Allison Park

Henry Shapard ’20 wears many musical hats at Yale.

He holds the positions of principal cellist and assistant conductor of the Yale Symphony Orchestra and is also the music director of both the Berkeley College Orchestra and Low Strung — Yale’s all-cello ensemble that performs pop and rock music.

Shapard started playing the cello when he was just three years old, but his appreciation for the instrument did not blossom until his early teenage years. Music runs in the Shapard family — his twin sister Serena Shapard ’20 plays the violin and is YSO’s principal second violinist.

“If my parents hadn’t essentially obligated me to practice, I wouldn’t have gotten to the point where I am,” Shapard said. “Having all that daily practice put me in a position where at 11, I decided that I loved the cello, that I had the facility and the routine that I could use to get better.” Shapard said.

Shapard performed at Carnegie Hall as principal cellist of the United States’ National Youth Orchestra in 2016. He has also performed many times at Severance Hall, the home of the Cleveland Orchestra. This past summer, Shapard was a fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center, Boston Symphony Orchestra’s training program for high-level musicians.

As principal cellist of YSO, Shapard is the “go-to” between the conductor and the section. Shapard explained that when the conductor “makes a musical decision through their body language,” the principal player must show the rest of the section “how to interpret that [movement] as a unified group.”

Shapard also serves as a YSO assistant conductor — along with Ian Niederhoffer ’19. Thus, he leads rehearsals when the conductor is sick and conducts the YSO’s annual Halloween Show. Shapard considers it a “real privilege” to be a student conductor.

Shapard said that conducting is “not just a job of showing” — it is also one of listening, providing feedback and thinking ahead.

Sarah Switzer ’19, the YSO’s principal violist, noted how hard Shapard works. She said she has always been impressed by Shapard’s “calm demeanor and sensitive, respectful treatment of the orchestra” in his role as a YSO assistant conductor.

“Henry is an invaluable member of the YSO — a brilliant cellist, principal player and assistant conductor,” said YSO interim conductor William Boughton. “It is rewarding to work with a person such as Henry, with a gift and generosity of spirit that inspires those around him.”

After Yale, Shapard hopes to pursue his professional aspirations in music. He does not yet know whether his musical future will involve cello, conducting or both.

A native of Cleveland, Shapard said that the Cleveland Orchestra holds a special place in his heart.

“The Cleveland Orchestra is particularly extraordinary because of the musicians’ commitment to each other and the music,” said Shapard. “There was a point a couple of months ago when the orchestra was rehearsing a very challenging program, and the musicians themselves requested extra rehearsal because they felt there was more to do and more to rehearse.”

Shapard currently studies with Yale Professor of Cello Ole Akahoshi MUS ’97. During high school, he studied with Richard Weiss, the first assistant principal cello of the Cleveland Orchestra.

At Yale, Shapard is a history major.

Samuel Turner | .