“It’s all in your hands,” conducting major Josh Palkki explained nonchalantly.

For Palkki using his hands as a tool for expression is not just a part of his music, it has become a way of life. This is often apparent as he inadvertently whips his hands through the air, emphasizing the tones and intensity of his own words as he casually speaks. Immediately, one begins to comprehend the passion that this young man has for the art of conducting.

Palkki has been teaching the art of conducting more than four-and-a half years. Prior to coming to NAU he attended Ball State University where he received a degree in vocal music education.

“To be a good conductor you have to be a good teacher,” said Palkki, a graduate student in NAU’s School of Music. “To take a group of strangers and make them work together as a unit takes strong leadership and guidance.“

Palkki had the opportunity to test his ability in mid-March at this year’s American Choral Directors Association Competition in Chicago. He was chosen out of 150 video auditions to compete in the semifinals as one of eight graduate-level and seven undergraduate-level competitors. He then advanced to the finals where he competed against three doctoral-level conductors.

He placed third in the overall competition.

“Being in the finals in an honor in itself,” Palkki said. “But being able to compete with three other doctoral students is an even greater honor.”

Each conductor worked with a group of 85 choral singers chosen from schools around the nation. The directors were given an eight-minute time frame to organize and instruct the singers in front of a panel of six judges.

“It was a very interesting situation,” Palkki said. “You are given eight minutes to work with 85 strangers who have never sung together before and expected to make beautiful music.”

Palkki will graduate from NAU this May with a master’s degree in Music and Choral Conducting.

Information about the American Choral Directors Association is online.