Natalie Frakes: The Debut Orchestra Director


Orchestra Director Natalie Frakes poses with her violin.

By Katelin Chong, Arts and Entertainment Editor

At the start of the pandemic last year, the Niles West orchestras were introduced to a new director. While it may have been hard over remote learning to get the full orchestra experience, Director of Orchestras Natalie Frakes is back in person this year to lead her students.

“It’s awesome that we can make music in-person,” Frakes said. “It is a little bit overwhelming, and there’s that underlying omen of going back to E-learning. I feel like we all changed in some way.”

Being a new teacher is tough as it is, but Frakes had to tackle the task in the middle of a global pandemic. Her first teaching experience was not in a classroom as usual, but on a Zoom call. Frakes states it was easier this way.

“Coming in and taking over for a beloved teacher, it’s hard to get the students on your side, but everyone was very understanding and empathetic,” Frakes said. “The fact that I didn’t have the time with you, [the students], took the emotional blow away, which is something I was missing.”

Over the course of E-learning, Frakes continued to give her students music to practice at home and had them play with each other over Zoom. While it was not the same experience as being able to play with each other in person, it was a good way to have the students continue to play their instruments at home. Members of the Symphonic Orchestra have mixed feelings about how the class was held online.

“Ms. Frakes had to adapt to a really difficult year, especially since orchestra revolves around collaboration and rehearsing together,” senior cellist Joelle Warden said. “Many students were dissatisfied last year with the situation, but Ms. Frakes has made a significant effort to get us back on track this year.”

Senior bassist Dia Patel said, “I’m pretty glad to be back in school for orchestra, playing our instruments virtually was really hard as we couldn’t really make music we all enjoyed and thought we were proud of. I hope we’ll be able to collaborate and agree on new pieces to perform more frequently now that we’re back in person.”

Overall, Frakes is excited to be back in person and has ideas for the Niles West orchestras for the upcoming year. She plans on holding concerts, though they may be structured a bit differently than they have in the past.

“We have concerts scheduled, and depending on how everything goes, I think I want to make it as normal as possible on stage but spread out a little more and have the audience limited,” Frakes said. “We might even play outside while the weather is still nice.”

With everyone being back in school, Frakes has also been doing her best to keep her classroom as COVID-proof as possible.

“I try to make sure we stay socially distanced, sanitize our hands and keep our masks on. I wipe everything down and keep the door open after school to get some circulation,” Frakes said.

Although school may have just started, it seems the Niles West orchestras have a lot in store for them throughout the incoming year. As the start of school takes off, make sure to keep an eye out for what Ms. Frakes and the orchestras have in store!