Conductor Luke Frazier has a favorite line that he turns over and over in his head frequently.
The Parkersburg native, who appears with his American Pops Orchestra at 10 p.m. Friday during back-to-back episodes of “One Voice: The Songs We Share” on West Virginia Public Broadcasting, was at a public school performance a few years ago with members of his orchestra when a student asked them incredulously, “You can do this for a living?”
Frazier still laughs about it.
“Of course, you can,” he told the student. “It is possible. You just need the right people to help you along the way.”
Frazier found those people in West Virginia. A piano standout, he was the first recipient of the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra’s Andrew and Amy Vaughan Student Symphonic Fellowship. With the help of a Promise scholarship, he attended West Virginia University and took a degree in piano before earning a master’s degree in conducting from Ohio University.
“After that, I stayed all over the region with the piano and conducting before moving to Washington, D.C., where I’m based,” he said. “These days, most of my concerts are in D.C., New York and West Palm Beach.”
Frazier formed the American Pops Orchestra six years ago, where among other things, the organization sent musicians out to rural West Virginia schools to perform.
“It was free,” he said. “All we asked for was a space.”
They played in gyms and cafeterias.
“That first year, we stayed mostly to the west side of the state,” the conductor said. “We were in Wood, Wirt, Jackson, Pleasants, Ritchie and Doddridge counties.”
Schools, he said, that maybe didn’t have a lot of arts coming in.
Frazier said doing those shows was important to him because he’d been luckier than most. He’d had people who nurtured him, encouraged him, and led him to opportunities to build the career he has.
Not every child has that. The school shows were a way to give back.
“I love West Virginia,” he said. “I love getting back and I love doing things in West Virginia.”
During the start of the pandemic when schools were virtual, they live streamed shows for schools where students could see performances and also interact with the artists.
They planned to do that again in December, Frazier said, which would cap off a very busy year for them.
Since last year, Frazier and the American Pops Orchestra have recorded 11 television programs for Public Broadcasting. They recorded last year’s New Year’s Eve special and a show celebrating Roberta Flack. They are also working on a series of shows reimagining Broadway musicals, which will be out beginning early 2022.
“What we’ve done has increased dramatically since COVID,” Frazier said. “We’re one of those anomaly stories, I suppose.”
With the “One Voice” series, Frazier said the intention was to look at a wide range of music — different styles, different genres with plenty of things to love.
“In the ‘Country’ episode we leaned into old country music, like the songs of Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn and Dolly,” he said. “It’s just a great country jamboree.”
For the “American Roots” episode, he said he got to work with Jaqueline Schwab, the pianist featured in several PBS documentaries by Ken Burns, including “The Civil War.”
“I’ve seen that from start to finish 14 times,” Frazier said and laughed.
Both episodes were filmed in West Virginia. “Country” was recorded at Poor House Farm Park in Martinsburg. “American Roots” was recorded at the Marinoff Theater at Shepherd University.
“We filmed at a beautiful old barn at Poor House Park,” he said. “And I got to show off some of my Blenko glass collection.”
It was a great experience, Frazier said.
“There are so many beautiful places in West Virginia,” he said. “West Virginia is like a best kept secret. I’m always looking for fun places to film and I’m open to ideas.”