Shane Hatchell will tell you music is his life.
He's not exaggerating.
The 44-year-old started playing guitar as a teenager, and he's played, studied, taught the instrument ever since.
But Thursday night, standing in an air-conditioned room offstage at Lake Matoaka Amphitheater, Hatchell prepared for a performance unlike any other: conducting the Virginia Symphony Orchestra in front of an amphitheater filled to the brim.
"Certainly the biggest gig of my life," he said.
The opportunity to lead the orchestra was a gift from Hatchell's aunt, an auction item she bid for at Virginia Symphony Society of Greater Williamsburg's fundraising gala in April.
"After I bought it, I was hoping that he would like it," Marily Johnston said.
At the time, she had no idea conducting an orchestra has been a secret dream of Hatchell's for a long time.
"I never thought I'd be doing this in this lifetime," Hatchell said.
With his family, friends, guitar students and hundreds more watching, Hatchell took his place at the conductor's podium for the last song before intermission, "Stars and Stripes Forever." He wore a black tuxedo, and he lifted a white, King David baton.
For a moment, there was silence, and then, sound. Jarring, overwhelming, beautiful sound.
"I've just never experienced musical interaction on that level or in that medium or dimension with other musicians," Hatchell said. "I've never experienced music or sound like that of being right there in front of that orchestra in the conductor's spot."
Hatchell has conducted small ensembles before, but largely his only preparation for Thursday evening was an hour-long lesson with Benjamin Rous, the symphony's resident conductor.
Rous said he taught Hatchell a two-beat pattern, how to grip the baton, how to bring the orchestra in when starting the piece. They talked about the music, the dynamics and the ritardando section where the piece slows.
Hatchell absorbed it all.
"He spoke to me in terms I could easily understand," he said, "yet it was very enlightening."
Rous noticed something about Hatchell's performance, something unaffected by knowledge.
"He enjoyed himself," Rous said. "Everyone picked up on that, and everyone enjoyed themselves. I saw the biggest smiles on everyone's faces."
Following the last note of "Stars and Stripes Forever," Hatchell spent several seconds thanking the orchestra. He faced the cheering crowd and took a bow. He walked offstage, where Rous waited with congratulations.
"It rocked," Rous said at one point.
Time spent with Rous and the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, however brief, held immeasurable meaning for Hatchell.
Ever since Hatchell picked up a guitar, music has been constant in his life.
He studied for a time at Shenandoah Conservatory of Music, and has written and performed music over the years, including with a few bands: Broken Rules and Riptide. His main endeavor for the past 15 years has been teaching guitar at Authentic Guitars in New Town, a job he said has impacted him greatly.
He's experienced failure and self-doubt along the way, but Hatchell said he's beginning to realize something about success.
"Success is nothing more than a series of mistakes that add up to success," he said.
"For me, it's really more about just getting up one more time."
Hatchell said he's been through a hard time recently – his father was killed nearly two years ago – but he has picked himself up again.
"I'm ready to get back at my goals in life," he said.
Hatchell hopes to get back to higher education. He wants to start a teaching and recording studio on his Yorktown property. And he also wants to develop a method of guitar instruction "that puts the standard of learning on the same gear as orchestral instrument education," he said.
Conducting the Virginia Symphony Orchestra would've been unforgettable for anyone, but for Hatchell, perhaps it was meant to be.
"Certainly I feel a renewed passion for music and for teaching," he said.
After one lesson with Rous, Hatchell realized, if musical knowledge was water, "I might be able to fill a thimble," he said, "and there are still oceans of musical knowledge left for me to tap into."
Bridges can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342.