Melissa Nill directs members of the Central Peninsula Youth and Community Orchestra, from left, Andrew Bosela, Shane McVeigh and Courtney Roten. The group will perform at 3 p.m. Saturday at Christ Lutheran Church in Soldotna.
Photo by Jenny Neyman
Being a musician requires certain musical skills reading notes, fast fingers, staying in tune as well as a more basic skill also required of athletes, actors and even siblings on a long car trip playing well with others.
Tuning with different instruments, listening to the sounds of other sections and keeping in time with them are all skills band members start to learn in their first class. For students taking individual lessons, that experience is harder to come by, especially when there's no band they can join.
Melissa Nill, a private strings instructor, wanted to give strings students on the central Kenai Peninsula the chance to experience the fun and challenge of playing as a group. She said some opportunities occasionally come along for strings students to play with others, but there hasn't been a consistent available venue for it.
"I just got to thinking about how the strings programs don't exist in this area like I had when I was growing up in Maryland," she said. "For me, I just have so much fun playing with other people."
She contacted other private instructors about her idea to form an orchestra and found they were supportive, so she started the Central Peninsula Youth and Community Orchestra about two months ago with four of her students and a few from other instructors.
Most members play violin, although Susie Lee, an adult, plays along with the group on viola, and there is one cellist.
Nill said that before the orchestra, the only place Maya Johnson had to play her cello with others was in the Kenai Middle School band, but she has to play trombone music there since standard school band sheet music doesn't come with strings parts.
"She was just so excited to play," Nill said of Maya.
Playing as a group gives the students a chance to hear other instruments playing along with their own. In order to make sure the orchestra doesn't interfere with students' private lessons, Nill set it up so the half hour of practicing orchestra music students are required to do doesn't count toward their private lesson practicing requirements. The result is the students end up playing more, both practicing on their own and playing as a group.
"We want people to play their instruments," Nill said. "This gives people a chance to do it, and the arts won't have a future if we don't do this."
The orchestra is preparing for its first concert at 3 p.m. Saturday at Christ Lutheran Church in Soldotna.
Nill chose a variety of pieces including two from famous film composer John Williams at different skill levels to challenge the students and give them something fun to play.
The opportunity to perform in front of an audience has served to focus the group.
"It's part of learning to play," Nill said. "It pushes you. If you've got this goal to learn for, it can push that extra development into something grand. They've all quite surprised me by their desire to learn more."
Nill said she is looking forward to the performance as a chance to show off what the group can do and to recruit more players. Anyone at any level who plays an orchestra instrument is welcome, she said including adults.
"It's the Central Peninsula Youth and Community Orchestra. We're a little short on the community part," she said. "I think it's a great way for people who have not played for a while or have an instrument in their case and can't make it to the (Kenai Peninsula Orchestra) rehearsals or whatever."
This year Nill partnered with the Soldotna Community Schools program to be able to rehearse in Soldotna Middle School's band room. Next year she said the orchestra will be offered as an official community schools class, which should lower the participation fee that offsets the cost of building use and sheet music.
Nill said she plans to start weekly rehearsals when school starts up in the fall and have a late fall concert.
Saturday's concert is free and open to the public. Donations will be accepted. Anyone interested in joining the orchestra should call Nill at 260-8055.
"It just seemed like the time to try to do something with our students. Otherwise in a few years we wouldn't have students because there's nowhere for them to play," Nill said.
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