Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Ten years ago, Summerville resident Betty Settle realized she missed playing her violin that she hadn’t played since high school.
“I was never all that good,” said Settle, “but I missed making music with others.”
Thinking there might be other folks feeling the same and betting the community would appreciate hearing musicians making music, Settle and others got together, formed the Summerville Community Orchestra and began a musical journey.
Next week that journey will pause to celebrate Summerville Community Orchestra Day on May 17 as declared by Summerville Mayor Bill Collins.
The orchestra has grown over the years and its members run the gamut from students to former musicians to retirees from all around the Summerville area including Goose Creek, Mt. Pleasant, Ladsen, Charleston, Hannahan…all coming together for the love of playing music.
“We are all volunteers,” said Settle, “and we represent a nice balance of age and ethnic diversity.”
The orchestra’s repertoire has evolved as well and now includes classical, pops, Broadway and patriotic music amongst the genres performed.
“It’s just so much fun,” said Settle.
Not only has the orchestra grown, so has its audience. Ten years ago they played for an audience of 60 to 100. Today, the audience exceeds 600 per performance and the orchestra has outgrown its “home” at the Summerville Baptist Church.
This steady growth is a result of the concerted marketing effort of its executive director, Naomi Nimmo. Nimmo, former executive director of the Flowertown Players, with a degree in arts management, came on board and immediately launched a direct marketing campaign, which paid off, she said. She also began selling season tickets, which were very popular.
This year, the orchestra has decided that after rehearsing for six weeks to only give one performance is frustrating so it is now offering two performances – one in Summerville on Friday evenings and one in North Charleston on Thursday evenings.
“We’ve started offering more chamber music as well,” said Nimmo. “We have groups that perform at several different venues at no charge,” she said, “such as woodwinds, a brass quintet which also does the Christmas parade.”
“Musicians love to play,” Nimmo explained, “ and a lot of our players played in high school and college but then went off in different directions pursuing careers.”
The chance to play offers them the camaraderie of fellow musicians and the fun of playing and performing.
“We used to do outdoor concerts,” said Nimmo, “but at a cost of about $3,500 to do an outdoor concert, when it rains we are out the money. We used to have a lot of business sponsors but then the recession hit and we lost a lot.”
“We got rained out so much,” said Settle, “we just stopped [playing outdoor venues].”
The orchestra currently takes the summer off because scheduling around vacations can be problematic.
As it is, the orchestra sometimes has to hire professional musicians to fill in for specific parts that a piece may call for but is lacking in the orchestra. “For example,” said Nimmo, “tympani … percussion instruments” and, said Settle, “we could use more strings.”
“The orchestra has grown in general,” noted Allen Hendricks, chairman of the orchestra board and concertmaster, “but also in musicianship of the individual players and the group as a whole.”
“Our recognition in the community has grown hugely,” he said.
One secret to their success, he continued, is the “camaraderie among the musicians which is enormous … the relationships among the players has created a unified orchestra.”
“The investment of yourself in an organization such as this gives you a sense of ownership. I’ve seen this grow and develop over the years.”
They all agree that the hiring of Alexander Agrest of Charleston as conductor was instrumental in bringing the orchestra to where it is today.
Agrest, who immigrated to the United States from Russia more than two decades ago, plays with the Charleston Symphony Orchestra.
“Alex has the ability to take diverse levels of ability and create a cohesive sound. He has such patience with all people,” said Nimmo.
“We have a sound. A lot of orchestras don’t … we do.”
“We are outgrowing our space,” said Settle, “but because of the passing of the bond referendum, we hope to be able to perform in the new school when it is built … it will have a 1,000-seat auditorium!”
Settle also hopes that a civic center will be built in the future that would house all the various performing arts groups as well as be a magnet for corporate retreats and conventions which would bring dollars to the community.
Both Settle and Nimmo agree that a lack of corporate support is a problem for the orchestra.
The SCO charges $10 admission to concerts but it cannot survive on ticket sales alone. There are opportunities for patrons to become “Friends of the Orchestra” at varying levels of support.
The biggest plan for the future is to take the music to other small towns. It has already begun this with the addition of the second performance but they hope to see more and more venues added.
“We have the potential to be a sort of training orchestra,” said Hendricks. “to have semi-professional players mentor members. We want more than ‘show up and know your part.’ We want to develop leaders in the orchestra to mentor others.”
“I also see us having multiple performances in Summerville because of audience size,” he added.
“We are looking to partner with the school district regarding orchestral programs in the school system, perhaps invite school orchestras to perform with us or maybe team up a player with a student…even for one song!”
Hendricks sees the orchestra finding more ways – in addition to events – to support arts in the community.
“We are looking to rebrand ourselves beyond a performance ensemble…I see us putting into place an organizational structure such as a large orchestra (even though we’re not there yet…).”
“We want to develop a real interactive relationship with our audience … the next level for us will include a greater relationship than ‘we play – you listen!’”
“We are a really good orchestra from a small city in a small state,” said Nimmo. “I would love to see more concerts – that’s a goal. It would be nice to have a green room, get a chamber music series going and purchase our own percussion instruments.”
“This orchestra is the best place to work,” she added, “everyone is nice!”
Friday, May 17, Summerville Community Orchestra Day, is the final concert of the season titled “Mozart and Movies” and begins at 7:30 p.m. The pre-concert talk begins at 6:30 p.m., at Summerville Baptist Church, 418 Central Avenue.