Music is her world BY TOM KNAPP, Staff Writer
She started playing piano at age 5.
By 6!-W, she had gravitated to the violin. She doesn't really remember the circumstances behind that life-altering decision.
But Alexandria Conrad of Willow Street -- Alex to her friends -- has stuck with the instrument.
She has no idea what else she could do with her life.
"If you're going to be a musician, it's because you can't see yourself doing anything else," she says. "I mean, it's a hard career."
Conrad was picked in February to participate this summer in Carnegie Hall's first National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America.
It's a big deal, musically speaking. Conrad, 18, is one of 120 students, ages 16 to 19, selected by audition to perform on a 10-day world tour, which will take her from Washington, D.C., to Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia, before wrapping up the excursion as part of the BBC Proms in London.
Those 120 young musicians -- including just seven from Pennsylvania -- were selected from some 10,000 who auditioned.
"It's a great opportunity," Conrad says.
"I've never toured overseas before. And it'll be great to be around other kids like myself who put in so many hours practicing. I think we'll come together and make a really good orchestra."
It makes the six hours a day she spends practicing -- often at night, when she can be alone with her music -- worth it.
"The violin has such a wide range. You can do almost anything with it," Conrad says. "It's very close to the human voice ... and you can create so many colors, so many moods and emotions with it."
A tall, slim girl with long, wavy hair, Conrad will finish her studies through the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School in June. She also takes college-level classes at Harrisburg Area Community College.
This fall, she'll attend DePaul University in Chicago -- a choice made after a rigorous tour of campuses across America. At DePaul, she'll study with famed Russian violinist Ilya Kaler.
It's the big next step for a musician who hopes someday to make her living this way.
"I'd love to do anything -- maybe play in a big symphony, maybe a chamber orchestra," she says. "If I could solo -- yeah, that would be OK."
It's not as though she hasn't been taking music seriously all along -- ask most teenagers if they'd give up their Friday nights and Saturdays for lessons and rehearsals.
"I had lessons at 7 o'clock every Friday night," she recalls. "All my friends were hanging out, going to movies. I was 13."
She doesn't regret it. She laughs, though, and admits she was pretty happy when a slot opened up with her teacher on Saturday afternoons instead.
Conrad has studied at the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia and the former Pennsylvania Academy of Music here in Lancaster. A former student of Lee Snyder, she now works with Netanal Draiblate.
Someday, she says, she'll be the teacher.
"It will be so cool to pass on what I've learned," she says. "My teachers have taught me so much, and they've inspired me. I'd love to be that person for someone else."
Conrad smiles when asked what she does when not playing music.
"Music takes up a lot of time," she says, a little sternly.
She does have other outlets, she concedes. She likes reading -- she just finished "War & Peace," she says, "which was a really big undertaking. But I liked it, actually."
She also enjoys dancing -- ballet, of course -- and she and her twin sister like to experiment in the kitchen.
"We just flip through a cookbook and try new things," she says.
She also enjoys music, even when she's not the one playing it.
"I listen mostly to -- well, everything," Conrad says.
There are exceptions -- no rap or metal, for instance -- but she enjoys jazz and lists the Beatles and Edith Piaf among her favorites.
"It depends what mood I'm in," she says. "But, for the most part, music is playing all the time."
Music is a big part of her home life, Conrad says.
Her mother, Michele Conrad, is a music teacher. Her sister, Brittany, plays double bass and piano and also is heading into a college music program. Their older brother Chris, 21, likewise plays music, Conrad says, but is taking a break to focus on his studies.
Conrad and her sister also perform with cellist Kathryn Westerlund as the Vicepia Trio.
She's concertmaster of Trowbridge Chamber Orchestra and has performed as a soloist with various regional symphonies.
"You think about so much ... when you first start learning a new piece," Conrad says. "You're worried about the notes, what you're doing with the bow.
"By the time you perform it, you're thinking more about the idea of the music -- the image you're trying to convey to the audience."
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