Symphony orchestra conductors bring to mind flamboyant behavior and flowing hair. But Brad Mutzenard takes another approach. This down-to-earth, straightforward, humorous but utterly professional conductor of the Bangor Symphony Youth Orchestra [BSYO] is more likely to lighten a musician’s embarrassment at making a mistake by joking about it and to reward successful playing by tossing his musicians miniature candy bars.

This attitude results in 51 young people ages nine to sixteen being willing to give up their Sunday afternoons to rehearse. Rehearsals take place at the Maine Center for the Arts in Orono.

The success of the concerts depends not only on the conductor and his musicians, but also on the willingness of BSYO board members and the musicians’ parents to donate time and money. The parents must chauffeur their kids to and from the weekly rehearsals and pay the $80 per year fee, which helps pay for the music and the conductors. (The BSYO also has a Wind Ensemble of 31 members, including 15 who do not play in the orchestra, which Gina Provenzano conducts.)

Cellist Dale Quinby, 15, grew up on Isle au Haut, but her family moved to Sedgwick several years ago to take advantage of what the mainland has to offer. Her father dives for starfish, which he prepares for biology specimens. Her mother manages the business. David Quinby, speaking to the expenses involved in paying for instruments and lessons, admitted, “Money is a factor” and said the BSYO board is “very sensitive to money issues.” He said the musicians come from “This huge area an hour and a half each side of Bangor.”

Actually, one orchestra member, flutist Brittany Whalen, 16, of Machias, makes an even longer trip: two hours each way. Her mother, Catherine, said, “When I complain, she tells me, `It’s no problem, Mom, I like it that much,’ and she’s not much of a traveler.” Brittany and her mother — her father’s an orthopedic surgeon who is on-call more Sundays than not — leave at 8:30 a.m. She has a flute lesson on campus every other Sunday at 11, after which she and her mother eat lunch together in the car before she gets dropped off for the BSYO rehearsal, and so on. It makes for quite a day.

A musician whose parents also drove pretty far for two and a half years, cellist Axl Wallingford, 14, of Tremont, didn’t play in the spring concert this year partly because of the long drive and partly because of other commitments, including playing trumpet in his school jazz band. His stepfather, Eric White, is a sternman on a lobsterboat. His mother, Sara, a librarian at the Southwest Harbor Public Library, is also corresponding secretary for the BSYO, in addition to running after a two-year-old and a four-year-old. When asked if Axl would be playing in the orchestra again, she said, “If he has the desire to, yes.”

On a pleasant Sunday in March, the members of the BSYO met in one of the Center’s rehearsal rooms. Rather than the usual clusters of teenagers chatting, the musicians, teens and sub-teens, either stood in place or sat in their seats warming up. They looked and sounded professional, as conductor Mutzenard noted, upon entering the room. After tuning their instruments, Mutzenard began to take his musicians through the first piece for their upcoming concert two weeks away, one of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos.

A vibrant, delightful person, Mutzenard, age 57, kids with his players and talks their language with an accent that places him not far from Boston. As he rehearsed each piece, he taught musicianship and musical terms, asking this, eliciting that. While working on Brahms’s Academic Festival Overture, when they got to the part where the trumpet plays the “gaudeamus igitur” melody, Mutzenard kept telling the lone trumpet player, “More attitude. Give it more attitude!” He had the first and second violins play their scale-like part, then explained to the trumpeter, “The first and second violins are the icing, the flowers on the wedding cake. The audience doesn’t want to sing that. They want to sing your part … all they way home to Lamoine.”

As they rehearsed the William Tell Overture, he brought up the problem of stage fright, linking it to the embarrassment a player feels when making a mistake and having to play that part over, alone, in front of the whole ensemble. He said, “I know you’re feeling scared because you’re all alone. That’s natural. Sometimes it takes years to get over.” Then he said, “I’m not scared when I conduct, but I am when I play trumpet.” It was the kind of remark that can make a kid want to follow you anywhere.

Cellist Dale Quinby would. She said in an earlier interview, “He’s a good conductor and he’s wicked good with all the kids. Even if he’s saying you’re doing something wrong. He’s very direct. If you make a mistake, he wants to hear it. He wants you to be playing right out there, but he jokes about it. He doesn’t make you feel bad.”

She went on, “If you make a mistake, he wants you to mark on your music where your trouble spots are. Everyone has to have a pencil. He goes to the Dollar Store and gets boxes of pencils so no one has an excuse for not having one.” The youngest musician in the orchestra, Lydia-Rose Ross, of Holden, at nine, whose father works at Dead River Oil, has only played the violin for a year. Because Lydia’s 12-year-old brother, Abraham, a cellist, wanted to try out for the orchestra, Lydia did, too.

Young as she was, Mutzenard thought she would make it in the orchestra. He told her mother, “Every once in a while I see something in a child’s eyes, and I know that they can do it.”

“She really enjoys the orchestra,” her mother said, “I have to give Mr. Mutts a lot of credit. I never would have thought she could do it. This is the first year they’ve been in the orchestra. It’s been wonderful. Both my children have loved doing it and they just rave about him on the way home: the things he said and did.”

Not all the members of the orchestra are determined little nine-year-olds, but some are really advanced. During a 15- or 20-minute break in the rehearsal while most of the kids went and got food and drink provided by the parents, one of the older girls, Alyssa Budden, 16, of Bangor, who has played violin for eight years, showed off for several friends by fiddling country dance music just as fast as she could. It was as impressive as she meant it to be.

Mutzenard, BSYO officers and board members hold auditions for intermediate to advanced students each August. Those accepted rehearse each Sunday afternoon from September until the autumn concert in November and from January until the spring concert in March. As the young musicians practice and rehearse, their playing and musicianship improve and with each concert, they gain experience in playing in public. All these factors help build self-confidence.

Concerts are free, though the board encourages donations. Several people, businesses, and organizations also support the BSYO. This financial support makes a real difference for families already making sacrifices to pay for instruments and lessons.

Although the orchestra is for middle and high school students, young musicians starting at the advanced beginner skill level may call or e-mail for an audition.

For more information call acting president David Iverson at 207-379-4000, e-mail him at, or go to the BSYO website at