Sarah Hatsuko Hicks 


For conductors, rejection is an everyday reality. There are some 30 to 100 people in front of them and up to 5,000 behind them. And it's hard to please everybody. "An orchestral conductor is a risk-taker," Hicks says. "You have to have that attitude to put your ass on the line — oops, can I say the word 'ass'?" Hicks is not only a risk-taker, but also a survivor, at the young age of 33, she has outlived breast cancer.

The best thing Hicks has learned during her career is to not take things personally. In an orchestra, not everyone is going to agree with you. Some will love you. Some will hate you. Luckily, Hicks says at least one person in the Richmond Symphony always loves her — her husband, Paul LaFollette, who plays the French horn. Hicks jokes that it's a dream come true because she gets to tell him what to do at work and at home.

When Hicks needs some relief from conducting, she turns to one of her favorite pastimes — singing in a punk band. Because, as she puts it, "every once in a while, you need to do the head-banging thing."

Before Hicks began ordering musicians around and singing in punk bands, she was a serious pianist with a promising career in Japan. But at 16, she developed tendonitis by playing complicated works meant for much larger hands. After the diagnosis, she became very depressed. But her dad encouraged her: "You're still a musician," he said. "You can still hold a stick." A few months later, she was conducting her high school's orchestra.

Although Hicks enjoys yoga, surfing and riding on the back of her husband's motorcycle, nothing compares to conducting, she says: "There's these moments while you're conducting that are almost mystical. They don't happen very often, but they occur when you've convinced the orchestra of something and everything falls into place. Everything's perfect. Like a painting. It's hard to find that in life. That's what I live for."

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