The Maestro

updated 11/21/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/21/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

ALEX TREBEK HAD THE JITTERS. His hands were shaking as he struggled to pin a boutonniere to his tuxedo jacket. But once he hit the stage, the host of Jeopardy! was his usual unflappable self. "Someone in the orchestra gave me some excellent advice," Trebek told the audience of 1,700 concertgoers. "He said, 'You'll be fine. And if you mess up, what are they going to do? Fire you?' "

Hardly. Trebek was in little Greenville, Pa. (pop. 6,000), last week, living out a fantasy. He was making a one-night stand as guest conductor of the Greenville Symphony Orchestra, leading its 67 members in a stirring orchestral rendition of Rossini's Cinderella. It was no cakewalk either. Cinderella, says Trebek, host of the show that has won 11 Emmys, "is not one of those pieces where the conductor can leave the stage and the orchestra will finish with no problem."

While some men fantasize about pitching in the major leagues, Trebek, 54, who maintains a passionate interest in music, has always wanted to step up to the podium. When he said as much on Jeopardy! in May 1993, more than a dozen orchestras hastened to offer him a baton. He chose Greenville because the orchestra, based in a depressed area 65 miles north of Pittsburgh, was struggling to pay its bills. (With Trebek on the program, more than $40,000 worth of tickets were sold.) He also thought it "looked like a nice little weekend getaway" with his wife, Jean, 30. (They have two children, Matthew, 3, and Emily, 15 months.)

With no previous experience, Trebek—who had been rigorously coached by resident conductor Paul Chenevey—guided the musicians through a 2½-hour performance with no obvious missteps. "I think he did a very creditable job," said Chenevey. "And he seemed to be enjoying himself."

He did indeed. At an arrival ceremony, Trebek thanked a cheering throng for the warm greeting—and for getting his name right. "This is the first time I've come to a place outside Los Angeles," he said, "where I did not have to be confronted with—'Oh, there's the host of Jeopardy!, Pat Sajak!' "

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