By Dr. Stacey Robertson
As the dean of the Central Washington University College of Arts and Humanities, I am reminded every day about all the different ways our faculty, students, alumni, and staff interact and positively influence each other.
Let’s call it: The Art of Collaboration.
We are particularly committed to collaborative mentorship. It is lifelong learning at its best. But what happens when the mentor can’t utter one word to the mentees … in this case about 75 talented musicians?
That is the challenge our Director of Orchestras and Associate Department of Music chair, Dr. Nik Caoile, faces on a daily basis. Through his non-verbal facial expressions, the movement of his body and baton, Dr. Caoile can bring out the best in an orchestra, fully engaging each devoted student musician.
Dr. Caoile, 38, describes the process of conducting as a dynamic “conversation” in which he calls for a “dialogue,” “pauses,” and “restarts,” all without uttering a single word. He is the conductor our CWU Orchestra, but also serves as the director and conductor of the Wenatchee Valley Symphony Orchestra. Dr. Caoile has come a long way from first touching a piano key when he was six years old, growing up in Tualatin, Oregon.
Like other energetic children, he wanted to go out and play with his friends rather than practice the piano. As he grew up, his parents had high hopes that Nik would become a medical doctor. He initially explored Pre-Med at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, but soon realized that music was his true love.
Through his dedication and hard work, Dr. Caoile received his bachelor’s degree in Music Composition from Willamette University (2000), his master’s in Orchestral Conducting from the University of Washington (2003) and his doctorate in Musical Arts in Orchestral Conducting from the University of Michigan (2013).
Dr. Caoile has been an instrumental – pardon the pun – part of our Department of Music Faculty for a decade plus.
“A Microcosm of the Diversity of the World”
Dr. Caoile describes the interaction of string, wind, and percussion instruments as a “microcosm of the diversity of the world.” He encourages each orchestra to embrace its unique character and deliver its own interpretation of the music, including Ludwig van Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.
Dr. Caoile venerates the work of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, which he describes as “clarity of motion and melody.” He also admires the renowned composer Gustav Mahler. Professor Caoile delights in conducting the work of both of these distinguished composers and many others, to the gratification and enjoyment of thousands in his audiences.
There is at least one time that Dr. Caoile directed an “orchestra” without any instruments. He served as the inspirational speaker to the CWU Freshmen Convocation at the beginning of the 2015-2016 academic year. He brilliantly displayed his skills by conducting incoming freshmen in performing the “wave” with the same precision and attention to detail as he does with strings, winds, and percussion. Energized and motivated, these new students were more than ready to start their exciting and challenging college careers.
What gives Dr. Caoile particular joy in his job? It comes when former students return to Ellensburg, often exhausted from the “grind” of performing for a major orchestra with 100 concerts or more per year, and they reminisce about the superb education and good times they experienced at Central Washington University.
What is next for Dr. Caoile?
The answer is a well-earned sabbatical in the spring term followed by the establishment of the Northwest Orchestra Institute with our own musicologist, Dr. Mark Samples, this coming summer. The institute is designed to provide intensive training to young outstanding orchestra musicians, taking their skills to the next level. The institute will also teach students how to manage orchestras, with special focus on entrepreneurial and marketing skills.
Dr. Caoile has come a long way since finding middle C for the first time at the age of six. From his frenetic pace and energy, one can safely surmise that he will continue to lead and inspire — many times without saying a single word — for those students fortunate enough to play in the Central Washington University Orchestra and others throughout the Pacific Northwest.