The ways and wherefores of community orchestras
Playing in a community orchestra is a realistic goal for many amateur violinists - and a useful and sometimes prestigious one for paid professionals.
In addition to purely orchestra events of classical masterworks (Sibelius #2 this summer) ours collaborates with professional performers, provides orchestra back-up for other groups (opera, big band) all of which may be actually easier by not being located within a large city.
How does your orchestra make ends meet and how does it integrate into the community? And do you guys enjoy it? Does it have a great team spirit - or do you find yourself in a less friendly but competitive environment?
We have two community orchestras. The first is a hybrid university orchestra: Rather than filling out the ranks by offering scholarships to non-music majors, they allow townies to audition. I've never auditioned but I'm pretty sure I'd be admitted.
I enjoy playing in my community orchestra that plays four concerts a year. We are friendly and uncompetitive with members at different skill levels. We most recently played Dvorak’s Symphony # 9 and our upcoming concert will include Bizet Symphony in C, Telemann viola concerto (our conductor will double as the soloist ) and a world premiere of a new piece for chorus and strings by a local composer.
My orch (NIH Community Orchestra) plays three concerts a year and two or three chamber concerts per year. We were started by NIH people but are open to anyone, and we have a lot of fun. Over the years, we have had local composers write pieces we could premiere, have collaborated with excellent soloists (we just did the Elgar Cello Concerto with Marza Wilks), and collaborated with the NIH Chorus. We get some funding from, our sponsor, the NIH Recreation Association, and we pay dues each year to belong to that Association. We collect donations at each concert, and all of the money that people donate to hear us goes to the NIH Charities (e.g., NIH Children's Inn). This article, which is several years old gives a good idea of who we are:
The community orchestra where I am the concertmaster has a strong emphasis on being integrated into the community. We are supported by a mixture of donations and grants. We do not charge for concerts or other activities. We work with the middle and high schools in the area that we serve, which is significantly underprivileged, especially in comparison to the surrounding area. This is one of the wealthiest counties in the US, but in this particular area, more than 50% of the kids qualify for FARMS (free and reduced-price lunch), more than 25% speak English as a second language, and fewer than 15% will graduate meeting the requirements to qualify for a Maryland university. We give guest clinics in the schools, do side-by-side rehearsals and concerts, run a concerto competition aimed at less-privileged kids, run a free kids chamber-music program during the summer, etc.
Lovely to hear what you're doing for music participation, Lydia.
One orchestra I played with brought some income in by providing chamber music for local events: thus, if a fundraising event needed a quartet they could get one through the orchestra for a fee. I played in a couple of these - one was the kind where we could have played Botticelli or Pink Floyd nobody (least of all us) would have known (the background noise was so loud) but at the other people actually listened and gave us ovations :)
I play in two orchestras.
There are multiple community orchestras in my metro area. I haven't kept up with all of them. Most if not all charge for concerts.
I played in the Desert Community Orchestra in Ridgecrest, CA from 1963 to 1995. (See https://www.guidestar.org/profile/95-2549022 to learn more about its present operations). The DCOA is incorporated as a 501 C (3) charitable arts organization so it qualifies for funds from any charity drives that raise money in the community.
I think my current orchestra is very dynamic with respect to fundraising. Unlike most community orchestras there is no membership fee while there are quite a few paid pros including the violin first desk. Part of this success has been by partnering with other groups or organizations that can up their game by playing with an orchestsra or that results in a concert with more diverse and often exciting elements. Thus, in addition to performing with large choirs we have done so with a jazz ensemble and singer, professional opera singers, flamenco dancers, piano or violin concertos and a pro (er, primadonna) pianist/singer. We have also played at ad-hoc city events such as a retirement celebrations for city leader. While this has undoubtedly brought in much needed cash it also has meant that the whole orchestra experience is broadly challenging for us - one week you are playing proms the next opera and the next crooner music. The danger, of course, is that to survive the orchestra becomes something it never meant to be and looses its heart - which is definitely in classical masters.
The non-audition orchestra in my area -- I believe they get some kind of budget from the town, but I'm not sure about that. Recently a long-time member passed away (a kindly and charming lady, I shared a stand with her a couple of times) and she left a few thousand to the orchestra. Our only expenses are renting space for rehearsal (from the town, therefore subsidized) and purchasing the occasional new piece.
NIHCO gets its rehearsal space for free in a local church in exchange for members playing occasional music for the church when the church needs/wants it.
Now you mention it Tom, Christian churches (at least some denominations) are terrific sponsors not only of orchestra but also many forms of classical music. I'm curious - does anyone know of similar support from other religions denominations too?
In this area, a ton of churches open their spaces to community classical music, whether orchestral or chamber music.
I am not sure if it counts as a "community orchestra". My orchestra is a learning orchestra which we have membership fee that fund most of the expenses. There are government grants and charity donations, but given the size of the orchestra, I doubt those cover much of the expenses.
Community orchestras seem to range from 'COMMUNITY orchestras' to 'community ORCHESTRAS'. At one extreme, as in the former (as in the post above) its about camaraderie, mutual support and simply enjoying getting together and making music. The audience may be mostly friends and relations - but often includes people associated with the performance venue. At the other extreme its about trying to play the pieces to a professional level with the community and social elements very second place.
"I think I would like to belong to one of each: one with real pressure to excel and one where you can just let your hair down and be part of a supportive group."
"Consider yourself fortunate if you have something like this in your area."
Most likely Respighi's Botticelli Triptych.
I did say 'could have'; to be honest, I just used his name because it sounds so cool - but thanks for the Respighi catch AH!
I played in a community orchestra in China for 5 years. It was a godsend, especially for folks who were new to the city and didn't really know anyone outside of work. As my teaching job began to take up more and more of my time my social life dwindled, but I made sure to come to rehearsals every week because playing in a group always left me feeling upbeat and stress-free.
Absolutely Jasmin - we have a librarian (who gets a stipend) who is fantastic - organized, proactive and charming who I think is in many ways the core of the orchestra but there are many other people who volunteer with the mechanics of the rehearsal and even more so of the off-site performances (which they all are). I live some distance away so my practical contributions thus far are more limited - but I am trying to help with such things as web sites.
The community orchestra my mother is the music director of, the Greenwich Village Orchestra, does annual concerts that are both kids concerts and special needs inclusion concerts. These are a big hit every year with the hall being nearly full. Additionally, they do chamber music concerts in hospitals.
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