Stuart Chafetz

Wednesday - July 02, 2008
By MidWeek Staff | Share Del.icio.us

Stuart Chafetz

Tune in to Hawaii Public Radio Friday to catch Hawaii-based conductor Stuart Chafetz lead the annual Fourth of July concert from Chautauqua, N.Y. Chafetz has been a part of this particular concert several times before, and will once again conduct the “paper-bag pops” version of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, in which members of the audience will simulate cannon explosions.

“I have the audience play the cannon part with paper lunch bags,” he says. “There are 5,000 people who get three bags each - that’s 15,000 bags that get popped in unison. You get this amazing sound that’s louder than a cannon.”

The concert begins at 3 p.m. and will include pieces such as George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and John Williams’ The Olympic Spirit.


Chafetz appeared on MidWeek‘s cover in February 1996 as a timpanist with taiko drummer Kenny Endo. Now, Chafetz has put down two sticks to pick up one, going from the back of the orchestra as a timpanist to the front as conductor.

“I think, as a timpanist, because I have so many measures of rest, I can focus on the orchestra and also the conductor,” he says. “I learned so much about what worked and what didn’t just from playing timpani and viewing the conductor from the back.” He goes on to credit the Hawaii community for facilitating his learning experience and allowing him to make this next step as a musician. He cites the Honolulu Symphony as one of the best he’s worked with.

As well as being a guest conductor for the concert, Chafetz will take a year’s leave of absence from the Honolulu Symphony as its principal timpanist to serve as resident conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and also music director of the Maui Pops.


Chafetz says he tries to be a positive influence, encouraging musicians rather than intimidating them. “A lot of conductors in the old days, back in the day, were these terrors - terrifying people that made (performing) very tense,” he says. “I always encourage people to play at their very best but feel comfortable.”

Despite his love for being a conductor, Chafetz still can’t get out of his timpanist mindset. “The one thing that I think is very difficult sometimes is when I know a big timpani part is coming,” he says. “And I’m listening very carefully to how the guy or gal is doing. It’s hard to remove myself from that, but I think the difference is being the conduit for motivating 60 to 100 people on stage.”

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