacts… a display that I insisted had to remain on stage for the concert, much to the delight of the musicians (and their parents). And, at the end of our chat session that I always do after the final rehearsal, I was presented with a special waffle that was signed with a Sharpie by everyone. In short, we all bonded in a very special way that transcended the music. It was magical, and after over a dozen hours of rehearsal, the concert was a profound statement of love, respect, and humanity.

It was a reaffirmation of why I love conducting orchestras, especially those with dedicated students or community members. It’s a unique experience that brings out the very best in people. It was a faith-in-humanity-restored journey, but mostly, it warmed my heart.

I am indebted to my dear friend Jennifer Anderson Schramm for inviting me to guest conduct. Your leadership and tremendous organization made for an amazing festival for everyone involved. A big shout out to my other sistahs, Krista Kriel and LaShae Willits for your awesomeness and support. It was a blast hanging out, laughing, and killing some wine and margaritas! Let’s do it again soon!!!