His long arms cull each note from the young, inexpert musicians. Now softer, now louder, he guides them into a symphony.
He and the baton are one, whipping the notes through the air. Mixing, refining, distilling. Right up to the end of the piece when there is only silence and exhaustion.
Michael Morgan, 22. Native Washingtonian and an alumnus of D.C. public schools. Apprentice conductor, since December, of the Buffalo Philarmonic Orchestra. Home now to conduct the D.C. Youth Orchestra, the group from which he sprang five years ago, in a concert appearance this Sunday.
He is quiet incandescence. One sharp kid.
The average age of the orchestra members he will conduct this weekend is about 16. They are effervescent and full of high-school concerns, as ready literally to tackle the guy in the next chair as a difficult passage from Mozart's "Magic Flute." Morgan understands. In the not-too-distant past, he was 16. But tonight he will have none of it.
The young musicians know Morgan is in charge.
Being taken seriously is usually no problem for him, he says. "It takes awhile, but most orchestras are responsive when they know who's in charge. Conveying that is not learned behavior -- it's something that just happens when you step to the podium."
And it does. Just talking about conducting lends an authoritative air to this lean, energetic young man who, is another setting, might be just another college kid on his way to a basketball game.
But this Michael Morgan doesn't like sports.
"Oh, good heavens," he shudders.
"Oh my goodness! No, no, no. The sport has not yet been devised that I am interested in or good at."
Music is what fascinates him, and has "for absolutely as long as I can remember," he says as he curls, catlike, into a low-slung chair in the living room of the Decatur Street NW home of his parents, Willie and Mabel Morgan.
Conducting became his fascination while he was a student at MacFarland Junior High School. He remembers asking his instructor, Herman Suehs, "all kinds of questions" about it "until, finally, he started training me to conduct."
Morgan, whose early training was in piano, says he immediately realized that he preferred conducting to playing, and has focused the lion's share of his attention on the baton ever since.
It is not surprising that he wants to lead. His regal bearing and confident, broad-voweled speech strike a leader's air. The impression he conveys is not one of haughtiness, but rather of containment. Control. Of justifiable pride in his achievements. Morgan has what might be called a definite continental style.
Perhaps it is all the traveling.
His young man's face lights up when the conversation turns to what it's like to be really, really tired. The long, sleepness haul is one he knows all too well.
Since he won the Buffalo apprenticeship, Morgan says, his life has become "one long series of hotel rooms." He's been traveling alone, dividing his time with Buffalo, Boston (where he is preparing to audition for another American Conducting Fellowship at Tanglewood later this year), Washington ad practice for Sunday's Youth Orchestra concert, and the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio where, until last month, he was a candidate for a master's degree in conducting.
Morgan participated in the five-year Oberlin program 4 1/2 years, but withdrew in January."The weight of all my mother commitments simply started to close in," he says, explaining why he dropped out.
Leaving school has not meant ending his education.
On the contrary, Morgan constantly studies the score of whatever work he will conduct next, practices the piano whenever he can, and intersperses with this self-instruction in history, the arts and literture -- "things that I feel I need to be civilized," he says.
None of these studies come in any particular order. "Alas," he says, suddenly the Shakespearean character, "yi fear that I have forgotten the meaning of the word 'routine.'"
All dash and verve now, he is sitting on the edge of the chair as he describes his love for Elizabethan history, Baroque music, the ethereal relics of the past. Morgan the Renaissance Man, sprung from the D.C. pavement.
His life was all music before he went away to Oberlin. "Necessary, but perhaps best past," he says.
No, he does not feel he's missed anything because of the extraordinary life he has led. ("The things that most 22-year-olds are doing are not things which interest me.")
And yes, occasionally, something other than music touches his life.
Friends? "Oh, indeed. I have a lot of friends, all over the place. Here, Europe. We don't really plan things, we just get together as we can." h
For amusement, there are movies and dancing. Disco? might one find the apprentice conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic dancing away the hours in a disco?
"Very, very likely," he says, laughing. Maybe this 1975 graduate of McKinley High School is only 22, after all.
But it is his serious side that prevails as he discusses the conducting competitions he's likely to enter in Demark, Italy and Austria this year, and as he thinks for a moment about his long-range plans. He would like to be resident music director of a major metropolitan orchestra, he says, preferably on the East Coast. And he also hope to teach.
He takes a moment to sort out his schedule mentally ("What day is this?"), and announces that he is headed for Boston the next day. But after Sunday's concert, he'll be free for almost six weeks.
Morgan says he is eager to spend the time with his parents -- his mother is a program assistant with the National Institute of Mental Health community support program and his father is a biologist with the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health -- and his sister, Jacquelyn, 20, a theater student at Howard University.
But if he doesn't make it home . . . "Really, any place would be acceptable," he sighs, "as long as it's got a quiet spot where I can just be still."