Heart of a Conductor

The musical journey of Edina resident Marlene Pauley
Marlene Pauley has realized her musical dreams with her conducting career

Growing up, Edina resident Marlene Pauley never believed her love of the clarinet would turn into anything more than a favored pastime. But after 20 years in the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, more than a decade touring and conducting around the country, and now entering her fifth season leading the Wayzata Symphony Orchestra, Pauley’s musical career has taken her on the journey of a lifetime.

Even as a child, her musical ability and natural leadership qualities were evident. Her mother said she would go to the piano and play by ear, and it was her kindergarten teacher who recognized Pauley’s leadership role among her classmates. Pauley chose to play the clarinet, which consumed the majority of her free time. “I always wanted to play,” says Pauley. “But even in high school, I never imagined making any money doing what I loved.”

It wasn’t until she rose to the top in the orchestra at St. Olaf College and was encouraged by her mentor to pursue a master’s degree that she began to think, “Maybe I could do this for a living.”

After graduation, Pauley taught at the Crane School of Music in Potsdam, N.Y. and at Arkansas State University, and toured with the American Wind Symphony Orchestra as a clarinet soloist and assistant conductor. At the invitation of Prime Minister Edward Seaga of Jamaica, she established and was conductor of the National Youth Orchestra of Jamaica, which consisted of 50 children from the island. “The prime minister said, ‘If you come to Jamaica, leave something behind,’ and that’s what we did,” says Pauley.

In 1982, Pauley was asked to audition for the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, where she performed as a clarinetist for the next 20 years, before realizing her dream job as a conductor. The desire to conduct had always been there she says, and in 2002 she decided to take the leap. Since then, Pauley has conducted for the Rochester Philharmonic in New York, Naples Philharmonic, Grand Teton Music Festival, Virginia Arts Festival and for the Pro Music Series in Kansas City, in addition to more than 75 concerts for the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. In 2007, she conducted an opera written to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, Va.

After traveling around the country as a conductor and many nights away from home, Pauley was determined to find an opportunity in Minnesota. In 2009, she was asked to audition for the conducting job at the Wayzata Symphony Orchestra, a community orchestra made up of dedicated musicians who volunteer their time and talents. Chosen from a field of guest conductors, the orchestra selected Pauley for her professionalism, talents at the podium and her ability to communicate with the audience and orchestra.

As a founding member of the orchestra and long-time friend of Pauley, Dawn Anderson says when it came to choosing the group’s conductor, Pauley won hands down. “She’s incredible,” says Anderson. “She is more than just a musician. She embodies passion and creativity.”

Terry Handler, principal cellist, couldn’t agree more. “Marlene’s professionalism and knowledge is equivalent to that of the great conductors,” he says.

In her fifth season with the Wayzata Symphony Orchestra, Pauley’s vision for the orchestra is constantly evolving. Her aim is to educate music lovers as well as entertain them. By mixing popular pieces with new works, she has sparked the attention of longtime symphony-goers and those new to the orchestra experience. The audience continues to grow, leaving only standing room at recent concerts. “She’s intensely musical and the audience loves her,” says Anderson. “She explains the music and brings it to life.”

When asked what’s next, Pauley smiles and says, “There are exciting things to come.”

For more information about the Wayzata Symphony Orchestra, including performance schedules, visit thewso.org.