Just seven weeks ago, Patrick Walker ’16 started his position as conductor of the student-run Baroque orchestra and choir, Vassar Camerata. Walker worked as an assistant to former conductor Michael Hoffman ’13 last year and stepped into the conductor role this fall.
However, being a Hyde Park resident and son of Professor of Earth Science and Geography Jeffrey R. Walker, he began taking music lessons during his senior year of high school before taking music classes at Vassar. “My first music class was Music Theory 105. I felt that before coming here I knew I wanted to do music, but taking that class solidified it,” said Walker.
Walker found his knack for conducting through his musical family.
“The whole family does traditional Celtic music on the side,” Walker said. “My brother plays the trumpet and my younger sister plays the cello. My older brother was my inspiration to do classical music, he got my entire family into it. We started going to concerts he was in for choir.” From there, Walker began attending other concerts at the college. “I loved the orchestra concerts,” said Walker.
This love of classical music led Walker to the organ. His father sang in A Cappella Festiva, a community-based choir that is conducted by Associate Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities Christine Howlett. Through this connection, Walker met his first organ teacher, Eric Hepp.
As Walker explored his options for a career with the organ, he realized that his calling was to become both a conductor and an organist. With this drive, he started focusing on conducting. Walker said, “As I got more involved in classical music I decided to join the choir—A Cappella Festiva)—to understand how the choir was run.”
When Walker arrived on campus he continued working with Howlett through the Vassar College Choir, which he remains a member of, and he joined Camerata to explore playing the organ in a group setting.
Walker said, “I wanted to be in a group because it can get very lonely as organist.” In addition, he began taking lessons with Adjunct Artist in Music Gail Archer.
This fall, Walker stepped into the position of conductor for Camerata, combining his experiences with conducting, playing the organ and working with the choir. He is directing the orchestra of the group that performs music written between 800 and 1800 C.E. This experience has been very informative for Walker as he has explored conducting.
“The more you learn, the harder it gets,” he said. “You think the conductor comes at the beginning of a concert–after all the musicians have warmed up–conducts the concert, bows and exits. But it’s a lot more work.”
Walker has found conducting both challenging and exciting. “The beginning was very exciting but more work than I was expecting. It’s a lot of fun because we don’t have to worry about how hard the music is; they can play anything,” he said.
Currently, the group has not decided what they are going to perform in their concert. “Right now we haven’t pinned down what we’re going to do in our concert. So we are reading different pieces and seeing what we like. It has been a lot of fun to try out different things,” Walker said.
In addition, Walker has had to work with a relatively small budget and as a student organization rather than affiliate of Vassar’s music department, both which have lead to several challenges.
“The one drawback to that is that I have had trouble finding music. We don’t have a very big budget. So I have been trying to find free sheet music as best I can. The issue with that is you get a piece that has misprints and then you have to deal with that,” said Walker.
“Plus the piece must have parts for the orchestra. We also have issues finding room in Skinner that we can practice in because as a student group we have priority under all of the faculty members. We wind up rehearsing around 9 at night…But it’s very rewarding, especially considering the quality of players I have,” he said.
Still, Walker believes conducting Camerata has been extremely rewarding, introducing him to new musicians to collaborate with. “I am blessed to have such great musicians to work with. Some are better than me, so it’s a two-way relationship. I learn something from them and them from me.”
“The only bad thing I can say about Vassar is that there are too many good opportunities. Sometimes I’m sorry I can’t take all of them. Especially with music, I feel like so many opportunities have come my way like conducting Camerata.”
In addition to this work, Walker conducted a piece for Mahagonny, the student-run modern orchestra and choir. He is also in charge of music for the Vassar Catholic Community and performs solo pieces at the student recitals from his work with Archer.
Outside of music, Walker is on the crew team and wants to participate in downhill ski racing this winter. He will also be playing organ with Mahagonny this year and will be competing in the Concerto Contest on the organ .
For now, Walker will continue working with Vassar Camerata in anticipation of his first concert of the semester in mid-December, during study week.