Orchestra educates, entertains

For Mellisa Nill, participating in the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra is all about the personal connection with both fellow players and like-minded music lovers in the audience. 

“When the audience enjoys the music so much that they cheer before they clap, that really drives us as musicians to play harder and better. Just knowing that they are enjoying it makes us enjoy it all the more,” she says.  

Last Saturday, the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra brought this excitement to Homer with their Pops concert at the Homer Mariner Theatre. The concert, consisting of popular orchestral favorites, was aimed at being light and audience friendly. Pieces on the program included the themes from “Star Wars,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Several non-movie, but still well known compositions also were included like Aaron Copland’s “An Outdoor Overture,” Franz von Suppe’s “Light Cavalry Overture” and “A Prayer for Peace” by John Williams. 

Perhaps none of these, however, had the audience or the orchestra more excited than the “Imperial March” from the Star Wars theme compilation. The audience cheered when the last fanfare had concluded. After the entire program came to a close, the audience’s standing ovation was reciprocated by an encore of the “Imperial March,” met by even more cheers. 

“We don’t usually do encores,” says Nill. “That was really exciting.” 

Although this is only her second year as executive director of the orchestral 501(C)(3) non-profit, Nill has been performing with the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra for 10 years. As a violin player, she says that one of the most rewarding experiences about playing with the orchestra is the people she gets to make music with. 

“This is just an amazing group of musicians who really put the extra time in,” says Nill. 

And put in the time they do, with rehearsals held in Ninilchik and concerts in Homer, Soldotna and Kenai, it isn’t uncommon for members of the orchestra to drive hundreds of miles a year to participate. 

“They work really hard, take it very seriously and that makes it just so much fun,” says artistic director and conductor Tammy Vollom-Matturro. 

The Kenai Peninsula Orchestra not only attracts musicians from all areas of the peninsula, but it also attracts musicians from every stage of life. As a community orchestra, all musicians are volunteers, and participation is open to anyone who takes an interest. This attracts people with a wide-range of skill level and a wide-range of ages, making for a very diverse orchestra. High schoolers can be seen sharing a stand with people in their 80s, and musicians from the professional Anchorage Symphony are playing with people who are just learning the instrument. 

 “The diversity can be a challenge, but I like the challenge and I love the people I get a chance to work with. We have doctors, teachers, pharmacists and engineers. We have every kind in here,” says Nill.

For Michael Schallock, concertmaster of the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra, the chance to have younger musicians get involved is a key part of his own enjoyment. 

“As a community orchestra, I like to see the young people participating. We have three kids playing tonight who this is their first real symphony concert to play in. I love that,” he said prior to Saturday’s Homer performance. 

Youth education is a large component of the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra’s mission statement. It works with two youth orchestras, the Central Peninsula Community Orchestra in Soldotna and the Homer Youth String Orchestra Club. Both of these orchestras allow youth who don’t have access to an instrument program through their school, to start participating and learn an orchestral instrument. 

In addition to these two programs, the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra is heavily involved with a program called Link Up, a curriculum designed in conjunction with Carnegie Hall to partner classrooms with local orchestras, either community or professional. Through this program, the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra works with local teachers in Kenai and Homer to teach kids about music, and then performs a private concert for and with the students.

“It’s amazing to look back and see our growth and development,” says Nill. “Orchestras all over are in trouble for a variety of reasons. It’s cool to see our growth and community support.”

For more information on joining the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra, or for information about the Link Up and Homer Youth String Orchestra Club programs, visit the website at www.kpoalaska.com

Aryn Young is a freelance writer for the Homer News.

Violinist Aurora Firth at rehearsal.-Photo by Sue Biggs

Violinist Aurora Firth at rehearsal.-Photo by Sue Biggs

Trumpets front to rear are: Deb Sounart, Beau Berryman, Brian Jones and Emily Thiem.-Photo by Sue Biggs

Trumpets front to rear are: Deb Sounart, Beau Berryman, Brian Jones and Emily Thiem.-Photo by Sue Biggs