Former Huron Symphony Orchestra leader shares concerts on YouTube


Many people will remember orchestra director Phil Scales, who became the Huron Symphony Orchestra leader for 11 years beginning in 1990, and also directed the Huron High School Orchestra from 1990 to 1991, when the district was without an instructor.

What many didn’t know is that Scales filmed each of those orchestra concerts he directed, and now he is sharing them with everyone through YouTube, where they can be found by typing in Conductor Phil Scales.

“There are 92 videos, between Huron and Watertown,” said Scales, who lived in Watertown at the time. He is now retired and living in Wisconsin. “I started the Watertown Symphony in 1992, so I was doing the Watertown Symphony and Huron Symphony.”

Although he video taped each performance, Scales said no one has ever watched them.

“I had the tapes, and we never had the opportunity or time during rehearsals to sit down and watch the tapes,” he said. “It’s something that people should know is there.”

The YouTube segments are short snippets of each performance. “If someone wanted to put them on TV in Huron, I have them all on my computer and could email them,” he added.

He can be reached by email at [email protected]

Scales moved to Watertown in 1986, where he served as junior high orchestra director. The orchestra had 15 students, and he built it up to more than 125 youth.

“Then I started the Watertown Youth Symphony in 1992, kids came from 100 miles away,” he said.

Each summer he took the youth symphony on a trip — visiting San Antonio, Nassau Bahamas, Stockholm Sweden, Freeport Bahamas, London England, Athens Greece, and a tour of the East Coast from Boston, D.C. and Williamsburg.

“No one sponsored the youth symphony, it was all on my own,” Scales said. “The kids had to raise money. We did it every year for eight years. We would go for 12 days. We would come back and have a banquet and show the parents the pictures.”

The Watertown Youth Symphony also won two trophies during competitions in Disney World, in 1996 and 1998. He has the trophies in his home. “There’s no where for the trophies to go, no one sponsored us,” he added.

The summer after Scales was hired to conduct the Huron Symphony Orchestra in 1990, Huron High School lost its orchestra director and the district considered canceling the program for a year.

“If they don’t play for a year, they won’t go back in,” Scales said. “I wrote and said I would come in at 7 a.m. every Saturday and go through the whole program for all grades. It was important for me that HHS stay open. I can send some of those top kids into the symphony.

“From 1990 to 1991, I drove to Huron every Saturday morning for the Huron public schools orchestra, then Monday night drove to Huron for symphony rehearsal. I did that for 11 years.”

His biggest production was in 1999, when he directed the Huron Symphony Orchestra in a joint production with dancers from the Johnny Cavelle Dance Studio in Huron. That show was  “The Nutcracker Suite.”

“A week before production, Johnny’s mother got sick and he couldn’t be there,” Scales said. “Since the grants were already written, I just went out and did the whole show with 125 dancers. We did the whole show in Aberdeen, the next night we moved everything to Huron, then moved the whole show to Watertown for two performances.

“If you watch those three tapes on YouTube, you’ll understand the whole process,” he added. “It was something that small towns just didn’t do at that time.”

Scales said his entire family, including his wife, Martha, and their four children, took part in the production. It also included two professional dancers from North Carolina.

His wife and two oldest sons were in the orchestra, while his two younger children were among the dancers — a Gingerbread girl and young Fritz.

Another highlight in his career was being asked to direct the Bob Hope Show when the star appeared at the State Fair in 1990.

“At that particular time, from the 1980s to 2000, there weren’t any black orchestra conductors,” Scales added. “I was the only one in the country doing it — and I was doing two, Huron and Watertown.”

Scales, who grew up in Pittsburgh, Pa., says he knew he wanted to be an orchestra conductor when he was in eighth grade.

“I chased that dream to Huron, S.D.,” he said. “That’s where I got my first professional conducting job. I chased that dream a long way.”


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