When it comes to conducting, Kirk Muspratt’s presence is electric. Watching him command performances of the Northwest Indiana Symphony makes the experience of watching music come to life that much more magical. Once the curtain closes, though, Muspratt’s magic lies in his interactions with audience members.
For an hour or so after each performance of the NWI Symphony, Muspratt makes a point of mingling with attendees, encouraging them to strike a chord with the arts by standing on their level. According to Muspratt, these relationships are singular to the region.
“It’s not like other big cities or big areas that are attached to a city: people in Munster really know people in Munster, people in Hobart really know people in Hobart, people in Valpo really know people in Valpo,” Muspratt said. “They run into each other and they go to the same stores. And you get a feeling that you can actually get to know people—you can see patrons and know them. It’s more difficult in a big city like Chicago. You might get to know a few of them, but [NWI] gives you a chance to form personal connections.”
Muspratt doesn’t stop at small talk; he’s happy to exchange emails or phone numbers if you have any questions for him. Muspratt even has a tradition of leaving a notecard in each performance’s program. Audience members can fill out the card with a question, the cards are then collected, and Muspratt answers a question or two before intermission ends.
“Last night, the question was, ‘What kind of music do you listen to in your spare time?’” Muspratt said. “Now, it may not seem like an important question, but somebody asked me and I answered, and it just makes a connection with people in the audience.”
His answer to the question, you wonder?
“I think [audience members] were surprised that I listen to Dolly Parton and the Neville Brothers and Doris Day,” Muspratt laughed. “I think they think, ‘Oh you must be listening to Beethoven all the time.’”
In addition to forming connections, Muspratt wants to encourage young people to pursue the arts. One of the many ways he cultivates young musicians is by holding an annual competition that allows them to demonstrate their talents. The Young People’s Competition takes place on May 18, and the winner will receive the chance to perform onstage with the NWI Symphony at one of their concerts.
“It gives them a chance to be in front of a wonderful audience, to have a goal, to be recognized, and to have people cheering them on,” Muspratt said. “Because these young people are doing the right thing for practicing art.”
With so many arts programs getting downsized in schools, Muspratt advocates for the importance of arts education.
“You have to have that garden where people can plant a seed and grow,” Muspratt said. “We need that in all of our schools, and we need that in every community. If I had my wish, every elementary school would have a huge music program, every middle school would have a huge music program, every high school would have orchestra and band and musical theatre and lessons with good people, just so the kids can have that.”
Muspratt and the NWI Symphony offer multiple educational outreach opportunities, from the competition to children’s concerts. The Young People’s Competition holds a special place in Muspratt’s heart.
“Of all the things I’ve done while I’ve been here, it’s probably the thing I’m the most proud of,” Muspratt said. “I hope I’ve changed [those children’s] lives, at least a little bit. I know they won’t forget it. They identify with meeting musicians; they are great soccer players, they are really good at chemistry, they participate in 4H, and they’re a guitarist or a violinist. And we recognize that and encourage them.”
Muspratt’s hope is that people continue to support and follow the NWI Symphony in the coming year. With the Star Plaza Theater closing, the NWI Symphony has had to relinquish home base, so to speak. But Muspratt is confident that the new venues will be just as good—and in some ways, perhaps even better—than the Star. His only concern is people’s fear of change.
“These auditoriums we’re playing within the next year are more intimate,” Muspratt said. “You have closer seats, the acoustics are more intimate. Monbeck Auditorium [at Highland High School] holds 1400 people, so what you hear in this auditorium is much better than what you hear in an auditorium that seats 3400 people.”
With a full schedule of concerts ahead and next season’s planning already underway, there are plenty of chances to catch Muspratt in action with the NWI Symphony. Despite the changes the past year has brought, Muspratt enjoys looking forward.
“As my mother says, ‘Every time you have a challenge, there’s an opportunity,’” Muspratt said. “With every change we’ve had, I think there’s also opportunity.”
If you attend a concert, make sure to stick around afterward and say hello to Muspratt. He’ll be happy to meet your acquaintance.