For the first time, the Goshen College Symphony Orchestra (GCSO) is directed by a female conductor: Victoria “Tori” Petrak.After Brian Mast transitioned from orchestra director to director of facilities across the GC campus, the GCSO leadership shifted to interim director Petrak, a graduate of Baldwin Wallace University and Kent State University.
Petrak, who has been working with the Youth Honors Orchestra within Goshen College’s Community School of the Arts for three years, explained that Mast and Matthew Hill, chair of GC’s music department, approached her in August about filling the position. Although previous commitments did not allow her to begin the role in the fall semester, she was willing to start mid-year.
Petrak says that working with the orchestra for such a short period can make it difficult to establish clear goals.
“It can be hard to step into the leadership position when they are already used to working together as an ensemble, so I am working to take as much feedback from them as possible while also instilling some things that I think are important,” she said. “I had never heard them before the first rehearsal, so it is a good challenge for me. What level of music can we play together?”
In fact, Petrak is used to conducting a wide range of levels of music throughout the day, as she is the head orchestra director at Concord Community Schools in Elkhart.
“My day starts with fifth graders at 7 a.m.,” she noted. She also directs both of Concord’s high school orchestras.
Petrak is also the assistant conductor of the Elkhart County Symphony, directs both the Youth Honors Orchestra and has also taken over for Mast as music director of the Maple City Community Orchestra (MCCO).
Grace Hitt, a trumpet player for the GCSO and an alternate for the MCCO, said, “I subbed for the Maple City Community Orchestra in their fall 2022 concert. When I learned that Tori would be the interim conductor for GCSO, I was excited to work with her again.”
“In both MCCO and in [her] limited time so far with GCSO, I have been impressed with Tori’s efficient rehearsal style and emphasis on musicality,” Hitt added. “She encourages us to be cognizant of how each instrument fits into the music as a whole and what we are trying to communicate as an ensemble.”
Camila Perez Diener, a freshman GCSO flutist, said, “Tori is a confident director who knows what she is doing and how to get it done. I feel like rehearsal goes very smoothly and very fast.”
As the first female director of the GCSO, Petrak expressed the challenges of working in a male-dominated field. “Since I started studying conducting in college, I have really had to seek out opportunities from women that are conductors. I have been really lucky to work with Marin Alsop and Sarah Ioannides … I didn’t think I could be in one of those positions until I saw it.”
Next fall, the orchestra will experience another directorial transition. The music department is currently in the process of hiring a full-time faculty member that will direct the GCSO along with teaching a variety of music education classes.
The GCSO will be in action at the upcoming 63rd Annual Goshen College Concerto-Aria concert, which is slated to occur on the evening of Feb. 18 at 7:30 p.m. in Sauder Concert Hall.