The sanctuary of the old Cokesbury Methodist Church in Onancock fills up once a week with the sounds of music composed generations ago in European towns far from this sleepy hamlet on the east coast of Virginia.
Members of the East Coast Orchestra, a string orchestra made up of community members and focusing on classical repertoire, meet in Cokesbury for two hours every Monday evening to practice.
It is a diverse group, with members ranging from schoolchildren to the elderly. A few are music teachers; for many, music is a lifelong enjoyable hobby.
It is also a dedicated group. Some travel several kilometers each week to train.
On a recent blustery night, the dozen musicians and music director Paul Kim were all busy as they prepared for two upcoming performances. Each musician went to great lengths to unpack and effectively tune their instrument before the band promptly began at 7 p.m. a rehearsal of a Bach fugue.
What chatter there was, it was about the task: how long to hold a note, the correct interpretation of the musical term “piano” – which means “softly” in a particular passage – and so on.
“I think we’re all scared of the ‘piano’ – we have to blackmail it. Make music, express yourself,” said Kim, who sometimes sings the notes – “Bom-di-bom-bom” – for show exactly how he wants them to be played.
Classical culture on the shore
The orchestra hired Kim, a music professor at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, as musical director last fall. The next concerts will be the first full-fledged performances of the group under his baton.
“It’s so much fun working with this band; everyone is so friendly. I feel like there’s a camaraderie that makes it really easy to make music together,” said Kim, who directs also the Albemarle Sinphonia, a small chamber band in Charlottesville, and is assistant conductor of the Richmond Philharmonic Orchestra.
Kim makes the weekly over an hour journey from Norfolk across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel to conduct the orchestra, for which he sees a bright future. He finds crossing the bay a therapeutic interval unlike his often busy college schedule.
But he’s not making the trip for therapy; rather, he cites the role of the group in the community as its impetus.
“I think we have a lot of potential to be a strong cultural presence within the Eastern Shore community,” he said. “One of my main goals is to increase that presence and to make music, and especially classical music, something that people would associate with the east coast. “
Board member Haydon Rochester supports this goal. Rochester is not a musician but a music lover, especially classical music.
“I also love live music, so I’m very glad they’re here,” he said, noting that he’s not the only one with this feeling.
“We have a lot of people who love concerts; we usually have 70 people. “
The orchestra also offers musicians in the region a chance to perform with other like-minded people, he said.
Rochester has followed the group’s progress for over a decade, which he says is a long tenure for a community orchestra. It was founded by Dr Peter Dundon in 1999 and has been under the leadership of Professor Lee Jordan-Anders of Virginia Wesleyan University for the past five years.
Rochester notices a surge of enthusiasm under Kim’s guidance, who incorporates a certain amount of instruction into the practices.
“As someone who has listened to the orchestra almost from the start, I think they’ve become more professional. It’s fun to see things improve before your eyes,” he said. “I think that’s what turns the players on – maybe they didn’t even know they could be that good.”
Structure, technique, camaraderie
Cellist Marion Naar, who has been playing the instrument since elementary school, has been one of the oldest current members of the orchestra since 2005. She is also chair of the board. She echoed Rochester’s assessment of the orchestral role by giving musicians a chance to play classical music and learn at the same time.
“It turns out we have some very competent musicians here,” she said.
Naar performed in a number of amateur orchestras before settling on the East Coast, including the Albert Einstein College of Medicine Orchestra in New York City.
“It’s probably the smallest, but in terms of learning, I learned a lot,” she said.
She credited Jordan-Anders and Kim with helping the members improve their technique.
Naar noted that Kim, in addition to being a violinist, conductor and teacher, is also a composer in his own right. He has composed over 20 original works for small and large ensembles, and his arrangements of Radiohead songs for the SYBARITE5 string quintet have been performed on NPR’s Performance Today and at venues such as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and Aspen Music Festival. .
“I hope we can perform some of her plays in the future,” she said.
On the other end of the spectrum is new member Chelsea DoEpp, who has been playing the violin since fourth grade. She moved to Shore in 2006, but a recent job change and new schedule allowed her to join the orchestra, at the request of a friend.
DoEpp also likes Kim’s style. “I like that he has a structure. He runs a very tight ship; he challenges us.”
Like Kim, she immediately noticed the camaraderie of the band, and like Rochester, she noticed his surprising professionalism for an amateur orchestra.
“I love how consistent it is. I was actually very, very impressed. It surprised me how professional everyone is and how well they work together.”
if you are going to
Concerts schedule of the Orchester de la Rive-Est 2015
Friday, January 23, 7:30 p.m. at Cokesbury Church in Onancock
Sunday, January 25, 4 p.m. at the Hungars Church in Bridgetown (Machipongo)
Handel – Sarabande
Corelli – Grosso Concerto No.12 in F major
Mozart – Divertimento in B flat major
Mendelssohn – Sinfonia No.5 in B flat major
Bach – Fugue in G minor
Wednesday March 4, dress rehearsal open from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Cokesbury Church in Onancock – public reception
Sunday March 8, 7:30 p.m. at Hungars Church in Bridgetown (Machipongo)
Mozart – Exsultate, jubilate (all movements) with solo soprano Anna Sterrett
Bach – Cantata # 56: “Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen” (I will gladly carry the cross), with soloist-bass-baritone Matthew Scollin of Virginia Opera and choir
Friday, May 8, 7:30 p.m. at Cokesbury Church in Onancock
Sunday, May 10, 4 p.m. at the Hungars Church in Bridgetown (Machipongo)
Bach: Concerto for oboe and violin in C minor, with soloists Todd Worsham and Paul Kim
Mozart Symphony No.29
for your information
The Friends of the Orchester de la Rive-Est are local residents, organizations, businesses and orchestra members who donate money to support the orchestra. Become a friend by making a contribution to the orchestra.
Contributions can be sent to: OES, PO Box 27, Onancock, VA 23417.
For more information, visit the orchestra’s website, http://www.orchestres.org, or call 757-442-2821.