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    “I’ll give you one measure, and then we’ll come in,” he says, lifting his long arms, one made even longer by the baton in his hand — not so much a tool as an extension of the body. He pokes the air and the strings lunge into the dun-dun-dun-duuuuunnn of Beethoven’s Fifth, the musicians reading from sheet music he printed at home. This feeling, waving your arm to make music — “Indescribable,” he says. The 40-odd musicians in front of him follow his every command, though some of them could be his grandparents. A few even call him “maestro.”

    The conductor and executive director of the Kentuckiana Philharmonic Orchestra is 16 years old.

    At a swing of his wrist, the musicians halt. “That’s what I’m talking about!” he shouts.

    Oldham County High School sophomore Ben Crouch knows he’s young to be conducting an orchestra, but that didn’t stop him from founding the nonprofit ensemble last spring. Through Facebook ads and word of mouth, Crouch, a member of the Louisville Youth Orchestra, recruited the musicians, from high school kids to Louisville Orchestra retirees. They rehearse at St. Matthews Baptist Church, and this day in early April is the last rehearsal before the debut performance, a program at the church spanning two centuries of music. Crouch is nervous. He has never conducted an ensemble in performance whose name didn’t include the word “school.” His audiences have scarcely included anyone but “the parents of my peers,” he says.

    But he’s not entirely without experience. He has been playing the cello since he was seven, and he has picked up conducting tips wherever he could find them. Be a musician first, and a conductor second, a U of L professor once told him, so he has kept up his chops on both cello and bassoon. In the next five years, he hopes to raise enough money to pay 80 musicians. The goal for next season: Transition away from an all-comers-can-play model and start holding auditions.

    Back in the sixth grade, Crouch first took the helm when his band director was absent. Now he’s planning to get a Ph.D. in conducting. “It has to be not just a job but a vocation,” he says. “You have to know the music better than anyone else in the room. You have to know every single beat exactly.

    “A lot of people would say it’s determination or hard work. I definitely think there’s a ton of that,” Crouch says. “But if you love doing something, you’ll find a way to do it.”

    This originally appeared in the May 2018 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

    Photo by Chris Witzke

    Jennifer Kiefer's picture

    About Jennifer Kiefer

    Germantown transplant. Louisville native.

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