Nevaeh Cooke
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DANVILLE — Conducting a symphony orchestra has been the dream of Neveah Cooke’s lifetime, and tonight this Danville High School junior’s dream is coming true.

Cooke beat out five other contestants for a chance to guest-conduct the Danville Symphony Orchestra, which is set to perform a Christmas concert at the high school’s Dick Van Dyke Theater starting at 7:30 p.m.

Cooke will lead the orchestra and the Danville Community Chorus in “Sleigh Ride” — and she’s been preparing for this moment for quite some time.

She’s a little bit nervous, she admitted, “but I’ll get through it and be happy with it.”

A future music teacher, a drum major for the high school’s Marching Vikings and a string base player, Cooke has been learning to conduct from the high school’s Orchestra Director Gage Womack and has been getting opportunities to conduct in class since she was 16, she said.

She also wanted to be drum major so she could conduct the marching band this season, she said.

Cooke won her chance to conduct the Danville Symphony Orchestra by getting the most online votes — 451. Other contestants were dentist Randy Ashton, retired veterinarian West Bieritz, Danville Area Community College President Stephen Nacco, retired physician Dr. Donald Rokosch and District 118 Superintendent Alicia Geddis.

Cooke, the daughter of Thomas Jones and Mary Cooke, was keeping track of the voting online Thursday night, and realized she’d won at 11:59 p.m., she said.

She woke up her family to share the news right away.

“My dad was extremely proud, and my mom told me she knew I could do it,” she said.

Cooke isn’t just a musician. She ran cross country last year and is looking forward to running track this spring. She’s a distance runner, she said.

“It calms the mind a lot,” she said.

Tonight’s symphony performance — called “Stars for Julius” — will honor late Danville philanthropist Julius W. Hegeler II.