Joey Young was in grade school in South Carolina when someone handed him a trumpet and told him to play.
"My dad wanted me to do something to stay out of trouble," he says.
At 15, he attended a conducting workshop. "I conducted the second movement of Beethoven's Second," he recalls. "I fell in love with the sound of the orchestra."
One thing led to another and now, Young is here for a year as an apprentice conductor with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. He is here courtesy of a prestigious fellowship through the League of American Orchestras.
Young, who is single and goes by "Joey," has moved into an apartment on Allen Street, where he studies his scores and puzzles over his new city.
Buffalo's late bar hours can be a distraction. "Every night there's this loud noise," Young observes, eating a cinnamon bun at Cafe 59 one bright morning.
But he is more amused than annoyed. "Buffalo has a rock 'n' roll quality to it," he says, eyeing Allen Street meditatively. "It has its own style. I like it."
The fellowship catches Young at a watershed time in his career. At 27, he holds an artist's diploma in conducting from the Peabody Conservatory and a bachelor's degree in music, with an emphasis on music education, from the University of South Carolina. But he is still green enough to get stars in his eyes recalling how, when he was 17, he bought his first orchestral score.
"It was 'The Rite of Spring,'" he confesses. He laughs, acknowledging that Stravinsky's masterpiece is one of a conductor's ultimate challenges. "I'm still trying to figure out what that piece is about."
He jokes about his highbrow musical tastes. "I go to the gym and everyone would probably think I was listening to Top 40. But I'm listening to Debussy."
Behind the humor, though, is a serious commitment to his art. Young spent the last two years in Baltimore, working with Marin Alsop, the music director of the Baltimore Symphony. He had met Alsop at California's Cabrillo Festival Conductors Workshop and asked her advice on what paths to pursue.
"She said, 'Why don't you study with me?' "
The two years he spent as the Baltimore Symphony's first Peabody Conducting Fellow expanded his horizons tremendously. Young studied with Gustav Maier, who had been Alsop's teacher. He glows recalling what a thrill it was to achieve his dream of conducting a professional orchestra. His parents came in to hear him conduct the effervescent overture to Mozart's "The Magic Flute." Young loved the experience. "The orchestra was behind me 100 percent. They knew I was there to learn from them," he says.
Alsop encouraged him to apply for the fellowship that brought him to Buffalo. At the BPO, he faces a new responsibility. He is Falletta's stand-in. "If JoAnn gets sick, Joey comes out," he laughs.
Should the occasion arise, Young will be ready. He grew up the oldest of three boys, and he is not afraid of a leadership role. He talks candidly about the challenges he has faced.
"You have to have it in mind, evoking the spirit of music through body language," he says. "Conducting is all about body language. Marin always told me, be the music. I picked my apartment in Baltimore because the closet has a full-length mirror. Baltimore and Peabody let me video myself.
"I used to have a problem. I did not stand up straight. If you're conducting, say, the opening of 'Don Juan,' if you're crouching, it's not right. Or the end of Tchaikovsky Five," he muses. "I spent two years correcting bad habits."
Young admires Falletta's ability to engage with the community as well as the other musicians. "That's what I hope to learn," he says.
"I'm not in a hurry to be the maestro. I don't like that word."
Music, he believes, is a team effort.
"I am starting to enjoy the process of making music a lot more," he reflects. "It's not just about you -- it's about the fellowship of 90 people on stage. When I conducted Schumann's First, I felt it was a communal event. If you watch a string quartet play, you can see how engaged they are. That is how it has to be. That's where the fun starts."