Studio visit is a Q&A with a local artist. Here, Melissa Merli chats with musician and conductor Aaron Kaplan, who has performed with the Champaign-Urbana Symphony and has conducted the music for several Champaign-Urbana Theatre Company shows.
Q: Did you just finish your degree in conducting?
A: Yes, a master's in orchestral conducting.
Q: What do you want to do now?
A: I want to be a conductor. I just got a full-time teaching job as co-director of the orchestra at my old high school, Glenbrook North, and South.
Q: I noticed in your bio that you've been very active here.
A: Yes, I came here for my bachelor's and master's, and in that time as a cellist I performed with the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra and Sinfonia da Camera, and as a conductor I've done several shows with the Champaign-Urbana Theatre Company as well as Illini Student Musicals, a new group we started last year on campus.
Q: Didn't you start a cello choir here?
A: Yes, I started a cello choir for the cello studios at the UI when I was a freshman, but it lasted only a couple of years, 2007 to '09. Then I started the cello camp for Illinois Summer Youth Music.
Q: What else did you start?
A: I was one of the founders and co-president of Illini Student Musicals. Besides starting things I was the music director and conductor for the Sangamon Valley Youth Orchestra in Springfield this past year.
Q: Do you still play the cello? I just love its sound.
A: I do, very actively. Orchestral and chamber music, mostly, and wedding gigs and stuff like that. After I start my new job, I'm going to focus more on conducting opportunities.
Q: How and why did you get into conducting?
A: I started conducting my senior year of high school. I was the assistant for the freshman orchestra, which usually entailed grunt work. One day Carl Meyer, my teacher and mentor, asked me to get the group started because he was running late. When he walked in, he saw I was getting work done, and that whole year he let me conduct the group.
And then when I got to college I was originally majoring in cello performance. In my first semester I added music education for a double major and through that I met my conducting professor and mentor, Donald Schleicher. I liked him so much, and studied with him on and off during my undergraduate years and decided I wanted to pursue a master's here.
Q: You're conducting the orchestra in CUTC's upcoming "Les Miserables." How's that going?
A: It's great. The cast is at a very high level, and the orchestra is fabulous. It's a hard show but everyone involved has really risen to the challenge, and the outcome is going to be spectacular.
Q: Are your parents musicians? What made you take up the cello at age 5?
A: My parents are biochemists. I started playing cello after my kindergarten music teacher was showing us all the different instruments we could play. She was a cellist, and I had a crush on her. Honest to God truth. So I picked the cello.
Q: Once you leave here, will you continue to play in the orchestras here?
A: I hope to continue a little bit. I'll hopefully be back in this area. I'm conducting another show here, for the Allerton Music Barn Festival, of "Of Thee I Sing," a George Gershwin operetta.
Q: I hate to say this, but with your hair you really look like a conductor.
A: People say I look like Beethoven. I have Beethoven's hair. I had normal hair until I was 16, and then my mom said, "You should grow it out," so I did and it happened to fit my job description.
Q: Did you enjoy your time here at the UI?
A: I haven't slept in six years, but I loved it.
Editor's note: The Champaign-Urbana Theatre Company will present "Les Miserables," directed by Stephen Fiol, on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and next Sunday and Aug. 8-11, at Parkland College. For more, visit cutc.org/les-miserables/. For more on Kaplan, visit aaronskaplan.webs.com/biography.htm.