Story by Dick Hildebrand
Photography by Megan Kruitbosch
Backpacking in the boondocks, going for long runs or conducting classical musicians, whatever Daniel Wiley is doing, the Windsor Symphony Orchestra’s new assistant conductor has energy to burn.
The 27-year-old’s motto could well be: Have clarinet and baton, will travel.
Daniel has boogied across the Boise State football field as the drum major leading the Idaho college’s marching band at half-time. “Performances with this group were always exciting because the audience for a Boise State football game usually ranged anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 people,” he says. Daniel graduated from that college with a bachelor’s degree in music education.
In the land of the midnight sun, he stepped onto the podium to guest conduct the Festival Chamber Orchestra, performing in Alaska’s Denali National Park and Preserve in July 2015. The featured compositions were entries in the Composers in the Wilderness program, demonstrating that great music can be created and played anywhere.
Compared to Alaska, Powell River, British Columbia felt almost tropical to the California native when he served as an assistant conductor for the PRISMA Music Academy.
Now Daniel is about to settle into his new home in Windsor. Maestro Wiley is picking up the baton set down by Peter Wiebe, who became the WSO’s first assistant conductor 14 years ago and held the position until recently deciding to step down. He continues as a cellist with the symphony.
Peter was also instrumental in establishing the Windsor Symphony Youth Orchestra under John Morris Russell. Throughout the coming months, Peter will work with Daniel and be a resource during the transition.
Daniel paused in his packing to chat with Windsor Life.
WL: Pursuing your education and career in music has taken you from your native Riverside, California to Idaho, Texas and now Windsor, Ontario. When you started out, did you envision the possibility of leaving the U.S. and moving to Canada?
DW: “My education and career has always been an adventure. It has taken me across North America and even to Italy and Russia. That being said, I never would have imagined that my first professional opportunity would be outside the U.S., but I am extremely excited that it is. I have a running joke with my family that each new opportunity takes me one-time zone further east.”
WL: What was it about the Windsor Symphony Orchestra’s assistant conductor position that enticed you to look northward?
DW: “My first experience with the WSO was last November when I attended a workshop designed to help young conductors plan and execute educational concerts. In the very brief time I spent with the WSO during this workshop, I immediately noticed a deep sense of passion and commitment to connect the people of the Windsor-Essex community through music. This drive to be an indispensable cultural asset makes the WSO a very appealing place to work.”
WL: Your job description includes taking over the youth orchestra and junior strings. You will also be planning and conducting concerts for educational and community outreach initiatives. Is there anything else you will be called upon to do?
DW: “Yes! In tandem with my responsibilities with the youth orchestra and education concerts, I will also be responsible for cover conducting every concert. This means that it is my responsibility to be prepared to step in and take over if the music director for some reason is unable to conduct. This is an interesting task as a young conductor because you must prepare as though you are going to conduct knowing full well that you probably will not.”
WL: What WSO strengths do you believe you can build upon?
DW: “I think one of the WSO’s biggest strengths is its commitment to education and outreach. This past season, the WSO presented 41 education programs that inspired over 8,000 students. Additionally, 21 outreach programs engaged 1,100 seniors in care facilities and the eight Neighbourhood concerts aided fundraising initiatives for many community causes across Windsor-Essex. I am excited to bring my own unique experiences and perspectives as a public music educator to help continue this impressive record of providing musical experiences to the youth of the Windsor-Essex community.”
WL: Your principle instrument is the clarinet. What other instruments do you play?
DW: “Well, as an educator, you sort of have to be able to play everything to a certain degree in order to effectively teach it. But I would have to say singing would be my secondary instrument followed by saxophone and piano.”
WL: What is your dream concert that you hope to conduct one day?
DW: “This is difficult to nail down, as I am so early in my career. There are so many great pieces of music that I cannot wait to conduct. This might be a great question to ask me in 15 to 20 years!”
WL: As a former Boise elementary and junior high school music teacher, what do you enjoy most about introducing young people to music?
DW: “I think my favorite part about introducing young people to music is watching their eyes light up the first time they discover that music is not something esoteric or abstract, but rather something very human and relatable. It’s really quite amazing to watch a six-year-old figure out that they have just discovered a new way to express themselves.”
WL: Do you remember what initially drew you to classical music? Was it a person you respected, a live performance or a movie score, perhaps?
DW: “My initial interest in classical music started with my grandmother Joan Wiley. She is a pianist, former choir director and music history teacher. She introduced me to composers such as Bach from a very early age.”
WL: When you received a job offer from the WSO, you had already earned your Masters in orchestral conducting from the University of North Texas and were working on your doctorate in orchestral conducting at the same school. Do you have plans for completing your advanced degree, back at North Texas or perhaps closer to Windsor?
DW: “Completing my doctorate is always an option. However, for now, I am solely interested in focusing all my attention and energy to my new position here in Windsor.”
WL: Even someone with your energy must take a break sometimes. When you are just kicking back, what are your go-to top five songs on your personal playlist?
DW: “My playlists is generally on shuffle and I like to think I have quite a diverse taste in music. But if I am being honest, something from a musical is probably on. I am a very big Wicked and Dear Evan Hansen fan.”
WL: What do you do for fun?
DW: “I am an avid runner. I have already been looking at potential runs to do along the river. I also have a deep connection with nature. I spent much of my childhood backpacking in the Sierra Nevada wilderness and find I am quite at home out in the middle of nowhere.”
WL: You have already made a couple trips to Windsor and will be taking up residence here this July. What are your impressions of your new community?
DW: “It is quite easy to tell that Windsor is a tightknit city that places value on community. I am excited to be moving somewhere that is so actively engaged in bringing people together in order to create a wonderful place to live.”