About 50 teenagers, senior citizens and generations in between gathered Thursday evening for South Puget Sound Community College’s new community orchestra program.
It’s an effort led by Chip Schooler who taught music at Olympia High School for 20 years, and at Timberline High School in Lacey for about six years before that.
Schooler, 58, of Olympia was hired as a faculty member at the Olympia-based college in late June. That’s when he was given the go-ahead to form the multigenerational performance orchestra featuring community musicians and SPSCC students.
“They’ve always had a full-time music program,” Schooler said. “They’re enhancing it.”
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North Thurston Public Schools orchestra teacher Grant Sears will serve as concert master for the group, which already has three performances scheduled during the upcoming year.
“I’m just really excited that the college is going to be doing this,” Sears said.
The community orchestra program can be taken as a for-credit course by SPSCC students or as a community education class for about $45 a quarter, Schooler said. Music educators can join the program for free and serve as its volunteers, and there are scholarships available for those in need, he added.
The first night of class had the atmosphere of a reunion of longtime friends; several of the musicians said they attended simply “because Chip asked.”
“This is pretty much the group that a lot of us have been looking for,” said double bass player Ben Barnes, 37, who does repairs and restorations at RL Ray Violin Shop in Olympia.
Violin player Alyssa Compton, 17, of Lacey said she was excited about playing with a full orchestra. She is home-schooled, and is part of North Thurston’s symphonic strings program.
“This was a program that was affordable,” she said. “I think it will be a good experience.”
North Thurston High School senior Ryan Clark, 17, said he thought the program was “really cool.”
“It’s even better that it’s for everybody,” he said. “Symphonies are usually available just for youth, or just for adults.”
There still are a few openings in the program, mainly for string instruments, Schooler said. Anyone who made it through high school orchestra is welcome to apply, he said. The group meets 7-9:30 p.m. on Thursdays.
Cello player and SPSCC student Wesley Newsome, 20, of Olympia said he thought the program was off to a good start.
He took Schooler’s orchestra classes at Olympia High School, and said he noticed a difference in the music educator, now that he’s a college professor.
“I remember him in high school being a lot more strict; he was serious,” Newsome said. “For now, he’s pretty laid back.”