Flute in hand, playing a quick tune comes natural to 15-year-old Allie Strong.
Strong is becoming known as one of the best flute players in Mitchell, but this weekend she's putting her instrument down to take on a new challenge.
Strong, a sophomore at Mitchell Christian School, is going to conduct the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra for one song during their annual Christmas concert at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday at the Washington Pavillion in Sioux Falls.
The opportunity came about through the South Dakota Symphony Youth Orchestra, which Strong has been a part of for the past three years. The youth orchestra is an education program in Sioux Falls comprised of four student orchestras, which range from beginner to advanced. For the past year, Strong has been part of the top advanced orchestra youth group. The previous two years, she served in the second advanced group.
The entire youth orchestra is completed in accordance with the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra. And recently, the organization gave youth orchestra students a chance to conduct the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra.
And, luckily for Strong, she was chosen in a drawing.
"I couldn't really believe that I was chosen. There's a lot of people that volunteered," Strong said. "I was extremely excited and then I realized 'Oh, I'm going to have to direct a bunch of adults who are professional musicians.' "
Although nervous for the challenge, she feels better she'll receive lessons from the orchestra's music director. Strong attended a lesson in Sioux Falls Wednesday evening in preparation for her debut as a director.
But while conducting an orchestra will be a new experience, teaching and directing are already part of her repertoire.
At Grace Reformed Church in Mitchell, Strong is charged with directing the choir. This season marks her second year as director. She also teaches flute lessons to a fifth-grade student at Mitchell Christian and spends time teaching piano to one of her younger siblings.
But it's her flute skills that shine. For the past two summers, Strong has performed in the Mitchell Municipal Band. And last year, as a freshman at MCS, she was selected to be part of South Dakota High School Activities Association's all-state band.
Although she enjoys playing the flute in her high school band — she also can play saxophone — it's performing in the youth orchestra that she loves even more.
"I love playing in the orchestra," she said. "It's such a different sound from band ... They put a lot of passion into it. It's just so much more music, and the music is older and a lot of times it's more timeless. I really like that."
Music runs in the family
Strong picked up the flute for the first time five years ago, but she's always had a passion for the instrument thanks to her grandmother.
"I grew up watching her play flute in concerts and enjoyed watching her. She looked like she loved it so much that I wanted to play that, too," Strong said.
And her parents couldn't be more proud of their daughter. Strong is one of nine children in the Strong family, who all enjoy music.
Her parents, Mark and Amy, played the saxophone and french horn while in school, and encourage each of their children to pick up the art, Mark said. But they're particularly proud of Allie, who has excelled at playing the flute.
"We're happy for her, and it's good to see her be able to do so well at something," Mark said. " ... Knowing how much she likes music, we're thrilled for her to have this chance."
Lifelong lover of music
Although she still has several years before college, Strong already knows she wants music to remain a part of her life.
She's not yet sure on a career path, but she may study music education or music performance in college.
But for now she's going to focus on the weekend performance. Strong has been selected to conduct "Sleigh Ride" by composer Leroy Anderson.
While both she and her dad are nervous for the Sunday event, the father-daughter duo knows it'll be a success and look forward to what the future may bring.
"I'm just really excited," Strong said.